Tradition and...

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Tradition and the Future   1      2      -      PRINTER VERSION

>> This historical sense, which Eliot believed was indispensable to a writer, involves not only a perception of the 'pastness' of the past, but also of its presence. This sense makes the artist both traditional and at the same time acutely aware of his or her place in history, in other words, their contemporaneity.

My point is not that we should be ruled by the past constantly reworking old masterpieces— but that we should recognize the past for what it is: an inseparable part of us and our awareness of the world. It seems preposterous to me that modern potters, for example, believe that they can employ a kind of selective amnesia concerning the past and then expect their work to challenge in eloquence, the great works from the history and tradition of ceramic art.

The shapes and techniques of traditional crafts represent, I believe, more than nostalgia for a way of life long since past; they are the residue of our predecessors' struggle to express and communicate through handwork, their deepest and most profound insight into the human condition. I believe, therefore, that these shapes and techniques are not just valuable, but indispensable to us, because they are part of a visual language that allows us as modern artists to express our ideas and feelings in a way that would be impossible without them. Their loss would impoverish our art and reduce it, in the name of being modern, to nothing more than a trendy, fashion-conscious commercial pursuit. Kazuo Yagi, who is often referred to as the father of modern Japanese ceramic art, offered, in an essay on Ogata Kenzan, a starting point for modern potters struggling with this problem of tradition and its role in the future. He wrote that "...Those elegant designs that are Kenzan at his best are still being repeated in today's ceramic world, but I feel that they have no significance as the formal patterns they have become. Instead, it is worth experimenting with them as a means of returning to the process through which they were developed, or even to the invention itself".2

l. T. S. Eliot, "Tradition and the Individual Talent", Selected Essays, London 1932.
2. Masahiko Sato, Kenzan, Kodansha 1975.

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