How Clay Has Moved Beyond Craft

Clay as Craft Clay as Something Far, Far Different

The recent New York Times review of a pottery show at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia brings attention to the way this once craft is still fighting for recognition as a fine art.

Work by Kathy Butterly

Clay is a craftsy medium, despite the many directions it has taken since the caveman days. As the show’s press release points out, “Clay is a base material. From potsherds to porcelain fixtures, clay is synonymous with the building of industries and cultures. At the same time , its very materiality—its tactile malleability, earthen sensuousness, and humidity—make it the medium of more elemental associations and expressions.” The pieces being exhibited are anything but craftsy or utilitarian, and are more appropriately called sculptures whose medium happens to be clay.

Works by Ron Nagle

It is, as the review noted, remarkable to have a show solely devoted to clay, and it provides an impressive answer to what might be done besides bowls. Interestingly, the reviewer notes that some prominent artists did not care to exhibit in a show that only featured clay–snobbery in reverse.

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