Are we really moving forward?

I got a note from Bobby Free yesterday about kilns. He is dismantling some old kilns and building his own.
Many of the Art schools today are ordering their kilns from Europe and they are computer assisted.  These computer systems allow remote control of the operation and even identification and problem solving by means of remote sensing. In this way the kiln manufacturer  can provide fast and efficient service worldwide by means of an external monitor. In other words you're up shit creek without a paddle if something goes wrong. Not to worry an engineer in a white lab coat will be on the next flight from Europe to help you get on track again.  Is ceramics really moving forward? Are students going to graduate from college with a tool box full of skills to make a living as studio potters? Who could afford these kilns much less the price of an airfare from the Netherlands to fix your kiln not working in Helena, Montana two weeks before your annual holiday sale?
Bobby you're doing the right thing. The kiln may or may not be pretty but the pots will be. My theory is some of the ugliest pots I've seen in my life come from the most beautiful kilns and some of the potters I know that make wonderful work have kilns that look like a pile of bricks with a chimney. Go figure!


Unknown said…
Could it be that contemporary potters just need to learn a new skill set? Advances in technologies have done a lot for potters. High fire kilns for porcelain and stone ware, accurate glaze calculations, the wheel.
gz said…
These students will not be able to afford the new kilns with controllers once they leave college- and even if they could, they wouldn't understand what the kiln is doing.
So is this really doing the students a favour?
Anonymous said…
Another techno advancement?? For whom?? I think Sean is older than he admits?? Modern advancement, "THE WHEEL" Duh?
I love the old school method, learn your craft,glazes, your clays, and go from there. I learned well Tony, your message about glaze sharing...why will fire it to your own way unless you are doing a bazillion dishes, I see no need to run out and buy one of those NEW kilns unless you are a Gazillionaire! A pile of brick, some seement, and a good eye will serve you well!! Wood, coal, oil, gas, will always serve you right when the power fails!

Sandy Miller said…
I think it's about choice.
Currently my choice is to let the magic happen without the use of computers. I find myself overriding my computer more times than not as I watch cone packs...... and I fire oxidation.

Seems those who flip switches and walk away are missing the magic.
Unknown said… Warren MacKenzie mentions machine made ceramics. And how they do not communicate between maker and user. Did the potters of Minoan Crete have this discussion when the fast moving wheel was introduced?
FetishGhost said…
Students can be taught to do amazing things when they learn to burn.
With or without the controls, this is still an alchemists art form.
Christian said…
Having been in a program at RISD with both computer program driven kilns (Blau) as well as gas, electric and access to wood I'd suggest that these newer kilns have additional skills that should supplement the traditional kiln skills. The newer computers involved do a good job of helping one plan, monitor, adjust and later measure/reflect on the kiln, but they don't replace knowledge or insight about understanding firing conditions and making meaningful changes to the environment. While I don't like firing this way, I don't find the presence of digital technology strange (given their presence everywhere else in the world's products and services). The part I find strange is the lack of a spy hole … which may have contributed to me nearly lighting the roof on fire in undergrad school (I'm not sure Larry will ever forgive me).
gz said…
The problem is that colleges are going over completely to the kilns with controllers, as it costs less, fewer staff needed and the dreaded Elf an'Safety.
It would be fine if they were just an addition then they would add to the students' experience.
Anonymous said…
The only cost savings for institutions with these computer assisted kilns is the fuel to fire them. And the savings is substantial.
The technology was developed for industry, as I recall - and as with any 'new technology' there will be a trickle-down effect where the price is within reach of the studio artist/potter.

There is always the issue of high-touch v.s. high-tech -- where you sit is your opinion -but to say that one is wrong or better is --- well wrong.

It's something to consider for the future - if one were to fire earthenware in oxidation, then maybe this is type of kiln is a long-term cost savings over a Bartlett controlled Oval.

Maintenance is an issue - For your information Blaauw has a North American repair/service guy. But if you're a studio potter, you take care of your equipment -- institutions have to deal with sloppy loading/chipping/banging oxyprobes and thermocouples --- in other words $$$

Its here - lets play with it like any other technology or tool
nick friedman said…
You make so many good points here, Tony. I think this would be good training if you were heading to Korea to work in a cutting edge commercial production operation. If you're going to be a gypsy potter (like me), the sooner you learn practical gypsy skills (like fixing your own sh-t) the better off you'll be.

I'm a new poster. Looking forward to following your blog.
Kiln Work said…
Great post! Been reading a lot about kiln work recently. Thanks for the info!

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