The Mending Manifesto
This is a declaration of ceramic artists: that we patch, mend, repair, and fix imperfections that arise during the technical and complex ceramic process. Patching, mending, and mistake correction during the making process is hardly revolutionary for sculptors in general. However, when it comes to ceramics, we have felt pushback, shame, and silence around this issue within our field. This culture of silence pervades from the classroom to the gallery floor. This manifesto holds that mending within the ceramic medium is not only acceptable, but an essential skill for professional ceramic artists.
Anyone who is familiar with our medium knows that the physical and chemical changes inherent in the process can and do lead to cracks and breakage. We accept that among functional potters, the appearance of a crack or breakage is often legitimate cause to scrap an object and start over. This manifesto will lay out the ways in which we feel it is inappropriate to apply these same standards to ceramic sculpture, and will also offer a discussion on ethical, professional ways that potters may mend work.
Utility (or lack thereof)
We accept that for a utilitarian vessel, to be broken or cracked denies the object’s function. To mend such an object with non-ceramic materials raises legitimate concerns about food safety and longevity through use in appliances like the microwave or dishwasher. However, a sculpture does not share these concerns. Sculptors who work in other media do not have the same qualms about mending that the clay community does. We believe this is a holdover from the concerns about cracks and breakage raised by potters. However, we believe ceramic sculptors are, plainly stated, sculptors in our own right, and are not beholden to the concerns that govern utilitarian ware.
Fired Mending Methods
For both sculptors and utilitarian makers, there are now many fired patch media on the market, and fired patch recipes shared between makers. These fired materials, if used properly and sealed under a layer of glaze, are viable solutions for mending utilitarian vessels. We maintain that items mended successfully, permanently, and professionally with fired materials are not inherently of lesser quality than items which were not patched during the making process. As long as the patch material and patching technique is of professional quality, we maintain that using these fired patches does not affect the value of the object any differently than say, patching a cracked item with the original clay body at the green stage.
Mixed Media with Clay
Mixed media and non-clay additions are becoming increasingly accepted in the ceramics field. This is a positive development. From a ceramic sculptor’s perspective, we believe that ceramic sculptors are, simply, sculptors. We do not need to adhere to a purist attitude of what ceramic art is or can be, or limit what materials are “allowed” in a ceramic sculpture. If clay is our primary medium, we may call ourselves “ceramic sculptors” simply because we use this medium most predominantly in our work. We may even label ourselves “ceramic sculptors” out of our great love and enthusiasm for clay. However, we do not believe this disallows the use of non-ceramic materials in sculpture. Post-firing patching media, such as epoxies, fillers, or plaster, are just as legitimate as additions to ceramic sculpture as post-firing finishes such as paints, waxes, or metal additions. We also maintain that the use of non-ceramic materials enables creative makers to push the boundaries of what is possible within our medium. For example, assembling a multi-part piece post firing with non-ceramic materials has enabled artists to create large, complex, and innovative work that is a credit to our field.
Concerns over Ethics and Presentation
We maintain that the use of non-clay media, as a patch or as a mixed media addition, should maintain the same professional standards and concern for presentation that we apply to the rest of our work. Patching shoddily is not the same as patching professionally. This is not a manifesto to excuse poor quality work. This is especially true in the classroom setting. Just because we are coming out in defense of mending, does not mean we offer it as a substitute for learning the fundamentals of clay and the ceramic process. Likewise, we believe in the ethics of openness with galleries and collectors. If you use a non-clay medium in your work that demands special care over the life of the object, we think it is only right to inform your gallery or collector of this fact.
In conclusion, we believe it is long past time for the culture of shame and silence around mending and mixed media in ceramics to end. One of the biggest problems with this culture of silence is that it prevents makers and teachers from sharing the valuable knowledge around this topic that individual artists have had to discover or invent on their own. There are a wealth of techniques out there for mending and mixed media that ceramic artists have invented over years of solitary trial and error. We believe in sharing these discoveries as freely as we share tips around glaze formulation or pulling the perfect handle. We do not believe that doing so will diminish or belittle the ceramic medium or our community in any way. On the contrary: it will only broaden the scope of what is possible in contemporary ceramics.