Artist's Statement: Richard Notkin on fighting for humanity's future in the studio

By Ben Miller | 28 June 2013

Artist's Statement: Influential stoneware specialist Richard Notkin on art as revolution...

A photo of an artist in his studio
“We have stumbled into the 21st Century with the technologies of Star Wars and the emotional maturity of cavemen.

If we can’t find more creative solutions to solving worldwide social, economic and political dilemmas than sending young men and women to shred and incinerate one another’s flesh with weapons of ever increasing efficiency, we will not survive to celebrate the passage into the 22nd century.

The problems of human civilisation are far too complex to be solved by means of explosive devices. And too many of our world’s nations are in the hands of ideological thugs and fundamentalist tyrants who are fumbling the planet towards World War III.

I continue to make ceramic sculptures which reflect on the social and political dilemmas of our world.  As Andre Malraux observed, ‘Art is a revolt against man's fate.’  

The fleeting fashions and trends of the ‘art world’ do not concern me, as they are like sandcastles washed away by changing tides.

For the past 45 years, I have made art that adds to the universal protest against the insanities born of greed on our planet.

These insanities - nuclear weaponry and other means of mass destruction, strangling pollution of our water and atmosphere, the dangers of global warming, and many other human foibles - threaten the existence of our children and grandchildren, and certainly the many works of wonder and creativity that have been produced during the course of human civilization.

I hope that my art works - joined by artists worldwide, of all media and modes of expression - can create a collective consciousness and a ripple effect that will eventually persuade a new generation to rise up and peacefully transform our species’ approaches to living on our only planet and coexisting with one another in true peace.

I may be labelled a hopelessly naive idealist, but we have reached a point in human history where we had better get our s*** together, or we will be buried in it.  I continue to ‘fight’ in my studio for my grandchildren's future.  

To be effective, art that conveys a social or political message must, first and foremost, be strong art.

In other words, a work of art must have a high aesthetic and technical quality to be capable of grabbing an audience's attention.

We are artists, after all, and the power and wonder of aesthetic and technical mastery is capable of moving people in astonishing ways.  

At the International Ceramics Festival, I plan to add to my ongoing series of carved stoneware ears for my installation series, Legacy.

The pile of rocklike human ears grows and shrinks over the years, and has myriad interpretations and historical references.

I will leave it to the viewers to decipher as many of these layers of meaning as they can, and to offer new ideas and meanings from their own personal perspectives.  

I will also be producing a series of relief tiles with imagery of our disparate human activities - both positive and negative - throughout our long and tumultuous history.

The lecture on my artwork work will present images of ongoing attempts to express my concerns for our survival and ultimate triumph over our many faults and follies.

My anger is the fuel for my creative endeavours, and, believe it or not, I am an unrepentant optimist.

If I was not, I wouldn't bother to labour my life away on such pursuits.”

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