Allen S. Weiss is known to many in Kyoto through his books on aesthetics, and in recent years he has given well-received talks on the subject (see here). His latest book has now appeared, and he has generously agreed for us to reprint the Preface below as well as providing samples of the always exceptional photographs that accompany his writing. Unfortunately Allen won’t be making his annual visit to Kyoto this winter because of an operation on his eye, but he tells us that he has already made plans for the autumn of 2017 so we very much look forward to organising an event with him at that time (some will recall the wonderful talk in Robert Yellin’s gallery that he gave).
The Grain of the Clay: Reflections on Ceramics and the Art of Collecting [Reaktion Books, 2016] is simultaneously an examination of collecting as a form of autobiography, indeed occasionally as a form of art and an attempt to sharpen our perception, increase our appreciation, and augment our imagination of ceramics. I hope to accomplish this by stressing the sundry means of establishing deeper relations with ceramics in our everyday lives, notably linking the beauty of pottery to the pleasures of cuisine; by investigating the vast stylistic range of ceramics, so as to celebrate their aesthetic value and confirm their unique place in the history of our arts; and by attuning ourselves to the profound poetry of ceramics, especially in relation to the natural world. As Western aesthetic hierarchies are crumbling, works previously sequestered as “crafts” – notably ceramics and cuisine – are finding their rightful place in museums. This newfound engagement with finely wrought natural materials will hopefully foster an increased ecological sensitivity in these times of crisis. In other cultures, relations between the arts have evolved differently. For example, the tea ceremony at the core of traditional Japanese culture highly valorizes cuisine, and places ceramics alongside calligraphy and painting as the highest art forms. This suggests a valuable paradigm to guide our evolving aesthetics, and to elucidate the symbolic and poetic resonances between ceramics, cuisine, and landscape. Unlike the museum curator, the collector lives with the work of art, and thus learns to know its appearance in every lighting condition day and night, its every nuance of form and color, its varied relations to changing decor. This is why autobiographical forms are most appropriate to explore the passion for collecting. More complex, however, is whether an autobiography can be recounted through a collection. Such can be but a tale of idiosyncrasy, and sometimes even folly.
– Allen S. Weiss