Mind/Body Dilemma

Food for Thought

My wife has been obsessed with ceramics for about a year. Our conversations about it have evolved over time; it’s now less technical and more philosophical. Ceramics as an artistic medium is situated in a somewhat peculiar place between art and craft. Many people get into it because they love the physical process.

In fine arts, a medium is merely a tool; you select the most effective one for what you want to express. Cindy Sherman is a good example; she started as a painter but realized that photography worked better for her idea. In other words, fine artists are not supposed to fall in love with the medium. In ceramics, however, many people love the act of throwing. I haven’t tried it myself, but it certainly looks tempting. Especially in today’s world where everything is virtual, it’s therapeutic to feel something with our hands.

Medium has become so divorced from art that the norm is to have assistants or fabricators make your art. In this sense, art, too, has become more virtual, even if the objects are physical. Artists do not have to have physical connections to their work, which introduces a type of alienation familiar to most office workers.

Our bodies do not understand anything we do because we are constantly tricking them into thinking we are interacting with something real. A button on a computer screen doesn’t actually move or click. Swiping doesn’t actually move the cards on the screen. When our hands manipulate clay on a spinning wheel, our bodies are learning as much as our brains are.

Those who use ceramics merely as a medium would have a dilemma where their enjoyment of the process conflicts with the market expectations. Fine arts is a language game where you contribute to the existing momentum of history, which does not care if you enjoy the process, resulting in the schism: the ceramics you enjoy making and the ones you should be making.

Even if your mind is not alienated from the products of your labor, your body might be. It feels no connection to what it is producing. Art is supposed to be the best antidote to capitalist alienation, but today, the artist’s brain acts as the capitalist and her body as the proletariat.