Thursday, August 15, 2013

Why Metal Clay?

Last spring the discussion came up about the validity of metal clay as an art form.  As with any new medium, this question always comes up.  The "traditionalists" deny the validity of the new medium.  Acrylic paint was boohooed because oil paint was the traditional choice for painting.  Silk screening was a commercial process and could not be a valid technique for "fine art." Sculptures had to be carved from stone.  The list goes on and on.

And now, it is metal clay's turn to be scrutinized and ballyhooed as unworthy.   I have personally felt the snub of the traditional jewelry making world.  There are many, many traditional silversmiths who are using metal clay but this is not enough to quiet the nay sayers.  Even the big guru of silversmiths, Tim McCreight works with metal clay.

The question has been asked...... Why do you work in metal clay instead of using traditional silversmithing techniques?  We all have different reasons for our choice.  One of my students chose it because she could create designs with it that she couldn't create with lost wax casting.  A fellow artist chose it because she had a bad experience with a silversmithing instructor.

I took a silversmithing class in college that I absolutely loved (although the professor could only talk to your chest.  He didn't seem to know that the female students had faces.) I have talked about this in a much earlier post, so I won't go into the details again.

First off I don't believe that technique or media make something a piece of art.  Art is communication.  Any media can be used to get an idea across.  Secondly, design is one of the first things we notice when confronted with art.  Good design is not indigenous to the material.  Effective communication and good design make art.

So why do I use metal clay as my main medium of choice?   I became an art teacher because I like to do it all.  Metal clay affords me the opportunity to still do it all.  It's a medium that is so flexible and open to a variety of techniques.

Sculpture....... I can sculpt it with traditional carving tools.  Both the additive and subtractive sculpture processes are achievable with the clay.

Printmaking...... Molds can be created from my own drawings using the printmaking technique of photo polymer plates.  Block printing directly into the clay is another printing technique that can be used to create designs.

Drawing....... The clay can be drawn on directly or indirectly.  Using hatching, cross hatching and stippling add dimension and texture to the clay.

Painting........ Adding color through enamels, inks and beads satisfy my painting desires.

Fiber Arts.......The clay can be draped or woven like fabric and yarn.  (My advanced degree was in fibers.)

Design and patterns...... Textures and forms can be explored with the surface of the clay.

Ceramics .......... I don't throw on the wheel but all the other hand building techniques of the ceramic world are available for the metal clay artist's use.

Yes, metal clay doesn't require fancy (and expensive) equipment and tools.  The learning curve for metal clay is much shorter than learning traditional methods.  But in my book it all comes down to design and the message communicated by the piece.

I know this won't change anyones mind but it gets it off my chest.  Thanks for letting me vent!

1 comment:

Zoe Nelson said...

Very well said, Alice! I was a "traditional metal smith" for 10 years before discovering metal clay, so I've had a lot of exposure to both techniques. The snubbing and prejudice are rampant, especially when applying to shows. I've learned to only describe my work as "silver" and leave out the details.