“I am not artistic. I cannot draw to save my life.” Does that statement sound like you? Then ceramics may be the art form for you. As a person who still draws stick figures, I can assure you that there are art forms out there that do not require the ability to draw to succeed, and the one that I love is ceramics. The beauty of ceramics is that it attracts people of different interests and skills, and everyone who tries it ends up with something different and amazing.
Ceramics is a well-known art form, — we all use Lowry bowls and plates and cups after all and even though those are not handmade, they are ceramic — but what is not well known is the unique aspects of clay. The general roadmap of the life of a ceramic piece is as follows:
1. Dirt is gathered, purified and made into clay.
2. Clay is shaped and formed into pieces of artwork, functional pieces, etc.
3. Those pieces get fired in a kiln, which changes the consistency into a rock hard material, no longer susceptible to changes.
4. Finally, individuals can glaze their pieces with a glass-like material giving it colors and designs, or leave them with a more earthy, natural look.
What makes clay unique here is the chemical changes that it undergoes during the process described above — the ability for something to be changed and altered, until it is almost frozen into its desired shape.
Walter Zurko, current ceramics professor, further explains why clay is special. “Due to its malleability and ability to hold shape after manipulation, clay objects can take many forms: a modeled portrait bust, a constructed abstract sculpture or a functional teapot assembled from parts thrown on a pottery wheel.”
Walking into a ceramics class at Wooster, you may find math majors working alongside studio art majors and english majors, creating an encouraging environment for all. For Ethan Kahrl ’20, a chemistry major, the appeal of ceramics is the ability for him to work with his hands. In relation to why Kahrl chose ceramics as a favorite art form, he said, “I think I just do better when I have an object to manipulate rather than trying to conjure an image out of my imagination or still life stuff so that could be part of the reason why I got into ceramics.”
I focus on the unique aspect of clay so much because to me, it shows how there are endless opportunities with ceramics. I am amazed with every assignment that I am given in my ceramics classes; no two artists end up with the pieces that look anything alike. Everyone starts with the same brown clay, and through skilled manipulation and experimentation, ends up with unique pieces that represent who they are as a person.
Another beautiful aspect of ceramics is that you do not have to excel at every single step to make beautiful pieces. Some people love to handcraft ceramic pieces and some people are naturals at wheel throwing. While some people like to carve intricate designs into their pieces to show off their drawing abilities, others like to use glaze combinations and let the kiln decide what the piece will end up looking like.
The mystery of what happens in the kiln is another reason that ceramics is unique. “Unlike other mediums, there is an inherent unpredictability when we fire clay objects in kilns — we hardly ever have total control. Mystery abounds because there are so many possible variables as to how immense heat will affect the objects and glazes,” commented Zurko. This aura of mystery also tends to help ceramists to accept that sometimes things do not work out perfectly — a hard lesson that is good for all to learn. Thus, ceramics not only allow individuals to express their creative side in whatever way they choose, but also it teaches anyone who touches clay that no matter what happens, the end result will be beauty.