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The wisdom of clay:

shaping art education curriculum by looking at the pottery tradition for a model.

The craft model is a term used to describe the cycle of human need for good design and communtiy of support for the craftsman. This study focuses on the design aspect of the model. It looks at experiencing design within the context of a traditional craft model. It is an exploration of how the craft model could be used to teach design. I propose that the craft model is viable for teaching because it encompasses all of the parts of the art experience. And because the parts are integrated into one condensed symbol it is easily grasped by students.

The craft model symbolizes several basic human behaviors and is therefore universal. It's scope reaches beyond boundaries of culture and time. It is a circular model that begins and ends with the basic human need for special, unique experiences. The need to make special objects, how, why and for whom we make the special objects, how to distribute them are interwoven in an organized manner. A detailed definition of craft model is best understood from several viewpoints. Bernard Leach writes about the distinctions between the traditional artisan-craftsman and the transformation of that traditional role into the individual artist. He points to the start of the industrial revolution as the beginning of the end of the artisan with a traditional, single culture consciousness. His standards for potters looks at the pre-industrial, traditional, cultures in China, Japan, Korea and Europe to find the essence, the simplicity of how the most beautiful ceramics in history came about. He bases their success on their traditional single culture. He compares them to the individual artist whose work can suffer from a lack of traditional guides. " In the greatest period, that of the Sung dynasty, all these different influences are welded together in one, for unification was then supreme. Until the beginning of the industrial era analogous processes of synthesis had always been at work amongst ourselves, but since that time the cultural background has lost much of its assimilating force, and the ideas we have adopted and used have been molded into conformity with a conception of life in which imagination has been subordinated to invention and beauty to the requirements of the trade." (Leach, 1975, pg. 14) His advice for the individual artist making their way within the current world consciousness is to understand the synthesis of tradition as a strength. Ellen Dissanayake looks at making art as a human biological behavior. Her perspective of "making special" as she calls art, looks beyond cultural biases. Her work transcends our shortsighted viewpoints that suggest anything to do with "fine art" should be relegated to the intellectuals in charge of museums. She understands art as an ancient behavior that has transcended the years of natural selection making it an important part of each of our lives. Her work explains in detail how the need to create is a human behavior and validates that aspect of the craft model. Edmund Burke Feldman, an art educator, details the use of the craft tradition in contemporary culture. "It is a valid and healthy foundation on which to look at art education."(Feldman, 1981, pg. 19) He describes a model that is "an organized connection between human needs, the designing of useful objects, the organization of work, the rational distribution of what we make, and the satisfying consumption of the products of work". (Feldman, 1981, pg. 19) Again he condenses all aspects of experiencing art as a community into one symbol. To Feldman it is essential to the survival of art education. I would go further and say that a basic structure of the craft model is essential in to any community who want art to thrive. The craft model carries the standards of the traditional craftsman as a context in which to create art. It can be further described as an interconntected web between the artist and his own aesthetics and the artist and the needs of his community.
Because the model is a condensed symbol containing each aspect of the art experience, each aspect must be considered in the design process. To design outside outside the standards of the craft model would not be sincere causing the work to lack the power of truth. It would be designing without knowing what is true to one's self and one's community and world. I based the design and execution of four paintings on the craft model for this study. I found that a list of questions began to form as I read about making art in a communal context and reflected on the painting designs. Rural Studio was one of the books. It documents the work of architect and teacher Mockbee and his architecture students for communities in Hale Co. Alabama. Another text, The unknown craftsman is the aesthetics of Yanagi based on Japanese traditional art. Both were crucial demonstrations of the craft model. The following questions came out of those texts as well as Leach, Feldman, Dissanayake and Yanagi's works. Are my views on art influenced by a traditional cultural experience? Do I have a single culture consciousness or a world consciousness encompassing many cultures at one time? What is scope of vision for the message I am creating? Do I have confidence in the circle of human need? Am I allowing the truth of who I am and where I am from to be the vital force in creating? Good design is not based on simple observation so what is my special viewpoint? Where is the environment it will be shown or used? Does the concept and the form also reflect the vision of the finished piece placed where it will be used or exhibited? Does the piece contain a beauty that will last beyond my years? What will it say to the viewer years from now? These questions imply a standard of craftsmanship, a thoughtful process, interaction between the artist and the community in which it is made. The design work on my paintings was hewed into meaningful actions as a result of reflecting on these questions.
I employed the question of my vision for the final piece in painting a small watercolor with a friend outside at lunch. I observed a good angle for the subject, but stopped to consider who the painting was for before I put brush to paper. It made all the difference in the results. I felt a huge shift from my usual blind, intuitive painting style to a deliberate focus in the forms because of this decision. It felt really good to have a true sense of direction. Not something contrived or formulated but based on the evolution of the piece itself.
Considering the end result during the conception of stages of design came from the work of Samuel Mockbee's Rural Studio. He teaches architecture students to design and build in the field using hands on work as opposed to drawing in the studio. The design and building methods include preliminary schematics and foundation designs on site just like it was done over one hundred years ago by traditional craftsmen. They consider the community an important part of the design. Mockbee's philosophy for "making real architecture is to let it evolve out of the culture and place". (Oppenheimer, 2002, pg. 2) The beautiful contemporary buildings created by the Rural Studio out of recycled material are this philosophy come to life. His work affirms to me that connecting design to the cycle of need and use in the community is a unique, vibrant way to teach.
I planned a large scale painting for a friend, Matthew Feliciano using my new questions. I examined my initial vision; a large near square format canvas with geometric shapes in bright colors with a folk or traditional mask-like face on it. I also had a small format square painting in the works for over a year which just was not working. It had a large section of a kimono on it to form a geometric pattern. I realized it didn't work because the format was too small for the kimono. However Matthew's painting was perfect scale for a kimono. It also worked to use the kimono because it is a traditional folk art. It was after reading Yanagi that I was able to design these two pieces based on my feelings as well as considering how it would be seen over a period of time. I envisioned it with Japanese folk patterns of small figures on it. Considering the design had longevity and beauty guided my decisions. I was able to tie the initial vision for the piece with the proper scale for the format. I saw beyond the initial life of the design for my friend Matthew's home. This plus Yanagi's philosophy that "seeing and knowing form an interior and an exterior, not a right and a left" (Yanagi, 1972, pg. 110) helped me understand that a higher beauty for the piece could be planned. I feel that the final result has a great chance of lasting beauty beyond what would have happened without planning the results this carefully. I've never considered that lasting beauty had to be planned. Yanagi's philosophy on seeing and knowing comes from a synthesis of the aesthetics of traditional Japanese craftsman compared with the emergence of the individual artist. I began to understand seeing and knowing as going beyond the vision for initial use. Going further and asking what can I see and understand about this piece that will be a lasting beauty beyond my own time period. What is my special viewpoint? It was liberating to read Yanagi's philosophy on pattern and nature. He holds that an understanding pattern comes first then you can understand nature. I feel very well acquainted with pattern therefore I must know nature. I applied my new confidence to my work on a painting for Aphrodite Lafkas. It is a landscape that is not being done from observation but from my own special viewpoint. This shift in knowing pattern and then nature helped to move the design closer to my initial vision for the piece. Understanding of pattern first before the nature is consistent with Rhonda Kellog's research on child art. Her work concluded that children do not draw from life but first learn to draw by observing the placement of patterns in their own drawings that form shapes. (Kellogg, 1970, pg . 40)

The craft model forms a context in which to teach design. Questions like the ones I described above prove to me that it helps guide an organized pattern for study that students can connect with. The types of divergent questions I discovered can be used to teach students why their art is important in communities. It frames their learning experiences around their own lives creating lifelong learners. (Davis 1997 pg55) It defines the artists place in the community and gives all students clear choices for their roles in the art experience. Contrary to the view of the art world that segments the areas of fine art and craft and further distinguishes the roles of artists, collectors, and laymen, the craft model encompasses the entire community as one. The craft model offers a view of the art world that is a continuum. A view of art that is circular in nature. It is an alternative to the contemporary western linear view of art. That view is perpetuated by select critics whose art world begins with the Renaissance and winds it's way to the present narrowing its scope as it continues. It reaches into the future with less than 10,000 elite art literates holding the power of its fate. I believe this perspective on the art world to be vague and confusing. Because it's based on the traditional craft system in a community setting the craft model works as a guide in discussing art in a historical context. For example I could use the same questions from my study on design to study the work of Romare Bearden. Are his views on art influenced by a traditional cultural experience? Does he have a single culture consciousness? Does he have world consciousness encompassing many cultures at one time? What is his vision for the message he created? Does he have confidence in the circle of human need? Did he allow the truth of who he was and where he was from to be the vital force for his creativity? Is his work based on simple observation or did he express a special viewpoint? Did it fit within the environment it was shown or used? Did the concept and the form also reflect his personal vision of the finished pieces? Does the piece contain a beauty that will last beyond Bearden's life? What does it say to the viewer now? The same questions could be used to piece together prehistoric cultures through looking at their art.

Looking at art as one aspect of the human cycle of need for creativity and use of creative interaction helps to demystify the esoteric world of art. The craft model proved to be a practical and realistic method of teaching design that goes beyond our tendencies to focus solely on technique and individual expression in art education. It is a viable example of all aspects of art as integrated life experiences.


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Davis, M., Hawley, B. MCMullan, B. and Spilka, G. (1997). Design as a catalyst for leaning. Alexandria, Va.: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Dissanayake, E., (1992). Homoaestheticus: Where art comes from and why, Toronto Canada: Maxwell Macmillan Inc.

Eckmann, L. (June,1988). A case for clay in secondary art education: How to build a comprehensive clay program for 4-12 Grade, Studio Potter, 16, 44-46.

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Hayashiya, S. (April, 2002). Tea Ceremony Utensils and the Wabi Aesthetic, Orientations, 33:4, 46-47.

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Oppenheimer Dean, A. , Hursley, T. (2002) Rural Studio: Samuel Mockbee and an archi tecture of decency, New York, NY: Princeton Architectural Press.

Papanek, V. (1995). The green imperative: Natural design for the real world. New York, NY: Thames and Hudson.

Sinauer, J. (June,1988). A case for clay in secondary art education: Horizons, an alterna tive art program. Studio Potter, 16, 60-61.

Tabor, J. (June,1981). A case for clay in secondary art education: The Public Pottery at Arts Magnet High School. Studio Potter, 16, 48-49.

Yanagi, S. (Rev. Ed.1989). The unknown craftsman: a Japanese insight into beauty. New York, NY: Kodansha America.

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