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The mark of an artist: finding the perfectly imperfect

Posted on 01/27/2020 at 10:00 AM by Betsy Grabinski

By Quinn Vandenberg, Margaret Davidson Museum Intern

How does one differentiate between objects that are mass produced one after the other in a factory and objects made by hand in the studio through the cultivated skills of a professional? Ask an expert. 

Ceramic Artist Peter Hamann came to the Brunnier Art Museum on Sunday, January 19 to give a lecture on his experiences as a ceramic artist living and working in Japan. A selection of his works of art are included in the Contemplate Japan exhibition. During his presentation, he showed a picture of a ceramic bowl and lid he crafted, and explained his skill of crafting the combination of lids and containers became his "claim to fame" in Japan. This particular work's lid was millimeters off  from being perfectly aligned with the edges on the bowl, yet the judges at an art exhibition must not have been too troubled by it. They awarded him first prize: Beauty in Imperfection.

Hamann spoke on the Japanese word Kōgei and its emergence in Japan's Meiji period beginning in the second half of the 19th century. Hamann said during this time Western influence increased in Japan and it seemed there was no word to distinguish between art, craft, and industry. "It was all made by hand, so there was no need for distinction," said Hamann.

A dividing line was created. On one side, industry and mass production. On the other, objects made by hand by an artist, or Kōgei.   

"[Kōgei] is everything we call art and craft and, possibly, even more," said Hamann. "Kōgei could be described as craft taken to the level of art, but that somehow misses the mark. In my mind, it is a great term that eliminates the need to talk about what is art and what is craft which we spent so much time in college discussing. Afterall, isn't it really a question of creativity and quality rather than what medium one works in."

The selection of Hamman's ceramics in the Contemplate Japan exhibition includes vases, dishes, bowls and incense burners, which are part of the Brunnier Art Museum's permanent collection and on loan from a private collection. Hamman said it is currently the largest Western exhibition of his ceramics. 


Top: Tea Box by Peter Hamann, porcelain. On loan from Private Collection.

Above Right: Bowl by Peter Hamann, unglazed porcelain. On loan from Private Collection.

Below: BowlTea Bowl, Covered Dish, and Bowl, all by Peter Hamann. In the permanent collection, Brunnier Art Museum, University Museums, Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa. UM2019.19, UM2017.119ab, UM2015.190, UM2017.352.


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