Sunday, February 2, 2014

"Democratizing" Pottery Making

Cups from 3D Systems press release
3D Systems  has just introduced a new 3D printer (called the CeraJet™) that, according to the press release issued in early January will "democratize pottery making ...[and]...  revolutionize ceramic artisanship for the benefit of brands, retailers, designers, shops and hobbyists." The printer quickly produces intricate and detailed ceramic objects that are ready to fire and glaze. Quoting the press release again: "This class of 3D printers and materials infuses the age-old tradition of ceramics with the ability to make previously unimagined complex shapes."

This freaks me out!

I don't mean to behave like a Luddite, don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are machines! And the older I get the more I appreciate them. I'm talking about the pug mill that makes reclaiming clay easier, for example (what did you think I was talking about?). My current favorite tool is Tom Whitaker's ball opener, a neat little invention using nothing more than pvc pipe that saves fingers and wrists from overuse and is easy to make. And, where would I be without my electric wheel and all my other tools?

But, you have to be a potter to use these tools. What I mean is that, at some point, you would have decided that you wanted to learn pottery. Note that I'm saying "learn pottery" not "make pots." And that's the difference that the 3D Systems company is alluding to when they say that this printer will democratize what their press release calls, without a hint of irony, "the ancient artisanal craft of pottery and ceramics." The use of these printers gets rid of "ancient," "artisanal," and "craft" in one fell swoop and just leaves us with the end product. We lose the process, the long apprenticeships, the trial-and-error learning to make that shape you've been thinking about. It seems that now if you can use the software, the sky's the limit as far as form is concerned.

This is great for those people whose interest is in design. They can now bring their idea to fruition w/o "wasting time" trying to figure out how to make it on the wheel or by rolling slabs or pinching clay. And that's a great leap forward for them. For me, though, I make pots because I love the feel of the clay, I crave the solitude of the wheel, I delight in opening a kiln and feeling like it's Christmas morning. And I think that the people who buy handmade pots are looking for exactly that: pots imbued with the spirit of the maker.


Erin Paasch said...

I wouldn't be too worried about it. It's like a tool, just as slip cast, ram press, and wheels are tools. You still have to sit at the computer for hours to design to make these, and it's still limited in what it can do. You won't see any amazing glaze designs that artists do being 3D printed any time soon.

If anything, I imagine people might absolutely love 3D printed ceramics for a time, but then get bored with the same old after a while and perhaps learn to appreciate potters who practice the "ancient" craft even more.

Graciela Testa Lynt said...

Hi Erin! I suspect you're right. I wouldn't trade sitting at the wheel for sitting at the computer though!

Danish Smith said...

Thank you so much for such a great introductory piece for this craft! Pottery classes are something we really like to include in our summer camps here in Seattle. It’s satisfying for a beginner, and in many cases leads to a lifelong love of the craft.

Art Of pottery making