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encouraging kids to be artists / japan / art vs. craft

updated sun 15 sep 02


John Baymore on sat 14 sep 02

Vince wrote>
"In East Asian cultures most kids grow up being artists - making art,
looking at art, building skills. That does not mean that they become
artists, but it does give them an outlook on the world which helps them i=
whatever they do."

Very interesting to note that East Asian cultures appreciate pottery, do
have this silly Art vs. Craft debate and are willing to pay! A-mazing!

Gayle and all,

I just came back from being a presenting ARTIST (their term for it....not=

mine ) at the international wood fire festival in Japan in August. =

There were some 40,000 to 50,000 general audience visitors that came
through the event in the sports-type stadium where all us 80-ish
international ceramists were working. I speak enough Japanese to be
dangerous ..... so I was able to converse with the general public
somewhat..... and there were often volunteer translators available to hel=
out too.

It was amazing how well versed most of these "general public" were in bot=
the the technical aspects of pottery making and also in the historical
context of pottery in their own country. They seemed to know kiln wares =
sight or by name like many here in the USA know ball players or cars. Dit=
forming and firing techniques. Most of these people were just general
Japanese citizens that wanted to see what all these international potters=

were up to. And this same phenomona was there wherever I went before and=

after the Festival. The comments and questions asked were lightyears ahe=
of the same kinds of interactions with the general American public I have=

had over the years.

This is not my first experience with this phenomona. When I was in Japan=

in 1996 I experienced the exact same thing.

Generalities are always dangerous...... but I'd have to say that the
Japanese, as a people, .... seem to be more "aesthetically aware" when it=

comes to the arts in general, than the US populace. And when it comes to=

pottery in specific.... it is amazing the base knowledge they seem to hav=

One need merely watch Japanese TV for a while to understand that they tak=
their arts and cultural traditions very seriously and how they actively t=
to communicate information about those arts to the populace in general. =

The TV is LOADED with programs on the arts and culture. (It is ALSO loade=
with the most inane crap you can think of.... but that is "the dichotomy
that is Japan".) One of my favorites is "Yakimono Tambo".... "Pottery
Pilgrimage"........ a weekly show that visits a different potter each tim=
Then there is the made of TV movie that I recently saw (I subscribe to T=
Japan here at my studio)..... the whole plot was around a young woman =

learning to be a potter....and her struggles with learning the craft, how=

her role fits into her society and with her sensei, and how to do busines=
as a potter (interesting approach for Japan...... women aren't
traditionally potters).

BTW... if you want to rent a real "potters" foreign film.... go to the
video store and rent "Ugetsu". It is basically a Japanese morality
play.......about a pair of potter protagonists! Even if you don't want t=
read the subtitles and really get into the movie..... just watch the
background.... the pots, kilns, and period costumes are worth the rental
alone. There's some "movie inaccuracy" in some pottery techniques......
but what the heck . And it is a good story..... with comedy, intrigue=
war, ghosts, and so on. The moral of the story........... nah..........
you'll have to rent it .

The "art / craft debate" used to be completely "moot" there.... of COURSE=

it is all "art"..... why do you even ask? But along with McDonalds, Mr.=

Donut, and KFC...... they are starting to pick up some of America's
"cultural influence". But that is just a fledgling change...and a tiny
minority.... so far. Contemporary style ceramics (non-traditional work)
has had a struggle over the past 20 years in Japan in becoming "accepted"=

as a viable, "real", and valid approach to ceramics. It is now really
coming into it's own...... but in a sense..... for a long time it was the=

opposite situation from that here in the US....... the traditional
functional work was considered acceptable at the highest levels of
"art"....... but sculptural and "avante garde" clay........ was not. It
wasn't somehow "denegrated" as "craft"...... it just wasn't any
"good".....maybe ...... "bad clay art". But it was still art. =

It is interesting to note that many "traditional pots" still tend to sell=

for more there than the more sculptural "ceramic art"....... kinda' the
exact opposite from the USA. And the nature of much of what is looked a=
as "out there" type work....... would be looked at here in the US as pret=
conservative traditional style pieces .

But the "pottery mecca" of Japan IS changing. I was asked to represent t=
USA on a 10 person panel at the Festival discussing the current success o=
and the future possibilities for this festival and other such cultural
exchanges.... and one of the other panelists........ Kodaira Yukio......
representing Japan, spoke to how even in Japan handcraft pottery was now
experienceing a significant loss of interest amongst the younger
generation. He hoped that this kind of international ceramics exchange
would help to reinvigorate the Japanese interest in their own ceramic

And the economy in Japan is now in TERRIBLE shape. From all the Japanese=

potters I talked to at the Festival (and elsewhere), it HAS affected
pottery sales there. Pottery is still selling....... but the prices are
down somewhat. And the medium price range pieces ($1000-5000 USD) seem t=
be affected the most. The "rich" still can afford to buy the $30,000 USD=

pieces from people like Shimaoka Tatsuzo... and the less affluent can sti=
buy the cheaper mass production wares (which are very abundant and
nice)..... but the middle class ..... like middle classes everywhere.....=

are feeling the real squeeze. So the "middle range" potters are probably=

hit the hardest by the downturn.

But effective prices for truly handcrafted work STILL tend to be way, way=

higher in Japan than here in the USA. The years of study it takes to
become a master of the medium and the amount of labor that goes into such=

work is pretty much still appreciated by " the masses". And the Japanese=

tendency to be aware of the importance of the "art of daily living"
......... (as Leach said "...the worship of life itself.....").........
helps keep demand for such crafts as pottery alive.

So....yes...... Vince is "dead on" in his evaluation of this situation fr=
my experiences.

I think of the current situation in my younger daughter's high school her=
in Wilton. She is involved in a contemporary dance group that has been i=
existance for a few years. They are trying to get formal school
"acceptance" for the group. The school won't fund them as an official
school activity. However...... if they change from "dance" to being
"cheerleaders".... they WILL fund them. "Yeah" sports... "BOO" art.



John Baymore
River Bend Pottery
22 Riverbend Way
Wilton, NH 03086 USA

603-654-2752 (s)
800-900-1110 (s)