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