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Fictiles








Earliest amongst the inventions of man and his endeavour to unite Art
with Craft is the Fictile Art. His first needs in domestic life, his
first utensils, his first efforts at civilisation, came from the Mother
Earth, whose son he believed himself to be, and his ashes or his bones
returned to Earth enshrined in the fictile vases he created from their
common clay. And these Fictiles tell the story of his first
Art-instincts, and of his yearnings to unite beauty with use. They tell,
too, more of his history than is enshrined and preserved by any other
art; for almost all we know of many a people and many a tongue is
learned from the fictile record, the sole relic of past civilisations
which the Destroyer Time has left us.

Begun in the simplest fashion, fashioned by the simplest means, created
from the commonest materials, Fictile Art grew with man's intellectual
growth, and Fictile Craft grew with his knowledge; the latter
conquering, in this our day, when the craftsman strangles the artist
alike in this as in all other arts. To truly foster and forward the art,
the craftsman and the artist should, where possible, be united, or at
least should work in common, as was the case when, in each civilisation,
the Potter's Art flourished most, and when the scientific base was of
less account than was the art employed upon it. In its earliest stages
the local clay sufficed for the formative portion of the work, and the
faiences of most European countries offer more artistic results to us
than do the more scientifically compounded porcelains. In the former
case the native clay seemed more easily to ally itself with native art,
to record more of current history, to create artistic genius rather than
to be content with attempting to copy misunderstood efforts of other
peoples and other times. But when science ransacked the earth for
foreign bodies and ingredients, foreign decorative ideas came with them
and Fictile Art was no more a vernacular one. It attempted to disguise
itself, to show the craftsman superior to the artist; and then came the
Manufacturer and the reign of quantity over quality, the casting in
moulds by the gross and the printing by the thousands. Be it understood
these remarks only apply to the introduction of porcelain into Europe.
In the East where the clay is native, the art is native; the potter's
hand and the wheel yet maintain the power of giving the potter his
individuality as the creator and the artist, and save him from being but
the servant and the slave of a machine.

Between faience and porcelain comes, midway, Stoneware, in which many
wonderfully, and some fearfully, made things have been done of late, but
which possesses the combined qualities of faience and porcelain--the
ease of manipulation of the former, and the hardness and durability of
the latter; but the tendency to over-elaborate the detail of its
decoration, and rely less on the beauty of its semi-glossy surface than
on meretricious ornament, has rather spoiled a very hopeful movement in
Ceramic Art. Probably the wisest course to pursue at the present would
be to pay more attention to faiences decorated with simple glazes or
with "slip" decoration, and this especially in modelled work. A
continuation of the artistic career of the Della Robbia family is yet an
unfulfilled desideratum, notwithstanding that glazed faiences have never
since their time ceased to be made, and that glazed figure work of large
scale prevailed in the eighteenth century. Unglazed terra cotta, an
artistic product eminently suited to our climate and to our urban
architecture, has but partially developed itself, and this more in the
direction of moulded and cast work than that of really plastic art; and
albeit that from its dawn to this present the Fictile Art has been
exercised abundantly, its role is by no means exhausted. The artist and
the craftsman have yet a wide field before them, but it would be well
that the former should, for some while to come, take the lead. Science
has too long reigned supreme in a domain wherein she should have been
not more than equal sovereign. She has had her triumphs, great triumphs
too, triumphs which have been fraught with good in an utilitarian sense,
but she has tyrannised too rigidly over the realm of Art. Let us now try
to equalise the dual rule.

G. T. ROBINSON.





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