AIR, WATER, FIRE and EARTH are the four classical elements which, during the formation of the universe, replaced chaos with order and are the four features of the Creator. Ceramic is made up of these four elements. There are four virtues that rule the earth like these four elements: reason, sobriety (temperance), integrity (justice) and power (might). Likewise, ceramic production embodies being reasonable, sober and righteous as well as power in its structure and poise thanks to its ability to survive thousands of years. Nature has held a very important place in the life of mankind since ancient times and has been an unlimited source of inspiration for ceramic art with all its elements. The form, color and texture, with their constant movement, have influenced the art of ceramics as well as other branches of art.
The production of first ceramics in Anatolia dates back to about 8000 years ago. Earth and fire met in Anatolia, at Çatalhöyük around 6000 BC, which is 4000 years before they did in the Mayan civilization and 1000 years before they did in prehistoric Egypt. To that end, it will not be wrong to think that Anatolian lands are the homeland of ceramics. It is known that the cooked earth first entered everyday life in the form of pots and jars, which were used for storing water and food. Idols with symbolic meanings in religious ceremonies, lamps providing illumination, tablets for communication and documentation, architectural elements such as bricks, tiles, waterways and pipes, accessories and ornaments, pottery and ovens, and urns and sarcophagi are some of the numerous forms of ceramics. Ceramic introduced many indispensable products into everyday life in a short time. The flexibility of the material and the ease of shaping it allowed for the production of a wide range of products ranging from objects that meet religious needs to children’s toys.
Since the Neolithic era, Anatolia has hosted ceramics formed by combining water, earth, air and fire during civilizations such as Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Urartians, Byzantines, Seljuks and Ottomans. The production of terra-cotta began with the Neolithic era and was not limited to everyday pots and utensils. Fascinated by the plastic properties of mud, the Anatolian men created symbols of their faith as in the mother goddess figurines shaped with clay, thus revealing their artistic creativity. Mother goddess figurines unearthed in Konya-Çatalhöyük, Diyarbakır-Çayönü Höyük and Burdur-Hacılar are perhaps the naivest forms of mud shaped by human hands. After the invention of pottery wheel and its use in ceramic production between 3000 and 2000 BC, the art of ceramics reached a new epoch in terms of both production and original designs, with exclusive products coming out of the pottery wheel. Furthermore, ceramic mud can be shaped faster on the potter’s wheel, thereby allowing rapid production of ceramics. This led to the start of the industrialization process for ceramics.
Ceramics from Seljuk and Ottoman periods evoke a feeling of admiration considering the technology of that day. Some examples include Karatay Madrasa in Konya, Topkapı Palace in Istanbul, Green Mosque in Bursa, Great Mosque in Malatya, Selimiye Mosque in Edirne and Divriği Mosque in Sivas. It was inevitable for artists to be influenced by such admiring buildings and the deep philosophy they hold. There is no other art in the world that can survive thousands of years by preserving its original properties from the very first day. When that is the case, ceramics that have survived to this day have served as documents and reflected the spirit of the past through the depths of time by providing us with information about the culture of past civilizations. For these reasons, the art of ceramics occupies a distinguished place among arts in general and simultaneously houses art, technology, philosophy and history.
If we consider the art of ceramics from a scientific point of view, the structure and production methods, the secrets and the analysis of technological developments in their decors are purely scientific topics. A ceramic artist must master in these to produce original works. Sometimes there is confusion about the connection of ceramics with products such as terra-cotta, porcelain, vitrified ware, pottery production, floor and wall coverings and tableware. In fact, the general term for all of them is ceramics, but there are technical differences between each of them in terms of structure, cooking and production. The classification in question is made in the form of subheadings under the main heading of ceramics.
The simplest public definition of ceramics is a terra-cotta based material. They are forms and items of use obtained by kneading substances such as clay, kaolin, feldspar and quartz with water and cooking them at high temperatures.
Ceramic consists of some water and earth, just like a human in the process of creation, and is an art that accommodates deep knowledge, experience, tradition, culture and an understanding of culture from past to present. and has a philosophy. If we consider ceramics from an artistic point of view, we first need to have technical knowledge about its production, unlike other branches of art. The process of creation, on the other hand, is a very painful one, as it is the case with other branches of art. After the necessary research has been done, it is necessary to be friends with the mud in the process of intended design production and treat the mud as it wants. To provide an example, the mud should have the required plasticity in the shaping process, be dried slowly and in an appropriate environment, and be cooked by selecting the appropriate temperature for the structure. Otherwise, it will gradually crack or burst in the process of drying or firing if it is not treated as it desired, a very whimsical behavior, and the result may upset you. In terms of ceramic art, this painful process is full of surprises due to the constitutional structure of ceramics and the firing factor. Ceramic forms go through many stages from design, selection of materials, firing and application of decor to glazing before they meet their buyers. If you become friends with it during production, the pleasure with the result is an indescribable happiness.
Ceramics can adapt to multiple disciplines. In our age, it has been referred to in many areas ranging from surrealism to hyper-realism, op art to pop art, and minimalism to performance arts. Such examples are produced by artists in Turkey as well as in the world and are integrated into life. Ceramic art in Turkey may date back to 1950s. It has actually developed in the light of a certain philosophy from past to present. Even though it is not produced with a specific sense of philosophy, it has been used as a tool to reflect beliefs, love, sadness and secret agreements. After the birth of philosophy, the indicators that consciously existed in various fields of art have also revealed themselves in Turkey. Contemporary ceramic art in Turkey has interacted with many fields of art under different disciplines and appeared in many examples through contemporary interpretations by artists. These examples have been shaped in skillful hands and transformed into an art. This is the result of the kneading modern ideas with the experience and knowledge gained in this land for centuries. Ceramic art is an indispensable industrial building block in everyday use. There are traces of it anywhere, especially in bathrooms and restrooms. Today, it is almost impossible to see a kitchen or bathroom without ceramics. There is no one without ceramic tableware, mugs or cups in their home. Even now, if you’re sipping your coffee or tea, your mug or cup is probably ceramic.
Since the start of its existence, man has fed on earth, dwelled in places made of earth and lived on the crops from earth. There is an unchanging fact that earth has become a work of use and art in human hands and ingenuity, and its association with human beings has lasted and will last forever. The contemporary ceramic art in Turkey is supported by technology and science. Skillful hands also use digital and technological devices in shaping ceramics and have now begun to produce works by combining creative thinking and skills with technology. Although the emerging contemporary works and methods employed make you question the direction the art of ceramics has taken, silence and truth will prevail after each motion. In this context, ceramic art enjoys a strong connection with the past and its contemporary examples are closely linked with modern life. The shaping of earth began with human existence. Today, there are many artists in our country who publicly offer ceramic works with the same skill and creative thinking. While such artists present their works to society, some of them have given us their knowledge and experience, thus puffing the trick of the craft. The rapid evolution and development of ceramic art in our country and in the world from past to present will continue thanks to the sustained effort of cultures to understand each other. This development will be further accelerated by facilitating communication. What matters is to aim for maintaining our vitality and essence and inheriting future generations works that reflect our cultural codes. This will allow us to have a more secure perspective of the future. A key point is to provide young generations with modern education that teaches them about our tradition and culture and to raise public awareness.
The story of the phrase “puffing the trick”:
As in any art of craft, the art of ceramics has its unique subtleties and fine details. Ceramics cannot be produced without learning these details. As with the subtlety in all arts, the subtlety of ceramics can only be learned from a master. To learn them, one needs to be patient, work hard and go through the mill, just like ceramics. Before mastery come the titles of apprentice and journeyman. You cannot be a master until you get through these phases. That means you cannot create subtle ceramics without going through these phases.
A journeyman who once worked for a pottery master thought he had learned everything and decided to leave his master’s workshop to open his own workshop. Even though his master said, “Wait, you haven’t learned everything yet,” he didn’t listen to his master. He went to another realm and opened his own workshop. He started practicing what he learned from his master. But strangely enough, all the pots he put in the oven for firing had glaze bubbles when they came out, thus leading to wastage. The journeyman was surprised by this. He tried hundreds of times but he couldn’t get a good pot out of the oven. Desperate, he went back to his master. His master smiled when he saw him. Obviously, he was waiting for his journeyman. “What happened? You couldn’t get good pots out of the oven, could you?” he asked. The journeyman was quite embarrassed. “Give me your blessing, master. I disrespected you… It happened as you said… The pots have air bubbles all over… They’re all wasted.” His master smiled again. He said, “Come here and learn how not to have bubbles on the pots.” Before the master put the pottery in the oven, he occasionally puffed the glazes on them, making a “puff” sound. So the air bubbles on the glaze disappeared. Since there were no air bubbles left, the pottery put in the oven were not wasted. “See, you’ve learned everything but puffing the trick into pottery,” said the master to his journeyman. Then they gave their blessings to each other and the journeyman, having understood the importance of the puffing trick and became a fresh master, went back to his own workshop. The gist of this story is that there is a puffing trick in everything.
* Anadolu University, Faculty of Fine Arts, Department of Ceramic, ESKISEHIR.