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.
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
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
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
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.
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