Pottery Throw Down: Two Days at The Guardian, The Clay Hangover, The Prod in the Eye

Posted by: on Nov 9, 2015 | No Comments

On the 4th November, The Guardian ran a rather positive review of the Pottery Throw Down Episode 1 where Pottery was described as ‘beautiful’ and ‘mesmerising’:

This one looks good so far. Well, a pot – like a picture – is about being looked at. I like pots – that helps – but there’s also something beautiful, mesmerising even, about watching one being created. From the kneading – sorry, wedging – and slapping of the cold clay, to centring it on the wheel and the comedy slippy-sloppy wobbling that goes with that, to the finger-shaping and the extraordinary birth of something symmetrical and beautiful out of the mud. It’s primeval, primordial even, visceral, sensual. I could watch pot throwing all day … Well, some of the day, certainly.

Well, The Guardian got a bit carried away with itself that evening, for the next day it was suffering a colossal clay hangover. Jonathan Jones, who writes on art for The Guardian, was less than impressed in his post: Modern pottery is tasteful, simple, clean lined and dull. Please don’t revive it. For Jones, ‘There is nothing more boring than modern pottery’. N O T H I N G. He continues: ‘Modernist ceramicists in 20th-century Britain combined the idealism of the William Morris tradition with an abstract austerity inspired by ancient beakers and bowls. The result is a style of domestic object that exudes holier-than-thou morality, sexless artistic restraint and oatmeal puritanism.’ For Jones, the modern potter is somewhat reductionist in their inclinations: ‘Modernist potters have a hallowed conception of their craft. The serious modern potter is an abstract artist in clay and a priest of a nobler, simpler way of life. It is hard work revering such objects’. His parting shot:

We crave craft. Cake making, pottery – it all frees us from the readymade supermarket world. I am not surprised the BBC is following up The Great British Bakeoff with The Great Pottery Throw Down. But the hyping of this Leeds pottery hoard reveals how confused we are about what constitutes creativity in clay. A reverence for dreary elegance crushes imagination. I hope the potters in the new BBC show do not turn out lots of safe, respectable Morandi-like vessels.

Instead, I hope they shape sloppy animals, tottering towers, grinning faces and whatever even more bizarre wonders the kiln can fire – the kind of stuff the Firths would never have given house space.

Ouch. My immediate response was that Jones was right about some of the principles of creativity and freedom, but that he lacked knowledge of the field of contemporary ceramics. And I don’t think he likes ceramics: he’d certainly had too much the previous day and was suffering for it. And what did the readers say?

Says Daffyddw: ‘JJ! Dear boy. I know you’re under instructions to up your click rate but can we please have a well reasoned argument about this, please. The Frith’s collection was not only a collection of (very shrewdly chosen) major studio potters of the 50’s & 60’s but also contained a range of more recent and more colourful purchases, including some very wacky contemporary jewelry pieces and at least one Caro paper sculpture. “Modernist” potters are a very particular breed and belong, mainly, to history and it does not take much digging to find a lot of contemporary ceramics that is far more ready to take its lead from Meissen rather than Leach. Have you even heard of Philip Eglin or Richard Slee. And if you like colourful ebullience you don’t have to look much further than the Throwdown’s own Kate Malone. But, of course, if you don’t like any of them, you might want to take a leaf out of your colleague Adrian Searle’s book and write about something you do like.’

Says Early_bird: ‘The comments are the ONLY redeeming thing from this article. I haven’t thought of some of these artists mentioned in a while, thanks commenters for provoking actual thought! (Something the writer of this piece of trash blurb failed to do)’

Says Bev Milward: ‘Er Excuse me Mr Jones. The work I have spent the last 13 years making is never simple, always complicated, detail encrusted and lavish. I also volunteer for a political china factory in the heart of Bristol. Please try to scratch the surface of Bristish contemporary ceramics a little deeper before you pass judgement on a group of people who sacrifice the security of a regular wage to bring passion to your mantelpiece.’

Says Catfalk: ‘This is just lovely. As a cermisist I totally agree and it’s great to get a kick in the behind. I’m venturing further away from my safe bowls with the usage of my crazy dreams and daily anger tantrums. It all comes out in chunks of good and disastrous but always fun and and inventful. My customers however, prefer the boring vase.’

Says Andrew Mason: ‘You need to get out more Mr Jones…Grayson Perry…Simon Carroll to name just two. There are countless others in current ceramic practice. You’ve simply propounded a theory, a very subjective opinion in fact, for the sake of creating an ‘interesting’ article. Did you really get paid for writing this?’

In all, Jones garnered 146 comments. Mission accomplished, I suppose.

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