Utilitarian Clay: Celebrate the Object

The following is a response to gwendolyn yoppolo’s inquiry into the process of selecting presenters of the Utilitarian Clay: Celebrate The Object Symposium, held every four years at the Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts in Gatlinburg, TN. gwendolyn was a presenter at UC VI (Sept. ’12), and along with a majority of the other presenters, was a founding member of Objective Clay, whose seed was planted during the symposium. I co-organize the event with Bill Griffith, Program Director at Arrowmont.

“Bill and I decided early on to focus the UC VI symposium on a group of artists considered to be in the ‘early-career’ phase of their métier.  It was in part recognition of the sea change of sorts afoot in our field, as well as knowing that the tried and true template of the symposium could/should embrace the change; this was a departure from the previous symposium’s rubric of an even distribution of early, mid, and late-career artist.  Though we were confident that this would be a workable model and deliver a meaningful symposium to our audience, we nonetheless crosschecked our intuitions in several conversations with past presenters.  The idea was well received, from both academic and non-academic perspectives, and we proceeded with the nuts and bolts of the planning. 

An immediate challenge was arriving at a suitable definition for ‘early-career’ – such arbitrary classifications are invariably fraught with problems, and in all most any instance there could be a plausible counter argument.  To this end, we were helped most by Mary Barringer, who suggested we consider an ‘early career’ artist as someone “who is at least one decision away from their mentor/teacher” (or so that is how I remembered it).  At the close of our conversation, Mary went on to add, “Make sure they have something to say…,”  planting the most nagging seed in our psyche. 

Speaking for Bill here, I believe our intuitions were confirmed when we began looking at prospective presenters.  Starting with a working list of over fifty names, we realized that we could comfortably assemble three equally competent and compelling rosters of artists to demonstrate and discuss interesting and engaging objects and ideas.  And so without getting bogged down in the nuances of any one decision/selection, I will broadly say that this group of artists involved in UC VI represented: quality work, a healthy variety of approaches to material and process, varying backgrounds and present studio/working situations, and quality thinking as manifested through the work and in the person. 

I might add that this gathering of energies as evidenced by this website (objectiveclay.org) is, in no small part, a further signal of the importance and relevance of symposia to act as a catalyst for a conscious collectivity to push ideas and continue to probe the “what if” in our field.