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Ceramic Art

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Ceramic Pottery Ceramic pottery is one of the oldest and diverse forms of human art; and for good reason- its a very simple process. Ceramics are made from clay (or a mixture of clay and other materials) that is shaped into a desired form then heated. Almost all developed cultures have known this recipe for thousands of years and each has established a long history of ceramic arts. Through the millennia, these different cultures have taken the rather simple process and adapted it to their own taste while also assimilating foreign influences imported through intercontinental trade and migrations. The result is an art form that is universally popular, yet regionally unique. The oldest examples of ceramic pottery date back past 10,000 BC and come from southern China and Japan. These early pots were made through the “coiling” method, a technique that required the clay to be worked into a long string which was wound round onto itself to form walls that could then be molded smooth. This process was independently developed by cultures across the world but was eventually replaced by the potter’s wheel after its invention in Mesopotamia around 4,000 BC. Thanks to the potter’s wheel, from 900 to 500 B.C. ceramic pottery was widely implemented throughout Ancient Greece, most commonly in the form of decoratively painted vases. While Greek vases typically depicted a scene or story drawn on the exterior, their interior served a variety of purposes; from small jugs used to store and transport goods to large kraters that were used to dilute wine in. Compared to the Greeks, the Romans were less involved with “luxury” pottery but still produced massive quantities of ceramic ware that served utilitarian purposes. Meanwhile, Eastern cultures were working on perfecting the art by creating new types of glazes, different mixtures of clay, and high heat kilns. In Japan, ceramic art began with the Jōmon period (10,500 to 300 B.C.). Large, cone-shaped earthenware pots were made using the coil method and fired at only 700 degrees in open fire pits. Such a low heat failed to properly bake these early wares and as a result they were still pretty water soluble and did not last long. During the Middle Jōmon Period (2500 to 1500 B.C.) ornamentation and decorations began to be molded and engraved into pottery. It was was during the Yaoyi Period (300 B.C. to 300 A.D.) that Japan began to receive outside influence, as the potter’s wheel finally reached the island along with advanced kiln technology brought over by migrating Korean tribes. The result was a development in ceramic ware that seemed plain in comparison to the Jōmon pieces but used finer clays to produce thinner-walled delicate shapes. By this time pottery was still unglazed stoneware and simple in color and shape. The bar would be raised in 200A.D. when China invented porcelain and again during the Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 A.D.) when they revolutionized the ceramic arts with the invention of tri-color ware. Chinese potters were now able to glaze in bright yellow, green, and white. It was also during the Tang Dynasty that porcelain got its nickname “china” after word spread of the country’s unique translucent white ceramic ware on the Silk Road. The Song Dynasty (960-1279) saw the early stages of blue and white celadon porcelain as well as the refinement of traditional ceramics into more elegant shapes with cool, monochrome colored glazes. Korea followed in Chinas footsteps during the Three Kingdoms (57 to 668 A.D.) and began developing new ways to create ceramics. Chinese potters had already invented celadon (a high-fired, transparent glaze of pale bluish-green hue, typically applied over a pale grey stoneware body) and had been using it as early as the first century. The Koreans, who were still placing unglazed stoneware containers in tombs to offer food to the spirits, began to experiment with the Chinese technology. By the eighth century Korean celadons rivaled the finest Chinese ceramics. During the 6th and 7th centuries Japan was under heavy cultural influence from overseas and the Chinese and Korean techniques were imported by Japanese potters and adapted to meet local tastes. One such adaptation was the Raku bowl. These tea bowls were undecorated, modestly shaped, carefully handcrafted without a wheel, and designed to reflect the simplistic zen-influenced tea ceremonies. Japanese blue and white wares were also greatly influenced by Chinese and Korean ceramics. The ware, which was (and still is) a popular form of art in Japan, used new shapes and more freely sketched designs that varied Japanese pieces from earlier Chinese and Korean ones. Further west, Islamic Conquests and trade eventually resulted in technological innovations like metallic glazing, a wide color palette, and an adaptation of Chinese production techniques for the Middle East long before those innovations reached the west. Islamic potters aimed to replicate the fine Chinese ware that came in on the Silk Road but they lacked the proper clay type to make such delicate ceramics. Instead, Muslims used the knowledge to make decorative ceramic tiles. Additionally, pottery is evidence of secular, or non-religious Islamic art. Since any portrayal of human form was forbidden, Islamic ceramics typically feature a geometric pattern or calligraphy. In the American southwest, Pueblo people also treated their pottery as art. Even though nobody in north America had ever even heard of a potter’s wheel, by the eleventh century they had perfected a functional, aesthetically pleasing, coil-built earthenware that was used to store seeds and other goods in a safe place. Ancient Africans did not use much ceramic pottery in favor of other natural materials. The few examples of pottery carry a human head theme and are made out of terra cotta. Its is quite impressive how an object as simple as a ceramic pot can variate so much culture to culture. Pottery across the world is fundamentally the same and used for many of the same reasons but each piece is distinctive to its local culture. On the other hand, one can see how a place like Japan wouldn’t be the same without foreign influence. It just they goes to show how closely connected the world really is.


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