Appreciation Of Purple Clay tea pot (1)
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The art of Yixing purple clay were originated in the Song dynasty (960-1279). It reached its peak in the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties and continues to develop to this day, the shapes of the teapots becoming more varied and refined. The creative concept of the potter is directly influenced by the aesthetic viewpoint of his audience. Appreciation and authentication of this unique purple clay pottery art is therefore vitally important. It is thus necessary to discuss the aesthetics of the art of purple clay ware.
It is commonly known that Yixing purple clay has a unique character all its own. The unique ore of raw materials at Yixing is one contributory factor. The main formation techniques are the body beating method and the luting method. These are quite different from the formation methods employed in other ceramic trades.
Then again, its decoration is associated with a higher cultural level than is the case with other ceramic ware. Taken together, all these aesthetic elements are found in the art of Yixing purple clay ware.
How should one appreciate a work? Take a teapot for example -- the most famous form of purple clay ware --and analyse it according to traditional formation methods. Based on the theory and regulations of plastic art, the main body is usually composed of dots, lines and surfaces and the attachments are the teapot spout, handle, mouth-rim, base, foot, lid and knob. There should be an appropriate relationship and proportions between the various parts. The outlines of different parts should flow smoothly into each other. Attention should also be given to the treatment of the convex and concave surfaces and the contrast between solid and void. There are infinite variations which give the object (vessel or teapot) its rich sense of beauty.
The aesthetics of purple clay pottery can be classified from an abstract point of view into the four elements of form, spirit, air and gesture. Form is the beauty of shape, the outline of the work and its formal representation. Spirit means the spiritual perfection and rhythm of a piece, while air is the ethereal quality expressed in the contents of the art work and its harmonious colouration. Gesture constitutes the formal characteristics such as the tall, short, fat, thin, hard, soft, square or round quality shown in the form. A genuinely perfect work is one which success-fully combines all these attributes. Here we must distinguish between the logical and the emotional approach. If a teapot connoisseur inclines towards the logical approach, he will be very concerned with the appropriate size of the teapot, the angle of the spout, the domed or flat shape of the lid, the tallenss or shortness of the body and its functional use-tea-brewing. Thus he applies logic without any real interest, whereas art appreciation should ideally include both these aspects. Irrespective of its shape, a work should arouse interest. With interest comes affection, nurturing of the soul and long-lasting enjoyment. Therefore in appreciating a new form, one should comprehend the nature of its beauty before attempting to criticize it. The enthusiastic response of purple clay ware lovers is based on this premise.
Naturally, as a practical craft item, its usefulness is very important. Its convenience in use generates feelings of contentment and harmony. The size of the teapot should therefore be designed according to tea-brewing customs and practices. The smooth flow of water from the spout and the practical and comfortable handle design also require careful consideration.
Historically, the appreciation of purple clay ware can be classified into three level. (l) The elegant pottery art level -- the work should be both logical and interesting, possessing beauty in form and spirit and displaying an excellent production technique. It is an attractive work with universal appeal, finding favour with people from all walks of life. It can thus be regarded as the best work of the highest calibre. (2) The second level covers high quality products reproduced in specific quantities for sale. These works are exquisitely crafted and their forms completed and satisfying. (3) The common product created for everyday use in accordance with people's local customs. These works vary in shape and size and the production techniques used are merely average.
My discussion here is focused on works of art. The content and form of a work comprise many elements which are all interrelated. Perfect form and exquisite manufacturing technique are of paramount importance. In addition, the finished form might be decorated to enhance the work's visual impact. The suitability of the subject and content of the decorative motif. the use of the decorative material and the production technique all require consideration. These are all related to the artistic level of the potter and the discerning eye of the connoisseur.
This can be illustrated by some examples. For instance, the traditional pottery engraving on purple clay ware can enhance one's appreciation of the item. The content of the inscription should be an excerpt from an appropriate literary work. The calligraphy and painting should be brilliantly executed and of high quality. The engraving technique employed should be reminiscent of the traditional art of bronze engraving and seal carving.
In recent years, enthusiasm for purple clay ware has grown significantly, partly owing to the promotion of the tea and pottery cultures. High quality products are in limited supply and cannot keep up with the increasing demand. Especially rare are elegant works by famous potters. This has inevitably led to the emergence of a minority of craftsmen devoid of artistic ethics. They team up with cunning traders to forge works by famous artists, flooding the market with bad forgeries and cheating many purple clay ware lovers. It is therefore necessary to discuss authentication techniques. As with the authentication of paintings and calligraphy, one should start by considering the dual aspects of logical perception and emotional understanding. Logical perception involves the study of aesthetics to heighten aesthetic awareness. Exchanging views on the works of famous artists and discussing and exploring in depth the styles of their works helps to sharpen one's feelings for them. Experience should be built up by studying their potting techniques, expertise, use of colour and selection of clay, the characteristics of their seals and certain other key aspects. These are essential for authentication. In any art form, an outstanding artist must have artistic techniques and qualities unique to himself. This is personal style and rhythm and flows from an inspiration which the forger lacks. If a forger has a profound under-standing of all these, then he too is a great master. It is not necessary for him to forge works by others without taking credit. I dare to venture that which is genuine is born genuine. That which is forgery can never be genuine. Forgers have no aspirations and forgery is totally shameful and abhorrent.
I shall also briefly discuss imitation and forgeries in the history of purple clay art. From the mid-19th century to the early 20th ,century was a popular period for imitating the works of ancient masters. There were those who copied extant works by famous artists and there were works designed by curio merchants based on descriptions contained in old texts on purple clay history. Forged inscriptions by famous masters of the past were added, as were seals. Over the past few decades I have witnessed these types of forgery and have drawn the following conclusions: All teapots imitating the work of masters of the Ming dynasty far exceed the standard of Ming works in potting technique and colouration. The reason is obvious. As society progresses, so too do science and technology. Thus, comparing imitations with extant works of the Ming dynasty, it is evident that later copies are far superior. As for the excellent works by great masters of the early to mid-/Qing dynasty-Chen Mingyuan, Sheng Si, and Shao Daheng, no matter how exquisite the copies, they are deficient in spirit and rhythm. This can be likened to the difference between jade and soapstone. However, if these copies are extant today, they still have a reasonable appreciation and collection value. They should be distinguished from the forgeries of the present day. Over recent years forgeries have been produced based on illustrations contained in old texts and their workmanship is poor. Their main objective is to cheat people and one must be careful not to fall into the trap.
I have merely expressed here my random thoughts on the subject for the benefit of purple clay art-lovers. I hope that knowledgeable readers will be quick to point out my inadequacies.