Saturday, August 22, 2009

The "Death" of Cooking and the Functional Artist

I am a recipient of the 2009 NCECA (National Counsel On the Education of Ceramic Art) Regina Brown Undergraduate Student Fellowship. I was awarded this fellowship to aid in my research to write a thesis on the future of functional pottery. Many of you know that I am a clay artist and work mostly with utilitarian forms. I am also a senior and ceramic major at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit Michigan and a community education teacher. Below are excerpts taken from my essay to NCECA requesting their support for my fellowship project.

“…The question of the destiny of wheel thrown forms is far from academic. My fascination with ceramics was born on a potter’s wheel almost a decade ago. Having raised my family, I returned to school after these many years to increase my knowledge and skill as a potter, and to educate myself fully as a ceramist. I am now a year from graduating with a BFA in ceramics, and yet, after all of my explorations into the other areas of ceramics, I still find that wheel throwing offers me a more meaningful language with which to engage my ideas.
My ultimate goal, aside from practicing as an artist, is to be an educator and pass along my knowledge, experience and love of the craft. In that capacity, I am approached constantly by students that share my devotion to wheel throwing, but are concerned about their future and place in the art world should they decide to pursue this aspect of ceramic art? I feel it is incumbent upon me to have some sort of answer…”

I have spent the summer interviewing, emailing, and researching ceramic artists and academics, gallery owners, potters, studio artists, crafts persons, etc. for my thesis essay: “The Future of Function”. But yesterday, while reading “Out of the Kitchen, Onto the Couch”, by MICHAEL POLLAN Published: July 29, 2009 in The New York Times, I was alerted to a new possibility and concern.

According to Pollan, people are not cooking anymore, at least not in the “traditional sense”. Pollan implies that American cooking consists of popping an instant food of some kind into the microwave and then plopping onto the couch to watch a cooking show! Of course Pollan touches on many topics relating to American culture and how it has changed since WWII. Among other things he suggests that advertisers for big food companies have altered our definition of cooking as well as our taste buds. He further states that the loss of “scratch cooking” is the beginning of the demise of our humanity.

Now, here I am doing research on whether a potter who makes functional pieces can make a living at it, and Pollan suggests that people have stopped cooking – which means presumably that they are also not using cooking utensils, like, say, handmade pottery.

I’m wondering is Mr. Pollan right? Do you cook? What is cooking to you? Are cooking and “scratch cooking” the same? Are we at the beginning of the loss of humanity for all of our not cooking?

And important to me and makers of functional pottery:

Do you spend money on handmade pottery to celebrate food?

Do you have a favorite cup, bowl, and baking dish? Is it handmade? Is it a good design? Is it sentimental? Why is it your favorite?

Please take a moment to comment on or answer one (or all) of these questions. Your input is important to what I hope will be valuable information to functional artists and designers everywhere.
Furthermore, if you are so inclined, I am open to suggestions, comments as well as referrals on who else might have interesting insight into this topic.
I look forward to any comments!!!
Thanks so much,
Chrys Bonnay-Lewis


  1. I tried to send a comment yesterday but it wouldn't go through. It was rather long so I gave up but will try again in the name of art!

    Years ago I cooked/baked everything from scratch. I was home with small children and loved doing it so I baked bread, made dinners that took all day in the oven and baked cookies, muffins, cakes, anything!

    Then as I ventured back into the workforce my time at home was limited so I relied more on prepared foods, mainly frozen items, that I could whip up on a moment's notice and added things like my own sauces or fresh veggies to put my own spin on it and adding a homemade flavour. It was tasty, fast, and fit our lifestyle.

    However several years ago my husband was diagnosed with high blood pressure. This forced us to look at our sodium intake and eliminate all prepared, prepackaged foods. We have had to go back to more home made scratch cooking. It is harder, takes more time and effort and the taste is a little different. Prepared foods and restaurants have altered our taste in food and we expect more from less. High fat, deep fried or highly salted is the norm. I am still struggling with creating healthy, interesting tasting, appealing, scratch cooked meals. No more gravy from a can, it requires a day of staying home to boil bones in order to make a broth I can make a gravy from later. No more sauces from a jar, instead the ingredients will go into a crock pot at lunch and simmer all day while I am at work. This does require planning and some pre-prepping as well.

    Last night at dinner I made a home made Greek salad with ingredients from my dad's garden and served it in a beautiful hand made pottery bowl. I also sliced watermelon and served that in another pottery bowl. The fruit we bought at the market goes in yet another pottery bowl, on display, available for snacking.

    As I get older I appreciate the aesthetic quality of hand made items, like pottery and as a potter myself I like to support other artists/artisans. I have several mugs from potter friends or famous potters, ones I like to drink from all the time. I have special bowls that I serve in, some that I display all the time and rarely use in a functional capacity and a few that I use only for baking but could also use for serving.

    Many times I don't take as much time to celebrate the food I prepare and serve. It is sometimes a chore I wish others would manage and they could just call me when it is ready to eat. However at this juncture I am the chief cook so to speak and it is up to me to take charge and cook.

    Hopefully this will help you. I could go on but I think I have rambled quite enough. Besides, it is time for me to go and cook dinner!

    ~ Darcy Kinder

  2. Like Darcy, I started as a stay-at-home Mom and did all of the cooking from scratch. We had a garden and I canned, pickled and froze whatever we did not eat immediately. I baked all of the bread we ate, much to the dismay of my children, who thought Wonder Bread would be far superior to what they had. They have since repented for this shortcoming in their thought processes.

    As the children grew and left and I was working more, I didn't so much go to frozen and pre-made, but would do cooking marathons on weekends and revisit those dishes, in different forms as the week progressed.

    I grew as a cook by watching Julia Child, et al, and I hope and believe that the resurgence in cooking shows will bolster the interest in home cooking.

    I started making pottery only 8 years ago, but had many hand made pieces prior to that time.

    I have a lot of "favorite" mugs, bowls, baking dishes that are hand made. Many of those who buy my pottery are of similar mind.

    I think that we will maintain some urge to use hand made and cook for ourselves, as a way to keep a bit of control as society gets more high-tech and economy and commerce becomes more global.

    I have posted a link to this blog on a cooking forum that I frequent.
    Perhaps you will get some valuable input from that source.

    I hope that I was of some help.


  3. Thanks so much Judy & Darcy any one else have any thoughts???

  4. I’m wondering is Mr. Pollan right? Do you cook? What is cooking to you? Are cooking and “scratch cooking” the same? Are we at the beginning of the loss of humanity for all of our not cooking?

    I love to cook and I cook whenever I can. However, I work and have two children involved in band and school activities, so I don't always have the time to cook from scratch. However, no matter how busy we are, I never "cook" in the microwave. Our microwave is only used for heating things up and making popcorn. I will use the slow cooker and plan ahead, or buy prepared ingredients to put together a meal quickly. I use convenience foods a lot, but I always try to serve things appetizingly whether I made them from scratch or from a box.

    Do you spend money on handmade pottery to celebrate food?

    Yes, I like unique and functional pottery I can use to serve my family and friends. I use special pieces to "dress up" simple dishes and I always serve pre-prepared items in my own serving dishes.

    Do I have a favorite piece of pottery?

    I have a few favorite pieces of pottery given to me by friends of mine who made them. I have a casserole dish I use all the time. I like it because it is a generous size and it makes whatever I cook in it seem more special.

    Hope this helps!


  5. Ok, I will try this again..I, myself, love to cook and love having nice bowls to serve in. I had to get a bit older to appreciate a nice table setting. I believe we have lost some family values, people do not sit down together and eat meals as I did when growing up. I think the economy has stopped people from buying USA made anything because made in China is much cheaper, and well you know the whole job thing...change our young people's values and your craft will survive. Better yet, make a beer pong set and I think you will have a market.