Monday, January 19, 2015

Formal Concerns and Content Issues

Professor Stephen Robison

There are many issues to take into consideration when you are analyzing, planning out and creating a piece or a body of work. These are not rules that are followed, but these elements may be thought about as guidelines. The idea is the starting point. Not all formal concerns are reflective in a piece of art, nor are they all always a concern of the artist as he or she plans out and/or produces their work. However, both formal concerns and reflection on content are important in critically analyzing the work. Generally, most artists that are formally trained go through 2 and 3 dimensional design courses that introduce these formal concept and then sometimes become ingrained in their process of creating their work. But even untrained artists have many of these elements in their work. Sometimes the artist may not be purposely including formal concerns as they conceive their work, but as we critically analyze a piece of art, we can use these formal elements to dissect and explain the work on a formal level. Subjectively and objectively breaking down the content that the work holds, is also the substance in the analysis of the work.

First I want put out a few ideas relative to formal issues and then I will write briefly on content, concept development and the evolution of ones content.

The formal concerns or elements I want to analyze are color, craft, form, shape, space, volume, line, materialality, movement, proportion, scale, balance, weight, tactility, texture, surface and unity.

Within content issues I will include discourse revolving around art theory and craft theory.



Color is the property of objects or pigment to reflect light that is perceived as red, blue, green, or other shades.

Color is much more than what Sir Isaac Newton discovered. Within art, it is also the psychological response to color and what color can signify to people. Color is an expressive tool the artist uses to show the world how he or she sees the subject matter they represent or the feeling they are trying to express.

The psychological response to color can control, pacify, give discomfort or pleasure, make us feel warm or cold, can arouse us, scare us and effect our actions in a variety of other ways. This happens from day one, when someone may choose to paint their girl’s room pink or their boy’s room blue. This is in some way a form of brain washing or encoding and is a cultural use of color. The issues revolving around these colors in our culture relative to being a signifier for the sex of your child is not the same throughout the world. It actually seems to be a 20th century idea and was opposite before. Some say that pink used to be the signifier for a baby boy and blue was for girls. There is not a lot of evidence on this, but color in general was not used much as a signifier for gender before WWII, when people would generally dress infants in white. The point is that our perception is based on some sort of fashion choice and nothing reflective that is inherent in the chosen colors. However, color affects us on a day-to-day basis. In many schools and prisons a mint green is used on walls because some studies say it has a calming effects. Its analogous color, pink, is often used in holding cells for the very same reason. The studies say that the length of time an individual is exposed to pink is important to its control over the individual’s behavior. Over long periods of time pink can create agitation instead of a calming effect, this is why it is found in holding cells and not long-term prison cells. Pink has also been used in prisons for uniforms. The idea behind this is also one of a psychological use of color in that it causes an emasculating affect on the inmates. Psychological effects of color can fill several books and be the topic of thousands of studies and it has. But as culture changes with the rapidly shrinking world, so too can perceptions of what colors mean and how they affect us.

Here is a list of colors and some ideas on how they may affect us. Some of these word associations with color I am sure you will connect with and some you won’t. I would bet you could think of some word associations that that are not listed under a specific color. Color associations are sometimes internalized culturally and sometimes some studies say are physiological responses that are pretty much the same with humans in all cultures. However, I would argue that most are nurtured through cultural signifiers.

Red is a primary color that has green as its compliment and is at the extreme end of the visible spectrum.

The color has been said to increase pulse rate and breathing and causes blood pressure to rise. Infants respond to red well, if they are given a choice between a red toy and a blue toy they usually play with the red toy.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are stop, hot, passionate, urgent, danger, blood, devil, angry, enraged, amorous, sexy, communism, outspoken and optimistic.

Yellow is a primary color that has purple as its compliment and is between green and orange on the color wheel.

The color of yellow reflects a sunny disposition and the idealist. It takes more chemicals in the eye to see the color yellow. Yellow enhances concentration and speeds up metabolism. Yellow can have some negative effects -- babies cry more often and longer in yellow rooms; in convalescent homes it makes older people shake as it affects their minor motor movement.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are, yield, caution, coward, bright, bees and sun.

Blue is a primary color that has orange as its compliment and is between green and violet on the color wheel.

Blue is the number one color choice of the introspective and educated. Blue causes the brain to send off 11 chemical tranquilizers and is a wonderful calming color. But at the same time, it is also said to pump people up and is proven to increase energy. Weight lifters should lift in a blue room.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are responsibility, trustworthiness, compassion, honesty, integrity, righteous, puritanical, moral, severe, prudish, cool, melancholy, sad, glum, downcast, gloomy, unhappy, quality and first place.

Orange is a secondary color between yellow and red with its compliment being blue.

Orange is a color not many people like. Not often do you see people wearing orange, driving an orange car or painting their house orange. Those who do like orange are generally thought of as social.
Some words that come to mind related to the color are confident, creative, adventurous, social, Halloween.

Green is a secondary color and is between yellow and blue and has a compliment of red.

Light green for long term is said to have a calming effect and help with concentration. Green represents the god of fertility in Celtic religion, Mother Nature, money and means go.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are nature, health, generation, contentment, harmony, fresh, sick, unripe, immature, simple, jealousy, new, go and the movement that can fix the world’s problems.

Purple is a color having components of both red and blue and is the compliment of yellow.

Purple is the color inducing the impression of richness and reverence. The other side is instability and uneasiness, as some countries relate this color to death. If you use it as a pastel tint, it is said that purple can trigger soft, romantic feelings, soothing and sedative. Most men don’t like purple.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are royalty, intelligence, wealth, beauty, inspiration, sophistication, high rank, exalted, imperial, princely, excessively ornate, rhetoric, profane, death, shocking.

Pink is a color from light crimson to pale red and is a combination of red mixed with white; pink has a compliment of green.

Pink gives a feeling of being pampered and is used in jail holding cells to create a short term calming effect. It is hypothesized that Baker-Miller Pink, has a measurable and predictable effect on reducing physiological variables associated with aggression in subjects of normal intelligence. Pink is also a color used to treat patients suffering from headache disorders.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are femininity, sweetness, and communist.

Brown is a dark tertiary color with a yellowish or reddish hue. Mix a compliment with its primary and you will obtain a type of brown.

Solid, reliable brown is the color of earth and is abundant in nature. Light brown implies genuineness while dark brown is similar to wood or leather. Brown can also be sad and wistful. Men are more apt to say brown is one of their favorite colors.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are earth, natural, drab, tan, leather, coffee, chocolate, solid, sad, and genuine.

White- is a color without hue and is at the extreme end of the scale of grays and opposite to black.

White has strong meanings and many cultural. For instance white would be inappropriate to wear at a wedding in China for it is the color of mourning, which is of course the opposite in European cultures and in America.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are innocence, purity, virginal, sterility, fairness, snow, frost, milk, ghostly, blank, empty, transparent, honorable, dependable, auspicious, fortunate, harmless, light, reverence, purity, truth, peace, innocence, cleanliness, simplicity, security, humility, sterility, winter, coldness, surrender, fearfulness, unimaginative, fire, death in Eastern cultures, life, marriage in Western cultures, hope, bland, empty and celebration.

Gray – is a color between black and white.

Some studies say it is a good color for an office as it promotes productivity and stimulates creativity.

Some words that come to mind related to the color are neutral, ambiguous, intermediate, apathetic, dull, drab, monotonous, mature, sober, industry,somber, mousy, mediocrity and smoke.

Black- is a color lacking in hue or brightness and absorbs light without reflecting any hues composed in it.
Black can produce a feeling of solidarity and formality. It can be a color of authority and power but at the same time can imply submission.
Some words that come to mind related to the color are aloof, evil, death, unknown, fear, mystery, dark, night, sad, murky, sinful, inhuman, fiendish, devilish, infernal, monstrous, horrible, nefarious, treacherous, traitorous, villainous, depressing, somber, doleful, mournful, funereal, disastrous, calamitous, harmful, deliberate, pessimistic, dismal, hostile, threatening, wicked, disgrace, morbid, grotesque, undesirable, dangerous, and of course, Johnny Cash.

Studies on the physiological effects of color have never been all inclusive or conclusive. They are studies and not necessarily fact, but we all have to admit that certain colors affect us and certainly affect the way we see art. We could for example be hard pressed to see a dismal scene created with bright tones in yellow, or a joyous scene created in blacks and browns.
Other uses of color as a signifier are in front of us every day, such as red for stop, green for go and yellow for caution. Another use of color as a signifier is within tribal association and has a long time use as a communicator in this respect. From the Norse tribes to African and indigenous peoples of the Americas, color has a significant meaning within ritual and tradition. Present day tribal associations with color can also be found in gang representation such as the Crypts and the Bloods. Just as the psychological effects of color can fill several books, so have studies on color as a signifier.

Color Terminology
As in many others areas of knowledge, Color has its own set of terms which convey specific meaning and which may not always coincide with common usage of a term.

Hue is the traditional color “name”, such as red, which represents a specific wavelength of visible light. In most instances color and hue are used interchangeably even though they do not exactly mean the same thing or refer to the same phenomenon. The hues in the spectrum are traditionally listed as red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet. ROYGBIV is a common mnemonic for remembering the order of colored light in the spectrum. Black, white and the grays produced from them are not usually considered to be hues. The average eye can differentiate approximately 150 different hues.

Value is the gradations of light and dark on the surface of objects or the relative degree of lightness or darkness. Most colors are recognizable in a full range of values; e.g. we identify as a form of “red” everything from the palest pink to the darkest maroon. Even though we assign different names to the different values of red, we still know that they are derived from red. All hues have a normal value, the lightness or darkness of that hue as it appears in the spectrum. Yellow, for example, is a light-valued color while violet is a dark-valued color. As a result, there will be an uneven range of light or dark values for each hue.

Tint is the term used to describe a hue that has been lighted in value from its normal value. Pink is a tint of red. Tints are achieved by mixing white with a pigment or by using a pigment in a dilute form to allow for the white of the ground to show through.

Shade is the term used to describe a hue that has been darkened in value from its normal value. Maroon is a shade of red. Shades are achieved by mixing black with a pigment.
Intensity refers to the purity of a hue. Intensity is also known as Chroma or Saturation. The highest intensity or purity of a hue is the hue as it appears in the spectrum or on the color wheel. A hue reduced in intensity is called a Tone. A tone is a hue with reduced or dulled strength.

A tone of a hue is created in two ways:
1. By adding a neutral gray, equal in value to the hue. For example, a light gray added to yellow or a medium gray added to red or a dark gray added to violet.

2. By adding its complement. Tones that have their intensity reduced almost to the point of appearing gray are referred to as a Chromatic Gray.
Local Color refers to the natural hue/color of something independent of any lighting conditions. For example, the local color of a STOP sign is red, grass is green and the sky is blue.

Complementary Hue: In most color systems the complement of a hue is the hue directly opposite it on the color wheel. For example, in the Prang system green is the complement of red, yellow the complement of violet and orange the complement of blue. The dictionary defines “complement” as something that fills in or makes up what is lacking.

Primary Hues: These are red, blue and yellow in the Prang color system. They are referred to as primary because (theoretically) they cannot be made by mixing other hues and because other hues can (again in theory) be made by mixing two of the primaries together.

Secondary Hues: These are orange, green and violet in the Prang system. Each can be produced by mixing two primary hues together.

Tertiary Hues: These are hues intermediary between primary and secondary hues. These are usually named and mixed by combining adjacent primary and secondary hues; e.g. red-orange is the tertiary between red and orange.



Craft can be thought of as the skillful outcome of a technique or use of material and tools with a sense of professionalism and refinement. Not all art has a high quality of craft and it is not a necessity for the art to be critically analyzed in a positive light. The same can be said if the work is nothing more then being skillfully crafted, it will also not perform well when being critically analyzed for its merits conceptually.

The craft media much like fine art media can be broken down into specific materials used within the piece. The main craft media are ceramics, fibers, glass, metals and wood. The lines between the two disciplines (art and craft) have somewhat been obscured in the last few decades and I hasten to say have always been obscured before the very recent advent of the term “artist” as compared to the later adjective that referred to the maker as “craftsman”. Some of the best craft artists and movements throughout history and into the contemporary scene take into account the same formal concerns and address all content issues as fine art media artists do.

“Utilitarianists” are artists using craft media for work that also has a function of use. This work has one more added element or possible layer to the work, for instance a cup is also handled intimately and put to the lips during its alternate function of utility. For each purpose of utility within each individual media in craft, there are some parallel concerns such as ergonomics and the tactile qualities of the piece.

Non “utilitarianist” craft media artists who choose to focus on issues of addressing something with the figure or any other subject matter, do so just as a painter who uses oil, acrylic, encaustic, or any painting media or matrix or a sculptor who uses bronze, steel, stone, fiberglass or any other material that doesn’t fall into the craft media category. Within the contemporary art world, installation, site specific and performance pieces can also be found using a variety of media and often we find craft media imbedded in their work.

Although in the 1960’s there was some debate over “art verses craft”, in contemporary art today the dividing lines are not considered much. When analyzing both utilitarian and non-utilitarian craft pieces, we still rely on formal elements to dissect the work. But there is more and more of a movement to create an individual discourse that revolves around craft theory. Even though much of it is based on theory and conceptual issues related to art in general and may be somewhat redundant in purpose, there is one issue that comes up in this piece of writing and that is “anything can be art but not everything can be craft”. In craft theory this is accepted as true among most practitioners of the media. If there is new discourse and new theory it may revolve around “utilitarianist” concerns in relationship to mass produced products and individuals’ missions to give the public more of a grass roots connection to art and objects that are on a more accessible monetary level. John Ruskin talked about this issue with printmaking back in 1870. Crafts as a media have the ability to connect with more people of different economic backgrounds, just as Ruskin discussed the accessibility to art through printmaking in his “Lectures on Art”.

Some words and ideas to think about that may reference craft as the skill in making are smooth, polished, sanded, buffed, clean welds, solid stretchers, strong joints, clean joints, smoothed joints, hidden joints, embellished joints, dovetail or complicated joints, findings, sharp edges, rounded or smooth edges, precision, measure twice and cut once, process or the voice of the making is not evident or it is evident, voice of the material is used or materialality is not apparent.


Form, Shape, Space and Volume

These four elements often relate and reinforce each other.

Form - A three-dimensional volume or the illusion of a three-dimension volume. An edge can define the inside or outside of a perceived form.

Shape - A two-dimensional area or plane that may be organic or inorganic, geocentric, open or closed, natural or of human origin. A line can define the inside or outside edge of a shape.

Space - The emptiness or area between, around, above, below, or contained within objects. Shapes and forms are defined by the space around and within them, just as space is defined or inhabited by the shapes and forms within it.

Volume- The quantity of space a shape inhabits and/or contains or the size of the three-dimensional space enclosed within or occupied by an object.

Words and concepts that can relate to form, shape, space and volume are plane, placement, horizontal, vertical, rectangular, spherical, cubic, architectonic, figurative, abstract, representational, organic, natural, wabi sabi, solid, negative space, positive space, implied shape and implied form.



Line can be thought of as an identifiable path of a point moving in space. It can vary in width, direction, length and texture.

Line is used to define shape and allude to space and volume. Line can create perspective and control the composition within the framework of the piece. This is an element that is used in both 2 and 3 dimensional work.

The variety of line can be firm, solid, sketchy, variant, heavy, light, translucent, hesitant, zigzag, straight, hard, soft, directional, contouring, delineating, bisecting, segmenting, bordering, an edge, leading, broken line, gesture, calligraphic, fast line, slow line, wobbly line, ordered line, chaotic line, and it can be relative to brush or stylus, quality or load, like a dry brush, crayons or pastel.



Materialality is about the substance used to make things and its perceived and innate qualities. Issues related to it can be of formal and/or conceptual decisions. Many craft artists are dedicated to their media and materialality may play an important role in their goal for highly crafted work. Many artists who don’t work with craft media also find an affinity towards one media, for instance an oil painter may paint with acrylic sometimes but would choose to stick with oil for most of their work. The intrinsic value of a material along with the visual voice and the way an audience may view something are some issues revolving around materialality. An object made out of wood as compared to one made out of a precious metal is one way to look at what the material brings to the piece. So what are the materials an artist can work with? I would say anything. Here is a list of what I have seen art made from: human hair, human skin, animal skin, animal hair, toe nails and finger nails, fecal matter, urine, blood, semen, milk, wax, wood, gold, lead, silver, brass, bronze, steel, iron, chrome, clay, oil, gum, leaves, rocks, sand, water, ice, vegetables, meat, glass, styrofoam, plastic, fiberglass, reeds, mud, dirt, bubble wrap, card board, canvas, silk, linen, polyester, nylon, cotton, cement, plaster, gas, fire, air, paper, grass, rubber, gem stones, coal, earth minerals and synthetic pigments mixed with a catalyst such as oil, ceramic or glass, wheat and commercially made objects. I am sure I have missed a few here and you may think of other materials. The point is every material an artist uses has its own esthetic quality and also can have a conceptual relationship with the content of the work.

Certain properties or workability characteristics and inherent qualities of materials can be thought of as plastic or moldable, easily altered, hard, dense, opaque, transparent, translucent, ridged, brittle, fragile, castable, smelly, drippy, fabricated, found, altered, connection to natural world or man made, monetary value like silver gold, silk, and bronze.

Perceived qualities of a material can be both subjective and objective and also can parallel some of the inherent qualities. The audience of a piece of work may have opposite reactions and perceptions of the materialality that a piece of art uses. Some materials an artist may choose to work with such as semen, hair, blood or materials that may bring a level of disgust may not bring the same feelings to others viewing the work. Sometimes because they can look past what the material is and see the visual value and or conceptual value of the piece, and sometimes they may not view the material with the same stigma as another viewer may. When it comes to the monetary value of specific materials we can see judgments differ also. The value of little glass beads from France may be more valued than gold to some people in the past as we can see from indigenous peoples of this continent.



In art we have both literal movement as in kinetic, installation, performance and video work, but we also have the illusion of movement in static work. Color, texture, line and other formal elements can create a sense of movement. When the values in a work jump quickly from very high-key to very low-key, a feeling of movement can be created. When you want to create movement with color you can also use values of pure hues as well as those of tints and shades. Movement creates the illusion of action or physical change in position. Texture can reference a repetitive quality to something like snow, rain, waves or other movements in nature. The texture in Van Gogh’s wheat field talks of the movement of wind. Line can be used to create movement through undulation, direction, tension and weight of the line.

Rhythm can be used to create movement also. Rhythm is the use of repeated elements to create the illusion of movement. Visual rhythm is perceived through the eyes, and is created by repeated positive spaces separated by negative spaces. There are five basic types of rhythm: random, regular, alternating, flowing, and progressive.


Proportion, Scale, Balance and Weight

These four elements can also enforce or work off of each other.
Proportion - is the size relationship of one part to the whole and one part to another. Work that is concerned with exacting proportion or proportion askew or juxtaposed to other form in the piece or the space the piece inhabits are two basic ways proportion is used in a piece. Proportion relative to scale in reality or relative to other forms within the piece are also directions where proportion is used as a visual device. Tip Toland’s piece called “Inheritance” is a great example of this juxtaposition; in it you see the body of a young boy with the arms of a grown man. The piece may say many things to it’s audience, one meaning may be related to how a boy’s father dies and he has to then become the man of the house, much like filling your father’s shoes.

Scale – is the ratio representing the size of an object in relation to the object it represents or the extent or relative size of something related to its surroundings or another form or image within the composition. Size of the art object can change the piece and it’s meaning. Claus Oldenburg’s work plays one such concept related to scale, as he enlarges everyday objects to monumental scale. A large piece may command the space around it while a small piece may require a more intimate presentation. There once was an adage on “If you can’t make it good make it big”. The ideas of making maquets and doing preliminary drawings or thumbnails are relative to working out the piece before you make it in the scale you perceive the final piece to be.

Balance – can fall into two categories one being symmetrical and the other being asymmetrical. Symmetrical balance is a composition where the main elements in the work are equal in volume and visual weight on all sides of the piece, which creates a sense of stability and solid nature in the piece. Asymmetry is a composition that has off balanced forms and lines that create a sense of tentativeness, instability and at times a precarious nature to the piece.

Weight – can refer to both the actual or physical weight and the visual weight of the piece or elements within the piece.
Physical weight can say something of why a chosen material is used and can be a part of the formal and conceptual framework of the piece. If it is heavy it can be so heavy as to be immoveable and it speaks of permanence; if it is heavy like a thick tea bowl it can be about the utility of a winter tea bowl and its ability to keep the liquid hot for a longer period of time; and if it is physically light it can speak of air, fragility, translucency, or the utility of a summer tea bowl allowing the tea to cool more quickly.
Visual weight can also be of a light or heavy quality. Visual weight that is of a light quality can be simple, quiet, delicate, refined, or translucent and are areas that can draw attention by their understated qualities. A heavy visual weight can be thought about as thick line, saturated color, high quantities of detail compacted in one area or dark forms or dark volumes. Generally speaking heavy forms, highly saturated color areas or busily detailed areas will also draw attention and at times seem to carry more visual weight than less saturated or visually simpler areas. The weight of a line through its thickness or variation in the line in 2 dimensional work and the use of undercuts that create shadow in three dimensional work are both ways to create visual weight within the use of line.


Tactile concerns generally fall under utilitarian considerations and relate to their audiences tactile experience and the intimate relationship their audience has with their work. This is a major focus for many potters, textile, wood, metal and other craft media “utilitarianists”. Tactile considerations are also addressed by installation and performance artists, who may invite the audience to interact with their work. Although the “utilitarianist” may be concerned with a tactile experience that is about comfort, other artists may be interested in discomfort or other possible feelings the piece generates when the audience comes in physical contact with the work and can be taken into account as a tactile experience. Again, generally this tactile element to the work would not be found in artists who deem themselves to be strictly “utilitarianists”. There is a dedication to this formal element among strict “utilitarianists”; their work must function in a pleasing way in reference to tactile concerns. However, their work may be discomforting through its imagery or the works conceptual concerns.


Texture and Surface

These two components of a piece can sometimes be related to tactile concerns also. They are elements that are relative to the quality of material, either actual (tactile) or visual. The qualities we could talk about with the actual or implied surface or texture could reference something we would interpret as soft, scratchy, representational or tromp l’oeil, repetitive, wabi sabi, machined, slimy, sticky, metallic, furry, electric, shiny, matt, transparent, layered and stratification. The surface and texture of an art object are the first things a person sees and therefore this façade is an important area to consider in a piece.



This allows the viewer to see a combination of elements, principles, and media as a whole. Unity is created by harmony, simplicity, repetition, proximity and continuation. For example, you could use the repetition of a color scheme to unify a composition. Another way to unify a composition is to simplify the color scheme by allowing one color to dominate the work. This is called tonality. Tonality does not have to be monochromatic, however, the overall effect appears to be of one color.


The various issues and meanings or messages contained in a creative work as distinct from its appearance, form, or style, is one way to describe what we mean by content. Content is what the work is about, not how is it made or the breakdown of formal issues. What do you think about when you visually read the content of your work? Personal issues relative to sexual identity, sexual preference, racial identity, physical or verbal abuse, disease, addictions, political convictions and concerns, societal observation, referencing scientific observations, reiteration, interpretations and influences from the natural world, (from the obvious to the researched, within a more in depth investigation relative to scientific theory and or observations under the microscope, with the eye, or other sensory observation such as through the telescope or other tools that may expand our physical sensory capabilities or be developed in us physically), observation, interpretation or ideas derived from the machine, industrial, architectural, urban, suburban, or rural settings or situations, influence within allegory or metaphor, telling a full story, a short story or using linguistic or poetic devises such as simile or haiku, (only a few examples relative to allegory or metaphor), are all only a small possible list of examples where one finds content in art.

The vast variety of media in art also has a large and diverse array of content and conceptual concerns. Considering I am a Professor in Ceramics I would like to start out by addressing one aspect of within craft theory. Again remembering that craft as a media is as diverse in its ability to perform in any direction related to whatever content or conceptual idea that an artist wishes to focus on. I will first discuss some issues relevant to the “utilitarianist” agenda.

Content within utilitarian work can be found in all of the above along with a possible contemporary, historical, traditional or mission like philosophy rooted in the maker’s intention. Just like an artist in any media, intentions of the maker are sometimes tied to a movement or an individual concept on why they make their work. Even within their individual intentions they still may parallel to others within the media and are at times connected to the objects they choose to make. One concept may be to give to his or her audience an object that may or may not reference any other conceptual concerns, but primarily is focused on concepts that are rooted in day to day rituals of life and adding to those rituals by giving their audience an object that has been internalized with the touch of the hand and the thoughts of the maker on how to add to those every day rituals, (again possibly though formal concerns and conceptual ideologies). What are every day rituals that the “utilitarianist” can be addressing? I would say clothing, adorning or embellishing oneself, eating, drinking or cooking are some areas of reference for the “utilitarianists” work. These are every day rituals almost all humans have in common. The Bauhaus philosophy that said form follows function is a rooted concept in some “utilitarianists”. Other famous philosophies from Yanagi and Leach are also rooted in many ceramic “utilitarianists”. Yanagi’s book, “The Unknown Craftsman” is an excellent source of conceptual development within the concepts of today’s “utilitarianist”. It is also possible that a “utilitarianist” wants to give their audience an experience that is of an intimate quality and draws from the historical and contemporary sense of humanity encapsulated within the object. This may be a vague and far reaching possibility, but there are craft artists who feel strongly about this connection. The “utilitarianist” also may want his or her audience to gain from the experience something that they might not be able to obtain from a commercially produced product. One mission-like attitude that could be an agenda of a “utilitarianist” is one that goes against everything that a chain store stands for when they sell mass produced imported cheap products of utility that may only reflect a pop culture related trend or reference an esthetic of the mundane. Some examples of this are The Martha Stewart Collection or a drinking glass with a decal of the teenage musician of the day on it. Some “utilitarianists” also have a moral agenda to introduce a product that is not made in sweatshop by a 6-year-old girl; this kind of agenda certainly can be part of conceptual concerns any artist can have in their work. Primarily, quality of the tactile and ergonomics in the work are formal concerns, but there also can be a conceptual element to the work. One form that is used frequently in many of the craft media is that of the container. The idea of containment has been talked about past the pure sense of the word in reference to the utility of the piece. What the vessel contains in many other respects is reference in a variety of concepts such as containing a message visually about politics or other issues. This is a duality of function because the work is also physically able to contain either space or other material and still commands the space that envelops it. In history we see Moche and Greek pots that certainly reflect this issue. Many other cultures in history also have used the vehicle of the vessel as a platform for many conceptual or content issues, long before the canvas was used for the same issues. In the contemporary craft world we find this tradition continued and at times a platform for investigation. The “utilitarianists” in other craft media have similar tradition comparisons and more importantly similar contemporary directions that are utilized in their work.

Other issues where content in the work may lie are the concept of art for arts sake, pure formalist or modernist and post and post-post and post post-post-post philosophies. In further discussions we will briefly review content issues in minimalism, abstract expressionism, impressionism, realism and super realism, constructivist, site-specific work, performance, and installation work. Again, as a Ceramics professor I will use ceramic artists as examples in this discourse.

1 comment:

  1. It is not easy to find out what concerns are put in the art work. Our perception of the things around is different. What are the key elements to understand the concerns?