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Art Pottery

What Is It? Do I Do It? Do I Want To?

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Have you heard or seen someone use the term "art pottery" and wondered what it meant? How is art pottery different from regular pottery? Is art pottery something that was peculiar to a specific place or time?

Art Pottery Defined

A Mochica portrait stirrup vessel, ca. 400 AD, on display at the Larco Museum.
Image Courtsey of Lyndsayruell / Wikimedia Commons
"Art pottery" has a rather loose formal definition. In its most basic form, "art pottery" refers to any pottery object that was created mainly for its decorative value rather than for a utilitarian value.

As you can see, that definition has a huge latitude. This definition includes all forms of ceramic sculpture but hardly ends there. Many functional pieces are created by potters more for their aesthetic value than the utilitarian jobs that they also perform, including plates, platters, casseroles, mugs, mixing bowls, bathroom tiles, and more.

To confuse things further, individual studio potters are not the only ones who make art pottery. Many commercial manufacturers produce "art pottery" as part of their product lines.

Idustrially Produced Art Pottery

Early 19th century art pottery figure, "Korean girl", on display at the Meissen Porcelain Museum.
Image Courtesy of Ingersoll / Wikimedia Commons

Often, "art pottery" is used to refer to the decorative pottery produced by commercial manufacturers using industrial replication methods. In many cases the pieces are first designed by a studio potter or clay artist such as Peter Holland. Although a ceramist may actually be employed by a manufacturer, the ceramist is often independent and accepts a work-for-hire contract for a single piece or series. Such freelancing ceramists can build professional relationships with several manufacturers.

Some of the most famous manufacturers that produce art pottery (or did so in the past) include Wedgewood, Meissen, Roseville, Rookwood, and Van Briggle. However, there were and are a number of other companies producing art pottery around the globe.

The Studio Potter and Art Pottery

Pottery sculpture in the form of a white rose.
Photo © 2009 Beth E Peterson

Studio potters and ceramists of all levels, from hobbyists to full-time professionals, create many objects that fall into the realm of art pottery. However, many potters and ceramists object to the term when applied to their work. To many, "art pottery" denotes manufactured knickknacks and mass produced objects. In many ways, the term can feel as if it is undermining individual creativity.

What needs to be remembered is that industrially produced art pottery is in essence the same as lithographs of an original painting. Although a reproduction is not the same as a one-of-a-kind piece, there is a place for it.

Art Pottery as Collectibles

Stoneware teapot by J.R.Lafferty.
Photo © 2008 Beth E Peterson

Art pottery can be highly collectible. This can be due to a person's love of ceramics in a broad sense, a person's attraction to a particular piece, someone developing a taste for a particular potter or manufacturer's work, or as an investment.

Personally, I would suggest the same approach to art pottery as I would to collecting paintings. Buy what you like and want to live with. Buy pieces that speak to you in some way. Investing is always gambling on a possible future valuation. Invest instead in your present enjoyment.

If collecting art pottery appeals to you, you will find lots of information on collecting and on collectibles at Collectibles.About.com.

Appraising Art Pottery

The best bet for evaluating the value of a piece of art pottery is to find a reputable appraiser who focuses on art pottery.

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