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potter education in denmark, proposed changes.

updated sat 11 may 02


Alisa Liskin Clausen on wed 8 may 02

Dear Clayart,
Last month I was invited to participate in a debate on the education of =
potters in Denmark. There are several art and ceramic schools here, but =
only one potters' school, where the students spend 4 years production =
throwing, mold making and glaze chemistry. It is treated as a craft =
education, same as a carpenter, cabinet maker, welder or house painter. =
At the end of the student's education and apprenticeship, the student =
must pass a practical exam. There are trained judges that go around to =
the different institutions, and give the exam. The student is judged on =
techniques such as how fast and even he can get the clay up, different =
forms, etc.=20

The participants were all studio potters from all over the country, all =
members of the Potters' association here. The host of the debate was =
the leader of for the techniccal school, pottery divsion. Since 1980 =
until last year, there has been a decline in educated potters. From 9 =
in the 80's down to 2 last year. Therefore the school is trying to make =
their program more attractive. They have proposed to lessen the actual =
throwing time and incorporate more independent projects. This would =
mean, projects that could include handbuilding, unique ware, sculpture, =
etc. It would be a big diversion from what is being taught now, whichis =
purely throwing skills for functional ware.

I personally think this is a mistake. I think we have by far enough art =
schools with ceramic departments. If the technical school is fighting =
declining enrollment, it is because the students entering their =
disciplines, look at how difficult it is to get a mandatory =
apprenticeship during their education. The school could also try to =
make the program more attractive by initiating more visiting potters or =
relavant excursions, to take some of the drone out of a day's potting. =
It was interesting enough to hear how many of the particpaing potters =
with large studios, extend their studios to apprenctices. Roughly 2%. =
The general feeling was that is a purely economic question. They need =
apprenctices that come right out of school with all the skills to make =
the pots that the host potters needs to sell. They felt that the school =
was not doing a good enough job teaching the students to competently =
throw to employ them as apprenctices. The professional potters felt that =
they did not have the time to take away from their production teach an =
apprentice the techniques they had not learned at school. Therefore, =
they felt that taking on an apprentice for the mandatory 3 months was a =
waste of their time and an economic drain on their potteries.

It seems ironic that the same people who complain that the students are =
not well enough educated as studio potters to employ them in their own =
potteries, are in favor of adding more art to the studio potter program. =
I did not a get a clear answer on how this would work. I think if =
these potters already think that the education is lacking in giving good =
enough throwing skills, it certainly will not make stronger potters by =
giving them less throwing time. Or could it? Is a "break" good for the =
disciplined soul?

I think my BFA was much too arty to give me the skills I could have used =
right off the bat about two years ago when I started independently as a =
studio potter. I had not learned enough straight forward production. I =
really had to and still do, sit my down over days and go over the same =
form, over and over, before I can say, well, now I can throw 20 or 50 =
that little less than than subtle variances. Mr. Uchida would certainly =
not accept my work as production. But it works for the work I am doing.

There were a two potters with the same opinion as mine, that the school =
should stick to their program, but try to make it more inspiring. I =
think if so many potters here are unwilling to give apprenticeships and =
support more art in the programs, I think there could be less than 2 =
educated per year, but a lot more art ceramists. There are even less =
jobs for them as ceramists. Most go into teaching and do their private =
work. I would like to see the craft of potters being developed against =
straight forward guidelines as it had been in the past here, (you pass =
or fail the final practical) than against more open, subjective =
guidelines that an art education in general, can use.

If I had a really big studio, I would like an apprentice. I have had =
high school students (two) each spend 3 months with me in the studio on =
independent projects. I think it was rewarding. I admit it did nothing =
for me financially and took up time, but at least two more students are =
considering a ceramic eduction. I think the fundamental skill of =
throwing for a potter to be successful is obvious and hope that the =
school here will continue in a skilled craftsman direction instead of =
fork over into the arts. There are art schools here, and I think it is =
important to preserve this single institution as place for potters. Not =
sacred, but certainly a nearly extinct animal.
The down side is that being a studio potter is very hard work and not =
terribly financially rewarding. But it is a respectable craft that I =
hope will not be diluted to an art education. To be perfectly clear, I =
think an art education is just as respectable. I think however, it is =
important to keep the focuses separate.
What the school here will change in the future curriculum, if at all, is =
not yet decided. =20
regards from Alisa in Denmark

Snail Scott on thu 9 may 02

At 09:30 PM 5/8/02 +0200, Alisa wrote:
>Last month I was invited to participate in a debate on the education of
potters in Denmark. There are several art and ceramic schools here, but
only one potters' school, where the students spend 4 years production
throwing, mold making and glaze chemistry... They have proposed to lessen
the actual throwing time and incorporate more independent projects. This
would mean, projects that could include handbuilding, unique ware,
sculpture, etc...

That would be a shame. Not only would it diminish what
is evidently one of only a few rigorous vocational
training programs in pottery, but it would presume to
improve it by adding a dollop of 'independent' art
projects? As Alisa said, not only are there plenty of
art schools teaching ceramics already, it would give
the students even less chance of making a living
after school than they'd have had as well-trained
potters. (Oooh, yeah, gotta get on that art-making
gravy train, gonna be a zillionaire!) And, it also
addresses the notion of art-making as something that
can be learned 'on the side', as a break from 'real'
instruction? A school which produces half-assed
artists who can 'sort of' throw? Just what the world
needs more of!

It does sound like a particularly tedious program, if
it's only managed to attract two students this year.
Changes are clearly in order. Handbuilding and unique
ware doesn't seem like such a stretch - it would build
on the principles shared with thrown pottery, and
expand the student's repertoire of skills and options.
But - this is just me, maybe - but I see a huge world
of difference between handbuilt pottery/vessels/
functional ware, and handbuilt sculpture. The craft
skills may be similar, but the end product, and the
intent and thought process to get there, are vastly
different. Sculpture is NOT just pottery with the
functional constraints removed! Such attitudes result
in almost as many crappy objects as get produced by
the notion that pottery is just sculpture you can eat
out of. If there's anything we need less of, not more,
it's inept sculptors.

It's rather disappointing that the local potters are
so unwilling to share their expertise. Surely any
educational effort can be improved with some real-
world contact, and breadth of out-of-the-classroom


Janet Kaiser on thu 9 may 02

Gee, Alisa. That would be a shame and I quite agree with your take on
the whole situation. I am afraid that only two students would mean the
death of the whole programme here in the UK anyway. Indeed... Anything
less than 22 would be hatchet material for college directors looking
to save pennies.

I personally believe the potters who said they could not afford
apprenticeship placements may have been saying one thing, whilst
meaning another. There is no climate of sharing in Europe (as you have
already found) and I would suspect that potters are looking to defend
their patch. Employment clauses like "will not go into business within
XX mile/km radius" are not enforceable under national law in some
countries. "Free enterprise", freedom of movement and all that.
However, it is true that, the added cost of a student is terrific in
Europe. Insurance cover doubles in cost and all sorts of stupid rules
like providing a toilet, rest space, certified first-aid training,
etc. etc... So the payment of the student/apprentice is just half the
whole story. Cost PLUS never-ending implementation of bureaucracy are
just too much for a simple studio potter. Why bother? What is in it
for them? A lot of wasted time and money. "Investment in the
future"... whose future? In what way is the potter's future going to
be any different?

Young people who are thinking of careers are also being lead to
believe that "art and design" is the way to go. No more messy, dirty
hands-on work or skill base... It is all CAD and theoretical, with
little actual production beyond maquettes made of paper, cardboard hot
glue gun, staples and sticky tape. Even drawing skills are no longer
required. It is all very decadent!

For an example of what the Craft Council of Great Britain now
considers "Craftmanship worth promoting", look at the cover of the
current Craft magazine. Little wire figures dressed in scraps of
material. My God, I was making those when I was six! The article on a
silversmith was treated more like an historical documentation. How
quaint... Someone who hand raises silver? What an old fart! Black and
white photos are good enough for his work...

Yes, even ceramics courses are now "Art and Design (Ceramics)" with a
great deal of art,, a little design, but very little practical skill
learning. "Go forth and experiment" being the most instruction and
help students receive. That is not at all helpful in a society which
then has no place for them to go after they graduate with their
degrees clutched tightly in their hot little hands. The number of jobs
for designers can be counted on one hand, as are apprenticeships...
Professional makers including potters have often been appalled at the
lack of skill graduate students command, so they would rather give an
18 year old school-leaver a place. At least they do not have jumped up
ideas about their worth and value to mankind!

Yes, the Danish potters may just have felt the same way here too... It
is hard when students bounce in saying what is right, wrong and all
the stuff they are fed by academics in college, when a potter has been
working his/her own way for years and possibly is the last
representative of several generations of a potting dynasty.

It also beggars belief that "design" is taught purely on the basis of
"how it looks". Totally superficial. No thought as to functionality or
practicality. It is the technician's job to sort all that boring stuff
out! "I am an artist!" so do not need to know any of that or take it
into consideration... Hummm! Could it be that the courses we offer our
young people are a direct reflection of society today. All glamour and
no guts?

The Chapel of Art / Capel Celfyddyd
Home of The International Potters' Path
8 Marine Crescent : Criccieth : GB-Wales