Yasuhara Kimei: New Pottery Discourse

Translated from an excerpt written Showa 29/1954
September 27, 2023
Yasuhara Kimei: New Pottery Discourse

Currently, when it comes to making pottery, it appears that there are roughly three fundamental attitudes toward creativity. So, for the benefit of those who appreciate it, let's briefly discuss these approaches.


The first approach involves making various improvements within the realm of beauty explored by our ancestors. This approach honors their legacy and seeks to build upon it.


The second approach revolves around the idea of creating something entirely new, just as our ancestors diligently labored in the past to craft pottery in various forms, discovering new forms of beauty along the way.


The third approach is rooted in a way of life centered around the Japanese tea ceremony and is inspired by the principles of "Wabi" and "Sabi." However, for the time being, I would like to avoid delving into this aspect.


First, regarding the initial point, let's briefly review the trajectory of ancient history. Pottery, dating back to approximately five thousand years ago, stands as the first and most enduring type of vessel crafted by humans. Today, numerous artifacts from millennia ago, often referred to as painted pottery or decorated pottery, have been unearthed from various parts of the world.


Next in line is stoneware, known as Bizen ware in Japan, which began in ancient times, and continues to thrive to this day.


Following that, pottery made by coiling clay rolls emerged, initially in China during the Han Dynasty, roughly two thousand years ago.


Subsequently, the timeline becomes somewhat uncertain, but the development of porcelain, primarily during the Song Dynasty, marked a significant milestone. Celadon and underglaze blue represent notable examples of porcelain types. In general, pottery can be categorized into four main groups: clay, stoneware, porcelain, and ceramics. What sets them apart from other crafts is their formation from malleable clay, shaped through the intense heat of the kiln. Consequently, the intrinsic beauty of pottery lies in its transformation from soft clay into a product forged in the crucible of searing fire. This beauty invariably resonates with those who behold it, sometimes emphasizing the warm and heartfelt beauty inherent in soft clay, and at other times, highlighting a sense of purity seemingly born from the crucible of intense fire, or harmoniously combining these two elements.


In addition to this inherent beauty, each era imparts its own sense of time and unique forms, contributing to the overall beauty of a piece of pottery.


Furthermore, the emotions of the creator, their creative ideas, and the refinement of their techniques imbue the product with a distinctive beauty, which ultimately determines its quality.


In general, older pieces from earlier times exude a rustic, robust, and substantial charm. However, as time progresses, they acquire a surface sophistication while their underlying depth gradually diminishes. With the passage of time, techniques continue to advance, but eventually, they can become trivial, and the content may grow impoverished. This phenomenon holds true for all forms of art


The shape and content of pottery can vary depending on the country and era. Taking white porcelain as an example, Chinese white porcelain is rational and elegant, radiating compelling strength and evoking a sense of masculinity. On the other hand, Korean white porcelain is delicate and introspective, exuding a sense of emotion, with a soft and warm texture that invokes femininity. In this respect, they are truly opposites.


Even when focusing solely on Chinese ceramics, distinct features emerge in different periods. Han Dynasty ceramics, reminiscent of bronze, include green glaze, natural glaze, and dignified objects such as figurines. The magnificent Tang Dynasty ceramics feature vibrant tri-colored ware and figurines of people and horses. Each period has its unique characteristics, with the simplicity and earthiness of Song Dynasty ceramics being particularly noteworthy. This period includes celadon, white porcelain, iron-glazed, and red-painted varieties, all characterized by their strength and simplicity


The Yuan Dynasty period that follows shows some continuity with the Song Dynasty but introduces a sense of coldness.


In the Ming Dynasty, there were remarkable advancements in underglaze blue and other techniques, resulting in splendid and intricate patterns like the famous Wanli red and blue ware, as well as Jiajing and Chenghua porcelain. Many of these pieces are highly acclaimed worldwide today.


While the underglaze blue of the Qing Dynasty is delicate and beautiful, it may not match the strength of that from the Ming Dynasty. Nevertheless, there are also powerful pieces, particularly those from the Qianlong and Jun kilns.


As mentioned earlier, the history of ceramics is exceptionally long, and in China, Korea, and Japan, there existed official kilns, local kilns, various conditions, techniques, and styles, resulting in numerous excellent ceramics with distinctive individuality. Therefore, working within the range of beauty unfolded in past worlds is the safest and most easily understood approach when creating pottery.


Next, there's the desire to create beauty that resonates with the spirit of the new era, even if it's just to a small extent. This idea has likely crossed the minds of aspiring potters throughout history – the aspiration to craft pottery that aligns with the essence of the present era, unbound by the constraints of the past. In Japan, figures like Jinsei, Gansan, and Koetsu exemplify those who couldn't conform to the molds of the past but aimed to create pottery for the new era.


The notion that "old is good" is certainly something we, as creators, contemplate. However, beyond that, we aspire to create pottery that harmonizes with the spirit of the modern era. This can be considered our earnest wish. While it's true that older items are highly regarded because they represent a select few among the millions or tens of millions created in the past, rigidly adhering to the idea that something must be old would deprive us of the meaning of creating new pottery. Furthermore, when considering probability, within the brief span of an individual's life, making a substantial impact may seem impossible. Nevertheless, our desire is to create something beautiful, and if even one in a thousand or one in ten thousand pieces crafted in this era endures, we would consider ourselves fortunate


To all connoisseurs, we hope you share this sentiment. In our efforts to nurture new ceramics for the modern era, we welcome your criticism and support. We firmly believe that a day will come when someone will create works of excellence that can rival even ancient pottery.


Translation of Yasuhara Kimei, Lecture Draft/Showa 29, 1954

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