My Museum-Show Sculpture for Ceramics II
During the spring semester of the year 2001, I took a second course in ceramics offered by the Visual Arts Department of Raritan Valley Community College, which is located in North Branch, NJ. I finally got the chance to learn how to use a potter's wheel. The instructor was Ann Tsubota, who is also the Chair of the department. Her assignment for the final piece was to be a response to the "Confrontational Clay" exhibit that was at the American Craft Museum in New York until the middle of March . We were told visit the exhibit and then imagine that we had been invited to participate. The sculputre should incorporate at least 5 thrown pieces.
I used two thrown pieces for the base of my sculpture and additional ones for the torso and the head. I brought the total up to 6 by using a throwing stick to make the legs. I used a slab technique to make the arms, which were also hollow, and I tried to connect all the interior air spaces to the main opening in the base. I finished the piece with iron-oxide stain and black engobe covered by transparent glaze.
The figure portrays what I want to call a post-post-modern epiphany. Before 1880, I imagine that he was a modern man who believed that art and politics could be rationalized with the methods that were proving so successful in science and industry. Then he suddenly found himself at the gates of Hell . As a materialist, he thought that no behavior is inherently moral or immoral and that Heaven and Hell were fictions made up by organized religions to control weak-minded people.
Our modern man was so surprised to find himself at the gates of Hell that he immediately sat down to think about it. He thought about it very hard for a long time. His convictions wavered a little after about 40 years because a great but futile war had left about 8 million civilians dead. However, it was possible that the rationalization of politics hadn't taken hold yet, and modern art still seemed promising. After another 25 years, supposedly modern states had indulged in an even greater war that killed about 35 million civilians including 5 million of an ethnic minority who were simply exterminated, over 300,000 civilians and prisoners executed after the taking of a single city, and 250,000 people in two cities blasted by devices developed in a technical program of heroic proportions.
Seven years later, another heroic technical program had demonstrated a second type of device that could easily be thousands of times more destructive than the first one. Modern states had started to acquire the ability to end civilization in about 15 minutes of fury. Modern art in the US also reached its logical conclusion by embracing formalism, which is a theory that says a work of art should not refer to anything. After another 7 years, this period ended abruptly when Andy Warhol demonstrated, with his Brillo-box sculptures, that one could no longer distinguish works of art from ordinary objects .
The Thinker still believed that pre-modern values had been based on superstition, but he felt compelled to give up the idea that politics and art were going to be successfully rationalized any time soon. Therefore, he decided to view all cultures and life styles as equally valid. This opened up a wide range of art that hadn't been taken seriously until then. It also unleashed a sexual revolution. Unfortunately, it did not end the targeting of civilians in wars. A couple of generations later, a serious flaw has become apparent in multiculturalism, too. A new sexually-transmitted disease emerged that has already taken the lives of over 21 million people. Thirty-five million more are living with it, and the human cost seems destined to surpass that of World War II.
After seeing 120 years of unsuccessful social experiments motivated by modern and post-modern theories, the Thinker finally realized that pre-modern values weren't irrelevant just because the arguments that were used to support them no longer make sense. While it may be true that no action is inherently moral or immoral, and even though a cultural precedent can be given for almost any kind of behavior, what really matters is what one knows about the possible consequences. We commit a fault when the life of another human being might be shortened as a direct result of our actions.
1. Confrontational Clay: The Artist As Social Critic, Curator: Judith Schwartz, Ph.D., Department of Art and Art Professions, New York University, New York (see http://www.maaa.org/exhi_usa/exhibitions/clay.html)
2. The Gates of Hell, Antoinette Le Normand-Romain (see http://www.musee-rodin.fr/senf1-e.htm).
3. See Chapter 2, Theory and Art Criticism, of the book Criticizing Art, by Terry Barrett, Mayfield Publishing Company, Mountain View, CA (1994).
(last updated May 28, 2001)
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Copyright 2003, Terence J. Nelson