Issue 30pulse

Japanese Ceramics: Nature & Ancient Techniques in a Modern World

By Ashley Stinson

For more than a thousand years, Japanese artisans have crafted pottery which takes its style from the natural world they saw around them. This fall and winter, the Nature, Tradition, Innovation exhibit will be showcasing modern examples of this ancient art form. Forty-three artists, including some from Japan’s oldest and most prestigious kilns, will have their work featured at Turlock’s Carnegie Art Museum, alongside photographs of the natural landscapes which inspired the artform, as taken by photographer Tajiro Ito.

Earthenware has a long and storied history in Japan, where ceramics are not just practical pieces that are used to eat and drink from, but have long been regarded as artworks. Since the 17th century, earthenware from Japan’s “Six Old Kilns” has been used for highly ritualized tea ceremonies, and the prestige of these kilns stretches back even further. Each kiln gives the pottery a distinctive look, instantly marking the place it was fired for a trained observer.

One of Japan’s most important cultural and spiritual ideas is the idea of kami, spirits or higher beings which inhabit all things. In the art of ceramics, as in many branches of Japanese art, historical artists seek to emulate aspects of the natural world, such as water flowing over rocks in a river, or the pattern of native tree barks. It’s believed that, once put into the kiln, it’s the kami of the area who imbue the earthenware with the kiln’s distinctive finish, whether it’s the rough, rugged look of pots fired in the Shigaraki kiln, or the smooth and glossy Bizen kiln ceramics.

The artists in this collection are bringing this ancient artform into the modern age, with one foot planted in the modern era and the other in the ancient past. The accompanying photographs highlight the connection between the pottery and the natural world which has existed for so long. In Japanese culture, earthenware, such as the pieces in this collection, are part of an appreciation for a simple, rustic aesthetic.

This aesthetic, called wabi in Japanese, finds beauty in that which is simple, useful, and doesn’t require extraneous ornamentation. As minimalism in design becomes more popular throughout the world, the Japanese wabi aesthetic continues to endure and become even more relevant in the modern age.

These ceramics aren’t the only taste of Japanese art forms that the Carnegie will be providing. During the exhibit’s stay, the Carnegie will be holding informative lectures about Japanese-American culture, ceramic history, and family-focused events to explore other Japanese arts, such as origami, haiku, and taiko-drumming.

The exhibition only lasts until Dec. 31, so make sure you don’t miss your chance to discover the world of Japanese art with this exhibition. The tour is organized by International Arts & Artists and the Mingei International Museum, where the collection is curated by Christine Knoke, who has over twenty years experience curating Asian art collections. The pieces in the collection will be making their way to an exhibition in Florida after leaving the Carnegie museum at the end of this year.


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