JAPANESE
INFLUENCES
Between Points...
The Influences...
Delivering...
Originality...
Lost Innocence...
Bernard Leach...

contents
P R O F I L E      R E C E N T  W O R K      E S S A Y S      A R C H I V E       C O N T A C T       H O M E
Between Points in Clay   1      2      -      PRINTER VERSION

Published in Ceramics Monthly, June/July/August 1995, 43(6).

When I had my first solo exhibition in 1976 at Marroniere Gallery in Kyoto, I titled it "Between Points in Clay." The title had its origins in a conversation I had had with my teacher Kazuo Yagi many months before. In an effort to explain to me what separated pedantic and indifferent ceramic art from the kind of ceramic art that makes us to reflect on the very nature of our existence, Yagi held up his index finger and pointed it straight up. This represented, he said, the predictably beautiful. Then he turned his finger 90 degrees, parallel to the floor and said that this position represented what we all commonly think of as ugly. The two positions he said have a tendency to be fixed in culture, but—and he moved his finger to a position 45 degrees between those two points—it is here, he said where real ART takes place, vibrating between the beautiful and the ugly. This was my introduction into the philosophical world that surrounded ceramic art in Japan. Since then, I have essentially been absorbed in exploring that space between what Yagi described as predictable beauty and its opposite the unaesthetic or homely.

During my stay in Japan, I worked on this problem using fairly recognizable Japanese forms. Many of the objects I made revolved around the Tea ceremony. There are a number of reasons for this, one is that many of the historical works that I found so provocative, were rather ordinary objects that had been elevated by Tea masters to the status of aesthetic icons. Another was that the conceptual nature of Tea seemed remarkably similar to many aspects of Western modernism. Take John Cage's insistence, for example, that noise was as capable of producing moments as sublime as those created by a violin or piano. The sound of water bubbling in a kettle, the ruffling of silk kimono, the opening and closing of a fusuma (paper door) and the sound of the chasen (bamboo tea whisk) against the tea bowl as it beats the tea into a green froth, have historically been thought of as the "music" of Tea. Tea, as it was practiced 300 or so years ago, in fact, seemed to me more like a serious, contemplative version, of the kind of museum happenings of the 1960s, rather than the staid, prescribed ritual it has now become. More than that, Tea seemed like a logical intellectual point of departure as well as a successful example of a context in which ordinary crafts objects, like plates and bowls, had the chance to realize their full aesthetic and communicative potential.

When I returned to the United States in 1978, however, Yagi's paradigm took on new meaning for me. I began to think about the space between Eastern and Western cultures' attitudes about art. It was the space, I felt, in between both cultures' notions about correctness and inappropriateness where basic human feeling and emotion operated unhindered by those cultural prejudices. I started trying to reduce my work to elements that somehow seemed mysterious, provocative and believable from either perspective. It was during this period that I started looking for some irreducible kind of truth that would explain pottery's ability to communicate to people from a variety of cultures. I realized that the single element that made pottery special was its usefulness. I had always taken "use" for granted, but now I started to think of it as an active element in the aesthetic equation. The works I have made over the years with large cracks might appear contradictory to the everyday notion of use. Even the unglazed surface of the woodfired work appears at odds with ordinary ideas of usefulness. What actually keeps us from using any of these pieces; however, are our own cultural prejudices, not any structural or formal aspect of the work itself. And why is it important to use them as opposed to merely putting them on a
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