Monday, April 4, 2011


As both potter and collector, there are a number of modern potters whose works I admire. There is a core group of potters that I follow and have watched their work, some over a 20 year period. Among my absolute favorites there has always been a constant, a master Japanese potter who works in a variety of styles, mostly glazed.

This past weekend I encounted a chawan by this potter. The form a bit off and the foot, way broad and unsightly, but what really bothered me was the large crack right through the bowl. From the inside (mikomi) there was a 1.5” crack that obviously had glaze packed into the crack while still bisque. When looking at the foot, there was a nearly 2” s-crack that had been decorated over to try to hide the crack, to no avail, it was glaring. In a way, this was a great disappointment for me. A potter, who I have regarded highly, in essence, just didn’t seem to care about the quality of the piece and how it fit into his body of work. I think if this was some anomaly, I could dismiss it, but over the past decade, I have seen a number of his pieces with a variety of cracks, odd repairs and other faults, all with the ever so important signed wood box. There can be no mistaking the fact that this potter made the calculated decision to sell these pieces.

Now, here is my question, though I am not in the position to buy $2500+ pieces, what are the expectations of the potter and of the collector for this market? As Dick Schneider* was always fond of saying, “a potter shouldn’t hurt the buyer”. It was intended as tongue in cheek, but what he really meant was there should be a certain level of workmanship that provided an object devoid of cracks, chips and sharp bits. From my perspective, I will not sell work that is cracked or chipped. I even agonize over selling a pot with a small blemish from where it may have stuck to a shelf, but how does a potter justify selling work with a crack through the pot.

I am really at a loss to understand this. I understand there is not such thing as perfection when dealing with hand made objects, but shouldn’t a base line of perfection be what is strived for? In viewing the irregularities and nuances of distorted Japanese tea utensils, perfection is an odd term, but at the very least, the tea should stay in the $2500 teabowl……………

“No good work whatever can be perfect, and the demand for perfection is always a sign of a misunderstanding of the ends of art.” John Ruskin

(*As previously mentioned, Dick Schneider teaches Ceramics at CSU in Cleveland, Ohio)