CONFERENCES

- Publications -
Helena Leppänen
Interaction In Ceramics - Art, Design and Research, A. Valkonen (ed.), ISBN 951-9384-56-1, ISSN 0782-1778, UTAH, Helsinki 1993

RESEARCHING THE CERAMIC

The world of ceramics is an open field, as open to research as to the making of ceramics. It is a field defined only by our own preconceived ideas and the values we are accustomed to subscribing to. Interaction, co-operation and tolerance between ceramists may be limited by these values. As an object of research and a form of activity, ceramics can be approached from countless different angles. Nowadays, at least in Finland, ceramics is only just opening up to research and to different research methods. 

However, science and research are still seen as a threat to artistic creativity and even entire genres of art. In some cases this worry may be justified. On the other hand such fear may also be seen as an expression of a lack of self-confidence or of narrow values.
I believe that the identity of ceramics and the self-awareness of ceramists can only grow and develop through deeper consciousness and self-understanding. Science and research can plain important part in this process. We must, however, remember that a scientific philosophy of life is not enough, not only because of its formal methods but also because it does not view the world as a whole. Science sees only objects which can be broken down into pieces. It can in fact estrange us from reality. 

Belief in the omnipotence of science is already crumbling in many areas, not least among the arts. There are no grounds for the excessive admiration of science in the world of ceramics, either. Science is not an end in itself, though it can improve both the physical and the mental preconditions for making ceramics. The main task of science and research is to discover the basic nature or the obscurity of the world. From this viewpoint science and art are not opposites, and the boundary between them will disappear. 

Art and science are only concepts of the human mind - concepts of a world in which everything is inter linked. We can rise above the boundaries of these concepts only by placing ourselves frankly and openly in the world where everything exists. Instead of dividing, grouping and classifying concepts, we should try to see the whole and to achieve dialogue between different fields of action. Uniting our internal and external worlds should be one of our main objectives. 

I believe that in research people will seek intuition besides objective knowledge, some kind of personally experienced reality which goes beyond both the dogmas and the abstract simplifications of science. Only in a flash of intuition can we understand the totality of the individuality of phenomena, for example. 

Research with a technical orientation seems, in ceramics, to be taken as a matter of course. And the diversity of the material as well as the development of techniques will continue to pose new challenges for this field of research. We have to remember that ceramics is ultimately based on the subjective experience and view of the maker. That is why mere techniques are not enough. Technology provides the tools and knowledge to put visions into practice, but it does not necessarily develop these visions. 

In my licentiate thesis I am trying to analyse the changing profile of the Finnish ceramist from the beginning of the century until recent times. In my work I am trying to pinpoint the changes in the ceramist's identity by asking: craftsman, artist or designer? How has the ceramist stood in relation to these descriptions at different times? I am concentrating on the role of education and teaching as part of the professional image. It seems to me that ceramic teaching in Finland incorporates some leading paradigms. These paradigms display the trends of different periods as well as cultural and social emphases. The contents of these paradigms could be described by the keywords decoration, form, material and maker. 

Behind these paradigms are two main trends. The paradigms seem to have been personified in teachers until the early 1980's. Individualism gained momentum from the end of the 1970s while the element of dogmatism grew weaker. Ceramics is diversifying but at the same time it is threatening to d rift into an identity crisis. The role of the ceramist as artist or designer is not self-evident. The easiest way is to interpret him as a craftsman, though the role and function of the craftsman are changing and have lost some of their earlier meaning. 

To exaggerate somewhat, the ceramist can be seen as a relic of earlier times. This includes the semantic contents inherent in the materials and working methods but also in the immaterial values and estimations. Another argument, and one difficult to verify, is that the ceramist is still looking for some kind of craftsman's identity even thought he refuses to accept all its connotations. This can be seen in the forms of art ceramics. The tendency to grow away from industrial design can also be seen linked to this argument. 

One contemporary form of craftsmanship is individualism, some times over emphasized as privatization. The greatest potential for this lies in art ceramics. The identity of the craftsman is approaching that of the free artist. The emphasis on individualism also involves a negative tendency. Ceramics is something of a 'private affair' and the stage of privatization is an indicator of skill. Such individualism may displace many positive aspects of traditional methods, such as interaction, co-operation and experience. 

In industry, too, the ceramic designer can be privatized by the organization or by himself. The scope for co-operation gets narrowed as the designer climbs into his ivory tower. This kind of individualization ties in with the development of society. The structure of Finnish industry does not offer many forums for co-operation.
A cultural background such as this cannot fail to affect people seeking their way into ceramics and to the professional identity formed during education. The problems of the 1990's can be crystallized as the absurdity of the craftsman, the impossibility of the designer and the striving to be an artist. 

To sum up: at least the following points can be made on Finnish research into ceramics. 

1. Research in Finland within the field of ceramics centres on materials and techniques. Since the 1960s the study of materials has occupied an important role in the teaching of ceramics and still plays the main role in our department. 

2. The meanings of ceramics have been analysed only from without, mainly as art history research. A certain amount of interest in ceramics has also been displayed in the fields of culture, history and sociology. In almost every case the researcher has had no experience of the process of actually making ceramics. 

3.1 think that the development taking place in the 1980's and in 1990's has raised new needs and demands for research. For example, analysis of the professional matters and the creative process of the maker seems very necessary to strengthen the identity of ceramists. The personal experience of ceramic makers is very important in this kind of research.
The present can be viewed as a search for a new research practice. Interdisciplinarity, the opportunities for postgraduate studies in the arts, and experiments with different methods could lead to a more holistic view. 

4. How should ceramics be researched? The question is impossible to answer; there are no right or wrong answers. It would be more to the point to ask how we can combine the results of different kinds of research so as to benefit ceramics. This will put our powers of communication to the test. Verbal communication calls for conceptualization, which can only take place via deeper consciousness. Being true to the world and to oneself is the only way to increase this awareness. 

Publications



Info:

Helena Leppänen,
Research Scientist

University of Art and Design Helsinki UIAH
Department of Ceramics and Glass
Hämeentie 135 C 
FIN-00560 Helsinki, Finland 
fax: +358 9 75630275