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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