This was the keynote talk to the 2002 NCECA (U.S. ceramics convention). It was originally to be published in their journal, but that never happened.
It’s an argument about the marginal place of ceramics in contemporary art history, art criticism, and museum and gallery curation. For several generations ceramists, curators, and critics have been trying to promote ceramics practices so that they can be more central to art historical narratives, art criticism, and museum and gallery display. “Postmodern ceramics,” multimedia installations, and new sculptural practices are among the attempts to move ceramics closer to the center or attention of the art world.
But ceramics is traditionally a secondary, ornamental, or optional medium in modernism, postmodernism, and contemporary art, and interventions in its behalf will not fundamentally alter that fact.
Instead I propose that ceramics emphasizes its materiality: in that way ceramics practices can be central to current discussions of artistic material, hypostasis, and phenomenology.
The paper is intended as a kind of position paper for people interested in the ways ceramic art presents itself in the art world; I also hope it can be of use to art history and art theory instructors, who can have some difficulty finding strategies for including ceramics in their survey classes.
This is a polemic paper, and all comments, suggestions, etc., are welcome.