“Progress” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be

I am an artist. I’m eager to push the limits of concept and material. I enjoy discovery through the process of my art, coming up with new ideas and techniques.

At the same time, I’ve always wondered what’s so appealing about progress to some people. What are “progressives” so up in arms over? I fear we live in a culture so ignorant of history that we suffer from the disease of tunnel vision. Forward, forward, forward! As if tradition never possessed any wisdom, as if the way things might have been done for millennia have no value, as if every new technology will be all good for society. More, more, more efficiency!

Ceramics has an incredible history, one that I need to learn more of (I wasn’t able to take the History of Ceramics course in college, though I wanted to). Fired clay has been around for thousands of years, and the methods used to create and finish ceramic pots and sculptures is relatively the same now as it was 5,000 years ago.

There is something to be said for this kind of connection with history. Ancient Chinese rice bowls were probably formed in the same way I make bowls from clay. The soldiers of the Terracotta Army were likely molded and modeled with hands and tools as mine.

What I’m talking about isn’t just some kind of connection to the past, but it is somewhat ethereal at this point in my mind. I can appreciate how what I’m doing carries on an art form. I like to look back at past techniques as much as looking forward with new ones. I enjoy being part of this craft that crosses political dynasties, even empires, a craft that produced platters and goblets used by Plato, Caesar, Jesus, peasants, monks, artists . . .

The thoughts in this post are in part a response to Old World Swine’s series on the Industrial Revolution.


About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at pcNielsen.com.

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