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Ceramic Art: an Ancient Medium Through to Contemporary Ceramic Art

by Daswyf
Giraffe with Gold Leaf
Giraffe with Gold Leaf
by WL Eaton

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The first known ceramic arts date back 10,000 years; to the Japanese Paleolithic Jomon period. Ceramic art refers to objects made from clay, such as figures, figurines and tableware that also had artistic value. These arts were utilized for decorative or utilitarian purposes, or both.

Evolution of Ceramic Art: Processes, Influences and Design Trends

Almost all cultures boast a history of art ceramics, be it the Nok culture in Africa, the Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Mayan, Greek or Dominican cultures. Ceramic arts in the early periods were largely in the form of decorative and functional objects and sculptures. For instance, European Paleolithic ceramic art comprised female figurines and animal figures. In fact, different cultures appreciated different aspects of ceramic art objects, which include their shape, carving, painting and glazing.

Early ceramics were created using the coiling method, in which long clay strings were wound together into desired shapes. Then, the potter’s wheel was invented in the fourth millennium BC in Mesopotamia. The potter’s wheel also spread to Eurasia and Africa.

The 13th century Chinese culture witnessed the popularity of Celadon ceramics among the kings and monarchs of the period. This is because of the sheer beauty of Celadon and the resemblance to Chinese jade. There was also the belief that it would change color when in contact with poisonous food materials.

Ceramic art has been influenced by the local traditions and the contemporary metalwork and sculpture of the region. Such influences can be seen in ancient Chinese, Iranian and Roman ceramics and pottery. Chinese ceramics arts peaked during the reign of Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). The period witnessed subtle pottery decorations, which graduated to exuberant ceramic paintings. Chinese art was also a major influence to the art ceramics produced in Japan and Korea.

The ancient Etruscan and Grecian ceramics comprised red and black figurative paintings. In Persia, art ceramics in the form of painted and glazed bricks and tiles were used for wall decorations. This trend spread to Baroque Spain and Portugal, leading to the appearance of large painted scenes in blue and white. In fact, tiled stoves were a constant feature of the 17th to 19th century middle and upper class Northern Europe. Glazed tiles continue to be manufactured today, in the form of small, brightly colored zellige tiles from Morocco.

Ceramics in Contemporary High Art

The 20th century ceramics offer many options to artists, in the wide choices of materials, building methods, decorations, technology and object form. In fact, ceramic art today is a fusion of the traditional with the modern, which has produced the best art pieces.

The most popular form of art ceramics today is studio pottery. It refers to individual or small groups of artists producing unique ceramic items, by carrying out all the stages of manufacture themselves. The Baroque is also a popular form of ceramics in high art. This splendid, ornate and detailed art form is combined with other cultural elements to give rise to unique, spectacular ceramic art forms.