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Interpreting Ceramics




Interpreting Ceramics invites responses from our readers concerning any aspect of the 2001 Jerwood prize for ceramics. Contributors might wish to refer to the selection of short-listed candidates, the membership of the selection panel, the exhibition of the work, or the way that the prize has been reported in the media. Giles Foden's article, ‘All Fired Up’, in the Guardian on Saturday October 20th 2001 has provoked considerable comment and we would like the debate to continue here.

Follow the links to Giles Foden’s article and to the responses in Guardian Unlimited Responses. The Crafts Council web site is also worth visiting. Follow this link for general information on the prize and this link for details of the short-listed exhibitors.

The exhibition has now closed at the Crafts Council in London but is touring the UK through 2002 giving opportunities for many other people to see the work. The exhibition goes to the Burton Art Gallery, Bideford, North Devon during March and April, Norwich Castle Museum in May and June, and The Potteries Museum, Stoke-on-Trent from September through to November. Please use the form below to submit your contribution to the debate.

Responses from readers of Interpreting Ceramics

An article in the Guardian about ceramics: hurrah! But no, it turned out to be an incoherent, badly written and shallow attack on non-functional ceramics. The article is littered with inaccuracies, poor research and crass comments. Foden claims he is the Guardian's 'knowledge probe into the weird world of ceramics'. He is nothing of the sort.

He has decided that Carol McNicoll's ceramics are neither useful nor beautiful. Who decided ceramics have to be useful or beautiful? He has chosen to attack the work of the winner, Richard Slee, with the very selective use of quotes from the visitor's book, such as 'A bit pants'; 'How the hell did Slee win?' and 'Shoot the Curator'. Has Foden any understanding of twentieth century ceramics history apart from what he has read on the web-site he quotes from so liberally?

By some train of thought which only Foden could possibly follow, he veers from the Jerwood to collecting Spode and the English Ceramic Circle. He then quotes his friend David Sexton, (literary editor of the Evening Standard), as championing function in ceramics: 'When you head in to absurdity, as with those Richard Slee things, you lose all that'.

Foden has clearly got it in for non-functional ceramics and for Richard Slee in particular. Slee is a ceramic artist regarded by many makers, (both of the functional and non-functional sort), as a great maker of enormous skill and intellect. Foden dismisses his work as 'utterly ghastly'. End of story.

Well, not quite. The end of Foden's story is to dismiss the Jerwood prize and, quoting Sexton, encourages the reader to buy pots by Richard Batterham from a shop off Sloane Square, which cost between 8 and 12.

The crafts, and ceramics in particular, so rarely get a mention in the media that when they do, those of us who are passionate about the crafts take notice. However, we have again been disappointed by a shallow, jokey and badly written ramble. Admittedly this article was one of a series getting non-experts to look at neglected art forms, (a previous article looked at ballet), but this does not excuse the inanity of this offering. I accept that journalism is often written to a deadline and the aim is to entertain as well as inform but I found this article neither entertaining nor informative: simply exasperating. Presumably that was the point.
Matthew Partington
Bristol, 13/11/01

Foden's piece was (presumably) deliberately provocative. Some of what he wrote was more than a little grating. Nonetheless, it is disappointing to hear so many polarised views from those responding. There is nothing wrong with the domestic - long live Richard Batterham and Ray Finch. But what is so dreadful about clay post-modernism? Clay is just one material amongst many and cannot reasonably be hi-jacked by one particular school. Does steel have this trouble?

The Jerwood prize (like the Turner Prize) tends to feature those already well ahead in their careers. Nonetheless, it is drawing the attention of the public to the range of work in the area of ceramics - where they might expect little other than the domestic.
Oliver Kent
Bristol, 16/11/01

Well ... isn't the last sentence of Giles Foden the really illuminating one: "And yes, it's true, I have someone in mind". Exactly: the author has someone in mind - himself.

Being myself a journalist, I actually hate this very fashionable tonic keynote of being snooty and self-centred. (We call it "the young man with the razors on their elbows"). And - to be honest: ceramics is of course a prey very easy to get for this kind of head-hunters. I was wondering about the way, the colleagues did write before about other "difficult art forms". For example modern architecture, electronic music or ballet. Funny to imagine the judgement (instead of an argument, man!) would had been "The architecture of Daniel Libeskind is utterly ghastly" or "The music of John Cage seems divorced from both utility and beauty" or "The visitor's comment to this new piece of Pina Bausch's was 'Shoot the manager of this theatre'". Obviously the author was not hindered by any knowledge about modern ceramics. No editor-in-chief would dare to engage such an absolutely naiv writer to comment jazz, video or surrealism. But ceramics...

Even more bad luck for readers: No, it is not even an entertaining piece. Because after a range of boring (because undifferentiated and just emotional) eruptions, the author teaches us about his very private horizons and preferences ... Nothing to learn about.

Of course this was not an article about the Jerwood Prize. In 40 lines this exhibit is here abused to illustrate the writers prejudices - which he - of course - did not want to reject by his visit. We, his readers and his mates, we all know what he wanted: the beautiful potter. No wonder he couldn't see anything else ... I guess he might have missed this aim as well (too much display pattern, boy?). Men can become very aggressive in such a case. Forget it. This is not serious journalism.

P.S. With excuses for my humble English!
Gabi Dewald
Lorsch, Germany, 17/11/01

Foden's article displays crass ignorance of both the technical and the aesthetic side of the ceramic medium. I can imagine his home filled with useful things and beautiful women wandering around spouting inanities all the time. I am so pleased he has not been put in a position of fostering the arts for any of your wonderful public collections.
Juliet Armstrong
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, 27/11/01

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