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The Language of Art

Have you ever considered art as a language? 

As a professional ceramic artist, I often think of my work as a means of communication. 

Beyond the utilitarian function of the objects I make, to hold tea or contain flowers, my work performs the function, ‘to speak’. Whether the utterances are speaking about the process of being made on the potter’s wheel, a maker’s affinity with his material, or the way my work connects to the long, rich tradition of utilitarian ceramics.  

I am certainly not the first to consider art as a visual language, Georgia O’Keeffe, a titan of American painting, famously said, “I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way – things I had no words for.” 

The intimate, personal connection an artist has with their work makes communication through art something almost unavoidable and inescapable, and therefore, my artwork along with other artists, resonates with a low-pitched hum, quietly whispering the concepts and ideas that underpin the work. 

Martin Lungley, celadon glazed porcelain tea bowl Martin Lungley, celadon and copper glazed porcelain vases

As an educator, part of my role is to support students to develop their own personal artistic voice; a unique and recognizable artistic style that is distinctly their own.  Students on examination courses have the time and space to conduct deep, personal investigations into their chosen art mediums and techniques. Honing and developing their own working practices to become the vocabulary items with which they can explore and communicate their ideas. 

 Allen in Year 13 is one such student.  Over the course of his 2-year A level in Art, he has produced an incredible breadth of work in paper sculpture, ceramics and fine art fashion.  I have been really impressed with his ability to achieve a consistent personal voice throughout his body of work.  Whether it is a sculptural garment with pleats and folds, or a flowing clay sculpture, his work speaks of an interest in natural forms and a desire to explore line, form, and space in a free flowing and organic way. It is very evident that each piece Allen makes is his own creation.  

One of his pieces entitled, ‘Final Breadth’, speaks to us in the form of a question and asks us to consider, “Is their beauty in death?” Most often beauty is not a quality we associate with death.  The finality of death, and the sense of loss, can obscure our ability to appreciate the beauty of a life completed, and fully lived. His sculpture was inspired by the way blossom falls from trees making a beautiful carpet of flowers on the ground, completing the cycle of life from birth through growth, maturity, reproduction and finally death.  The main piece of the sculpture is on the ground and some pieces have been suspended, as if being taken on the ‘breath of the wind,’ echoing the final breath of life. 

Allen Li, Year 13, Final Breath

So, does art communicate?   

Next time you encounter an artwork I would encourage you to look beyond the visual, and give yourself a moment to listen, to ‘see what you can hear’.  Some art speaks intimately and personally about its maker, while some speaks of its place in a long tradition of art making.  Some art might be commenting on society, and other art may pose us questions about what it means to be human in the 21st Century.  

So, whether the art we see speaks to us in a small quiet voice or screams loudly be sure of one thing, it is trying to tell you something. 

 

Martin Lungley 

Head of Arts Department