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Art and ceramic making is firmly engraved in particular contexts and most of the time, these are linked to certain groups. Some may be direct such as art movements while others may be indirect such as globalisation.
This movement started in the 1970s in Japan and was used to represent everything about the culture that was cute and adorable. In fact, Kawaii is derived from the Japanese word kawaisa. It is largely recognised as a fashion movement but its effect has penetrated into different arenas of life including ceramics, art, entertainment, behaviour and the like. It should be noted that this movement grew and changed as time progressed.
At the onset, the movement was first recognised as a way of writing; here teenage girls would use round figures in order to put something down and they added small symbols and smiley faces onto them. Adults and experts asserted that this just complicated the Japanese language and should be abandoned. Subsequently, the kawaii writings were banned but resurfaced in the next decade through commercial packaging of products as well as through comic books and the like.
It was then assumed that these magazines and companies were the ones that had created the kawaii writings. However, research revealed that teenage girls were actually the ones who came up with it. Eventually, the entire nation began embracing elements of this movement in their lives. It was not just about fashion and writing but went on to become part of the nation’s culture. There was kawaii in household items, kawaii on airplanes, kawaii on television and kawaii amongst the police (Sugiyama, 2004).
Ceramics making and art in general would be deeply influenced by such a movement because it either represented kawaii in itself or was used as a way of modifying other kawaii aspects. For example, a person who embraces kawaii fashion may need to accentuate her look by carrying toys. Those toys are usually ceramics and my become part of the whole fashion statement. Alternatively, others may simply collect or use kawaii ceramics as they are.
These kinds of ceramics will often be easily identifiable; some of them will be little animations of a mouse or a child, others will look like a little smiley face with a cute flowery encapsulation. Normally, those ceramics will rely on colour to bring out their cuteness; they often be rich in bright colours such as pink and red. They will also use little characters associated with kawaii and are quite appealing to the eye.
In essence, the kawaii movement, much like any art movement represents the effect of groups upon the individual. Art movements usually have specific meanings that can be imperative in the creation and the development of certain art works. In the kawaii movement, Japan society interpreted it as way of propagating harmony in society by calling for a subtle way of expressing oneself.
In other words, through the sentiments held by a group, an individual can be influenced to carry on those principles through art. In fact, when one examines most kawaii ceramics, one can read such harmonious messages in them; some of them will be made up of little hearts to send out a message of love or affection (Sugiyama, 2004).
In other words, groups affect individuality because individuals are the route used to express the beliefs and values held by a group. The kawaii movement as a group wants to send out a message of happiness in the face of adversity. It wants people to express their own happiness.
The only way this can be achieved is through individuals finding within themselves their own creative elements. They need to be creative about how they will use colour in order to spread those messages. This implies that the kind of ceramics selected will actually be up to the individual although he needs to keep in mind the overall group goal.
Kawaii much like the hippies is a way for young people to speak out against negativity in their worlds by finding their own kind of happiness. They need to realise that the sort of message they are sending to the world is more important than the immediate reactions others have towards them. Small groups or subcultures simply want to have a voice of their own that actually resists what is going on in the world. In this case, kawaii is an attempt to speak out against the chaos in society.
Reinterpretation and reinventing tradition
In the Asian context, ceramics have been in place for centuries on end. However, artists often look for new and innovative ways of making their pieces unique. They still do their best not to lose this background in their work even though they still leave room for their own voice. In other words, through reinterpretation of tradition, these artists can then be in a position to express their individuality.
Such a phenomenon therefore testifies to the influence of the groups upon the individual (Sugiyama, 2004). Tradition that is synonymous to a particular culture can be carried forward by one artist. One such artist is Li Xiaofeng. Li makes very rare ceramic dresses that make for beautiful viewing but also does this against the background of his respective community since he uses antiques. The ceramic dresses are essentially sculptures or pieces for performance artists.
Li makes sure that he honours Chinese tradition while at the same time remains contemporary. This artist has been able to achieve this quite successfully using his ceramic dresses. On one hand, he is showing that he is actually embracing modern designs by making dresses and outfits that are very upbeat and fashionable right now; even the very fact that the ceramics are not designed for conventional use like flowers pots also shows the contemporary and individualistic nature of the work.
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However, the materials he uses are such that they represent Chinese culture. It is especially difficult for artists working with ceramics in China because the government imposes very strict rules about the products. No artists can export ancient artefacts and in this case, porcelain products are classified as ancient artefacts. Li managed to work around this restriction because he still derived influence from ancient China but used new ceramic plates.
He painted the ancient Chinese symbols himself. The artists mostly focused on the 14th to 17th century dynasty (commonly known as Ming). He uses inspiration from these periods to paint most of his porcelain bowls. However, in a few other selected pieces, this artist can be seen working with influences from the Qing dynasty as well as the Kangxi period (Sugiyama, 2004). These designs contain representations of children or the lotus.
The lotus was interpreted as a symbol of rebirth and innocence. At those times, a lot of infant mortality was common and children were such a big treasure. The lotus was highly applicable then because it captured the people’s wishes. Essentially, Li the sculptor has managed to capture a rich and captivating history in his pieces but he has not stopped at that. He took his art work to the next level by not just focusing on this aspect. He wanted to show that sculptures can indeed be seen from a different realm.
This work was a representation of art as seen through an individual’s creative process. A group can therefore influence an artist through the rich heritage and tradition of the group as the group may either be a culture, country or even a region. Even though these kinds of societies may be very strict in terms of imposition, it is still possible for individuals to work around such restrictions by making the most of their surroundings.
How to bring sheerness, softness and poetry in a rude world
Art provides the means with which artists can send out messages of change, discontentment or rebellion in a conventional society. On the other hand, art may actually do the opposite; it can be used to spread a message of softness and subtlety in an arrogant world. Normally, this is achieved through the use of colour or form or a combination of these. In ceramics it is the latter component that is applicable since one quality is never complete without the other. Certain artists will use certain components that are
Sculptors, artists and may use floral patterns and colours in order to disseminate a playful message to those concerned. This defies the arrogance and darkness around them by endorsing the opposite. On the other hand, sculptors may employ a different approach so that theirs may be a message of peace; they could utilise certain colours that are known for these representations such as white. Therefore, poetry can be incorporated into art in a political way. Personal expressions of art can therefore make the personal political.
Influences of groups on the individuals do not just stop at the cultural level; they can also be understood in the global realm. Globalisation has increased the appreciation of art through the general human spirit. Individuals from all corners have come to the realisation that there is plenty of variety out there and this implies that tastes and preferences have been modified in order to embrace this global atmosphere. For instance, the world can appreciate Asian culture and pieces such as Li Xiaonfeng because of globalisation.
Many of his pieces have been taken to different parts of the world and have made the artistic world richer. This indicates that not only can anyone in the world appreciate art from a different part but it also empowers individuals to create it. Globalisation therefore breaks down barriers that had initially been created due to niche art production (Meyer, 2003).
On the flip side however, some critics have asserted that the influence of the global arena on art and ceramics is rather negative. They affirm that the internet opens up an avenue for any armature artist to place his or her work in the public realm. This implies that everyone gets a level playing field even when their work is not worth its salt. Eventually, this excessive accessibility causes the work to lose its value. When people have to struggle in order to access something then they eventually come to appreciate it even more.
Globalisation also brings out the concept of the traditional versus the modern. As more and more artistic groups are getting exposed, there are different waves and movements that are cropping up. Each one appears to be embracing something new or to be taking on a very different perspective. However, upon looking at these groups at a deeper level, it is clear to see that a high number of them actually derive their influences from traditional groups.
Consequently, one can argue that those old cultures have such a profound influence on the manner in which art is expressed today. Since globalisation had not been as rampant then as it is now, it can be argued that the influence of groups through tradition was more important then than it is now. This brings into question the quality and importance of these new art works as they come into operation now. Most of them may simply look at issues superficially and this may not always be the perspective that is the most favourable in art.
On the other hand, globalisation has contributed towards a bridge between influences of groups in the past and influences today. Some of them may be such that they encourage an understanding and analysis of indigenous arts and ceramics (Meyer, 2003).
Globalisation has therefore advanced the exploration of aesthetic pieces belonging to particular groups and this does lead to better appreciation. In this regard, it can then be possible for cross cultural art to take place because artists or sculptors can borrow elements from these older forms. Art can therefore be more engaging once it has been reproduced in a manner that actually borrows a leaf from the past.
Additionally, it can be possible for these individuals to resurrect older art works. For example, research shows that India has always embraced miniature art, however, after development of the Mughal empire, this kind of art faded. In modern times, the art form has been revived in what now appears to be a neo-miniature art movement.
Artists are utilising various resources at their disposal especially though exhibitions in global cultural centres like New York. Essentially, what this means is that tradition will be strengthened and understood while at the same time contemporary culture will have improved dramatically. It also implies that more people are now participating in a debate around the movement. Globalisation therefore grows interest in otherwise dead traditions.
It should be noted that globalisation has the effect of bringing people together. It causes individuals to appreciate their own because they can always identify it if their traditional art is put alongside other works of art. In countries that have gone through difficult histories such as colonialism and domination then globalisation provides an in depth look at this past.
It causes people to become proud of their indigenous works even after these historical restrictions. There are plenty of cases around the world of people who were suppressed and prevented from expressing themselves but this soon came to an end when the concerned individuals rediscovered it through technology and other external forces (Meyer, 2003).
Globalisation has also demonstrated the effect of the entire globe as a platform for ceramics and art through the utilisation of international exhibitions. Most of these places will contain a series of pieces from different parts of the world. They contribute towards awareness and development of ceramics within the visual realm. On the other hand, some have asserted that the international exhibitions tend to be inclined more towards the western culture than many more.
This encourages development and growth of one dominant culture over and any other in the world. Globalisation has not always been understood positively because some people actually look at it as a mild form of imperialism. Western domination has not always come in the form of economic or social manifestations; sometimes it is cultural and nothing represents culture like art. Certain radicals actually attempt to reject it as much as possible.
In retrospect, it can be said that globalisation eliminates the clear line that has always existed between the global and international. The personal can now become global and can therefore derive its influence from a bigger realm.
Groups affect individuality in a number of ways. In certain instances, it is done through different bold values as seen in the kawaii movement. On the other hand, there are certain scenarios when previous cultures will use traditional cultures from their past in order to reinterpret it and hence create new contemporary applications.
Softness in art can be incorporated to send politically affiliated messages hence showing that groups (subcultures) can be affected through this softness. Lastly, globalisation provides a platform for shaping multicultural art.
Meyer, J. (2003). Global tendencies: globalism and large scale exhibition. Artforum, 206(12): 212
Sugiyama, T. (2004). The Japanese self in cultural logic. Hawaii: University of Hawaii press