Now Cfilers (the name our members have chosen for themselves. we love it!) can dialogue and learn with each other. Starting today, author Martha Drexler Lynn will be taking questions about her recent book in our new C-Forum, a meeting hall for the global ceramics community. If you are already a cfile.member, view the forum, or begin your 30-day free trial of cfile.campus!
Garth Clark’s review of Lynn’s work, American Studio Ceramics: Innovation and Identity, 1940-1979 follows:
American Studio Ceramics: Innovation and Identity 1940-1979
Lynn, Martha Drexler
New Haven: Yale University Press, 2016
Book publishers have an important word they frequently invoke: heft. The term acknowledges a book’s materiality. It’s the first thing you notice, other than the title, when you pull a volume from the shelf.
Is it too light, too heavy, does it balance in the hand, and what is the texture like? This can project substance or frivolity or warn you when a book is too oddly shaped to be taken to bed or to fit in any bookshelf (i.e. could be over-designed at expense of content).
The heft for Martha Drexler Lynn’s “American Studio Ceramics: Innovation and Identity 1940 to 1979” is perfect. It demonstrates gravitas, which is backed up by the sterling research in the book. It also says “working book” due to the cut out index indents, old fashioned and quaint, but instructive.
It is also a rare book for ceramics: an actual textbook. Yes, it is pretty enough to be a coffee table book as well. But that is where the very few reviewers who have not been seduced seem to get it wrong.
They review it as though it is a picture book, designed to give one a quick read and lots of images. Pictures abound but aside from occasional full page images they tend to be smaller, so the book can pack more content between the covers.
The difficulty with textbooks, though, is often the text; numbing in detail, pedantic about minor facts and lacking in poetry, resulting in a read as dry as toast.
Lynn is a highly readable writer. The flow keeps one involved and she has a way of laying out complex narratives in a way that gives the required density of content without becoming leaden. She achieves this through rock solid scholarship and familiarity with her subject. Her grasp goes beyond professionalism. She is also a fan of the genre (a ceramics collector of avant-garde Japanese ceramics) and that shows in visual-verbal intimacy. And lastly, there is a humor that it subtle, often wicked and it twinkles through at times. In other words, the book is imbued with a seductive humanity.
One reviewer carped that it is at times repetitive. This is true. But for a very pragmatic reason. Textbooks are not read like novels, they are picked at, read in bursts and set aside, scoured for specific data. That means that it makes sense for comments to be reprised at different points so information one encounters is contextualized again at that moment.
More reason for rejoicing is that this is a history of modern and contemporary studio pottery—pots, vessels—something too often overlooked because of the supposed greater glamour and “artiness” of sculptural ceramics. The latter makes an appearance at the end of the book but it is not where the protein will be found.
This allows for Lynn to consider a franchise with further books of the same depth on ceramic fugitive art and abstraction: ideally two separate volumes. Then there is American Studio Ceramics 1980 to the Present. I can’t wait.
I highly recommend this work for all libraries, ceramists and ceramophiles. It should also be an essential text book at art schools, in design courses and for the modern decorative arts. This is a fine gift to the field, a long-term companion for ceramic addicts.
Garth Clark is the Chief Editor of cfile.daily.
Starting today, author Martha Drexler Lynn will be taking questions about her recent book in our new C-Forum, a meeting hall for the global ceramics community. If you are already a cfile.member, view the forum, or begin your 30-day free trial of cfile.campus!