Craft Victoria Craft Victoria


The Future of Ceramics

A forum in response to the closure of ceramics at the VCA considered the road ahead.

On 19 August, a public meeting was held at Craft Victoria to discuss the recent decision to stop intake into the undergraduate ceramics course at the Victorian College of the Arts. This decision has followed the closure of other ceramics courses around Australia. The dean Su Baker announced the decision in the following terms:

Due to a national trend that has developed over the past few years, from 2003 onwards ceramics will focus enrolments in the Bachelor of Fine Art Honours and postgraduate studies.

As a result the School of Art will not be offering Ceramics in the Bachelor of Fine Arts.

The phrase ‘due to a national trend’ seemed worthy of close attention. Implicit in this phrase is a potential domino effect—it is enough that others are closing ceramics, for every other course to make the same decision. This was a situation that required some clear and immediate response. The meeting was mostly attended by ceramic educators, but also included students from the VCA course, who are seeing out the final year.

The situation seemed parallel to the problem of logging in old-growth forests, where short-term interests left unfettered can irreversibly deplete our natural heritage and diversity. In the case of the arts, cheap popularism and lack of vision endangers the sustainability of Australian culture. While that trend cannot be turned around overnight, it is important to maintain our precious artistic skill bank for a time which will re-invest in a vibrant and engaging local culture. Thankfully, there are signs that this future is approaching, with a growing scepticism towards corporate culture and intense interest in indigenous crafts.

The talk at the meeting was free and often impassioned. The following summary does not reflect the mix of dramatic statements, wry twists of humour, and calls to action. But it does reflect four clear points that emerged from discussion.

1. It’s not just about ceramics

The closure of ceramics courses needs to be understood in a broader context. Our time is witness to an ever narrower focus on the practical outcome. Areas of study that lie outside that, such as languages, music and visual arts, are being cut. As a small department, ceramics is often the first to go when arts education budgets are trimmed.

Ceramics is also vulnerable as a discipline that works in the third dimension. Reality today is increasingly flattened out to fit into the ever growing number of screens. Of course, these problems are exactly what makes ceramics such as critical medium for out time. There is something especially human about the process of making three-dimensional form out of the earth. This is particularly important to preserve as the screen monoculture takes over more of our common reality and the only nature we see is through the windscreen of our 4-wheel drives.

2. Reach the young

Students are not going to be interested in tertiary ceramics courses unless they have been introduced to it as part of their school experience. The ceramic community needs to engage more with secondary and even primary education. They need to inspire a future generation from the ground up.

3 Find your own path

We need to appreciate skills that have been acquired by the established ceramists. Ceramics education needs to engage their expertise, even some makers slip through the academic grid. Many aspects of ceramics are not comfortable in a theory-centric arts school.

PhotoShop is not an evil in itself. It is valid for ceramists today to take what they can from the new technologies. There is room in the future for an experimental ceramics that makes new connections with different disciplines: ceramics and music, ceramics and photography, ceramics and architecture. Ceramics offers a way of giving other disciplines expression in three-dimensional form.

4. Go east

Other cultures show a strong regard for ceramics and are eager to appreciate Australian work. The America market for ceramics is still very strong, and many local ceramists can take advantage of that. The newly emerging art scenes in Asia, particularly Hong Kong, offer a vibrant ceramic culture that provides Australia with both an important new market and a fresh influence. Just as Australian ceramics in the mid 20th-century looked to Japan for inspiration, today we can look to the new China.

For related writing:

  • Damon Moon's article on the neglect of pottery
  • Other articles on ceramics

The images on this page are of the discussion participants.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Craft Victoria. Please log into the online forums to discuss the content of these articles.