Although the current exhibition, Beyond Scratching the Surface: Today's Ceramic Decoration, focuses on how potters choose to embellish their work, I believe these marks must be secondary to the quality and design of a work's form. Case in point: a lovingly made ashtray by a 5-year-old as opposed to a professionally wheel-thrown porcelain jardeniere.
In the exhibit's opening panel discussion held this past Friday, the featured artists from the Door County Potters' Guild nixed the idea that pottery might be considered sculpture. I couldn't disagree more. Whether utilitarian or not, I believe that it is the shape and lines of a work that provide the initial attraction and continued satisfaction for the owner.
During the 20th Century, the definition of sculpture was greatly expanded. No more a static shape modelled from clay or carved from stone, contemporary sculpture moves, glows from within, and celebrates negative space. The remaining descriptor is its three-dimensionality. Pottery is three-dimensional.
Midway through the talk, Featured Artist Jeanne Aurelius displayed a chart of basic shapes a potter must master to create successful works. For each general design, hundreds of pots must be created before a potter is able to have the clay respond effectively through his hands. Once mastered, a potter will then express their individual style by deviating from the basics. From this base, the decoration further enhances expression.
Beyond Scratching the Surface provides examples of a wide variety of surface techniques, among them photolithography, sgraffito, and mishima inlay. When visiting the show, I encourage visitors to also consider the sculptural forms of these pieces. To me, the standard of excellence of the works is all about the base.