Published in 1980s and has been the reference guide of the whole ceramics community for almost 40 years, Ceramics Technology book is once again written by Prof. Dr. Ates Arcasoy and Assoc. Prof. Hasan Baskırkan and published with the support of TCF (Turkish Ceramics Federation). Our pleasant talk with Arcasoy and Baskıran is not only about the book itself.
FATMA BATUKAN BELGE
I received the Ceramics Technology book written by Prof. Dr. Ates Arcasoy when I was enrolled in the Ceramics Department of Marmara University Fine Arts Faculty. It was the edition published by this institution in 1983. That book with a blue cover is still one of my most important reference guides since my studentship. Everyone from art to engineering who studied ceramics at university, have had a hand on this book or got a photocopy if they haven’t so. Now this legendary book is once again written by Prof. Dr. Ates Arcasoy and Assoc. Prof. Hasan Baskırkan, published under the sponsorship of TCF and have its’ place again among our ceramics reference guides. Because it’s a technology book we hosted our teachers in Science pages but of course we talked mostly about art.
Sir you’ve signed my book with this quote “Lasting arts are those who make friends with their technologies.” Does a ceramics artist must know his/her technology as well?
ATES ARCASOY: Not only artists producing ceramics but all artists must learn and know about at least the roots, historical and geographical developments, materials, usage methods of the materials of the art branch he/she products. Ceramics production is able to make until this day with its’ technologies being continuously developed throughout history. For example, the potter’s wheel is the oldest ceramics production machine in the world. Today the ceramic producing artists no longer uses the wheels driven by foot but those controllable potter’s wheels with adjustable speeds. When it comes to firing the ceramic, there have been various different firing gears and techniques developed from the very beginning up until now. Ceramicist should admit that he/she can produce quality and genuine works as long as he/she learn and make use of these rooted and conventional technologies well enough. Every experience he/she reaches brings a lasting contribution to the technology itself. As this contribution is projected onto ceramics art, it gains value and encourages the artist to freely advance on new and unsought fields.
You are one of the first students of DTGSYO (Applied Fine Arts State Academy) founded with Bauhaus philosophy. How this philosophy effected affected you?
A.A: I graduated from the ceramics department in 1964, one of the first five basic departments of DTGSYO founded with Bauhaus philosophy. Out teachers have had their education in German Fine Arts School which was founded by Walter Gropius in Weimar in 1919 and representing the Bauhaus Ecole at its’ best in Germany and Austria. The goal of the foundation philosophy of this school is combining handicrafts with industry and producing works with aliveness and functionality. Back in those 60s which I consider thought times for Turkey and the world, our ceramic shaping teacher J. Grove have sent us the whole class (we were 20-25 people) to Germany for internship in famous porcelain factories including the Rosenthal and Arzberg porcelain factories. None of us have had language difficulties in that foreign country. Because while we were in the Tatbiki (we were calling our school as this in short) all the students and our teacher could speak German and understand each other. Foreign language was one of the mandatory lessons in the school and it was taken very seriously. Knowing a foreign language, especially German throughout my whole studentship and academicanship life, makes it possible for me to watch and observe the ceramics art and technique. Germany is the most important European country that breaks through progress on ceramics technology such that the old publications were also in German.
You studied both the art and the engineering branch of ceramics discipline. Which of these branches you feel closer?
A.A.: The education I had first at art and then the engineering branches of ceramics discipline have become integrated in me in time, and as I can perceive and utilize the bond between them very well it raised me to this level today. I support comprehensive teaching on practical and theoretical Ceramics Technology lessons in schools giving ceramics education. Although Ceramics Technology may be difficult for students at first, discovering the provocative and enriching outweighing aspects of this lesson full of surprises and studiously continuing it, may put this lesson in a position as being the most critical and a must of this department, as easy as a pie.
To get to the book, I know you’ve been willing to update it for years. How did you decide to work with Hasan Baskırkan? How was your working process?
A.A.: As in all technologies, ceramics technology also has a highly consumable characteristic which rapidly gets older and needs renewal. Everyone who knows me know that I wanted to write my first Ceramics Technology book as a more “pretty” book with more visuals and read and understood more easily. I’ve met with Hasan Baskırkan in 2000s in Anadolu University which I went to give qualification/doctorate lectures on art back then while it was under the administratorship of Prof. Orhan Oguz and Prof. Yilmaz Buyukersen back then. Seeing him with aware of ceramics material has a technology, I gained an impression that he has the potential to best equip himself with ceramics art and technology. Later on, in our careers, in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University Fine Arts Faculty, our paths with Assoc. Prof. Hasan Baskırkan haven’t just crossed but merged together so to speak. We were giving similar lectures with him at the same department. When I concluded that he can understand what I speak, collaborate with me and that he has a very good background with his pros, I asked Assoc. Prof. Hasan Baskıran if he would like to write together a book called Ceramics Technology which everyone would like to get. And when I received an affirmation we immediately started working on. Assoc. Prf. Hasan Baskırkan will also sincerely tell the working process we got through in detail.
Assoc. Prof. Hasan Başkırkan according to, success without mastering technology would be a coincidence ...
"Understanding the language of the material provides a great advantage in production"
How did you decide to work with Teacher Ates on re-writing such an important book, Ceramics Technology? What kind of a process have you undergone?
Before answering this question I have to mention this: The time I became aware that ceramic material has a technology on its’ own, was when my Esteemed Teacher Prof. Soner Genc who put great efforts on me in ‘Ceramics Chemistry’ lesson when I was just a student in Anadolu University Fine Arts Faculty Ceramics Department in 1996, has imported a book called ‘Ceramics Technology’ from Marmara University, as a source material for those who wants. When I took this first book of profession at my hand, I came up with the name Prof. Dr. Ates Arcasoy who was the author of the book. The book has later been an information treasury which I was glued to. This blue book has been one of my most important sources in my very important exams such as assistantship exam, postgraduate exam, proficiency at art exam and in my publishings I wrote such as thesis, academic papers and articles. In the following years I also had the chance to come across and meet with Teacher Ates at events such as congresses, seminars and sometimes at art events. And with my decision on continuing my academic career that began in Anadolu University, in Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University in 2014, I again had the chance to spend time with Teacher Ates, attend his classes and benefit more from his light.
This process has begun in a Thursday afternoon meal in May 2017 as my Esteemed Teacher Prof. Dr. Ates Arcasoy asked: “I want to re-write the ‘Ceramics Technology’ book and I wish to carry out this work with you, what do you say?” and I held my breath of excitement… But at the very time I was in a period where I held an exhibition, was getting ready for another exhibition to be hold in September and would apply for associate professorship exam in October. I was actually scared as well as pleased for this very valuable and sudden offer and I remember that I didn’t know what to say with that excitement and asked Teacher Ates if he could give me some time until October. As the teacher replied ‘of course’ I completed this period of time in a couple of shakes and with all my confidence we have sat on working in September. This book was written in 1983 and there haven’t been any other resource of this quality upon this, so it became a sacred source for many ceramicist like me who set their hearts on this profession and I feel very lucky to be able to re-write this book together with Teacher Ates. In our later conversations I have learnt that Teacher Ates was about my age and in my academic title when he wrote this book and this became another joy to behold for us.
In education terms, Teacher Ates was giving lessons in Traditional Turkish Arts Department at Thursday mornings then we were meeting in our Bosphorus view restaurant at noons and have lunch, mainly of fish menu, in pleasing talks with the whole department and our other valuable part-time teachers. In afternoons Teacher Ates was attending the classes he gives in Ceramics and Glass Department and I was attending my own. During such an education term we began to meet and work in the ‘Design Workshop’ by the end of our lessons at 17.00. We were giving each other homeworks every week and finishing these until our next meet up on the following week’s Thursday. Our works lasting about two-three hours, were beginning with us telling each other what we did and reviewing them, continuing with a talk in Kadıkoy ferry and ending with a goodbye in Moda. Such working process has continued like this for about two years and this was a very educative, instructive and fun time period for me… Teacher Ates is so meticulous and disciplined, altough we resemble each other in character, I must admit that I sometimes had great difficulty in being worthy of this job for he choosed me. The writing of the book was finalized in May 2019 then my dearest teacher Prof. Dr. Munevver Caki edited the book. And my dear friend Dr. Lecturer Ipek Torun beautified the design preserving its’ blue color. Unfortunately Covid-19 pandemic spreading all around the globe, has broken in. Despite this bothersome period we didn’t concede the situation and wait so the book was released from Literatur Publishings in August 2020, with the very contributions of Turkish Ceramics Federation.
As a ceramics artist, do you think that having a grasp of technology is important?
First of all, I beg your pardon but I want to correct this word. For me it’s truer to use the word “artist” not “ceramics artist”. Ceramic is a material and materials don’t have their arts. For example we don’t use names like “sculpture artist” or “painting artist” for those who sculpt or paint but rather name them as “artists” in specific to words like “painter” and “sculpturer”. In the end, what’s presented is an art and only the material changes in artist’s expression of ownself. If to name it with the material in any case, I prefer the words “artist using the ceramic material” or just shortly “ceramicist” to be used.
Now to get back to the question, my answer is “absolutely yes”. I believe that having the way with the material gives a great advantage in production. Sometimes technology can play a great role as a way of expression in the art forms produced. Think of it as this, you don’t know the characteristics of the sludge you use, you don’t have any idea on the tendencies of the primer, the glaze and the firing, I don’t think you can achieve a conscious success with this approach and even if you can, this might be just a coincidence. If you don’t have a grasp of the material’s technology, you have to make do with the certain number of standard sludges, primers, dyes, glazes etc. offered by a couple of materials vendor in the country. But I think having a fundamental level of ceramics technology knowledge, will make you not to be satisfied with the limited number of offerings and able to enrich your way of expression with very simple methods. I’m in the opinion that this way, art production will be specialized and becomes more distinct. And with this awareness, material will not govern you but you will govern the material and eliminate the such semi-coincidental situation.
The main tendency of students in ceramics departments is on creative and artistic works, technology is usually of secondary importance and after graduation this drawback becomes more evident when you face a problem at workshop environment. What’s your advice to ceramics students and young generations as an academician?
You’re absolutely right and you pointed it out true. Those facts that you don’t realize well while you’re a student but are faced when you’re getting a job or establishing a workshop, they have proven this to me over and over during my 22 years of professional life. I’m sorry to say that but having even a little mathematics in it, makes the fine arts student to be alienated from ceramics technology field. Because most of them assert that they’re here to become an artist and don’t know what and when will all these ceramic chemistry, ceramics technology lessons serve for in their life. The projects in studentship are being carried out with a consultant so there’s always a professional available close by to answer the questions and solve the problems of the students. But after graduation circumstances change, problems come to light when the artist is alone with his/her material. He/she is alone to solve his/her problems and there begins a despair.
As I always emphasize in my lessons as an academician artist, having a fundamental level of ceramics technology knowledge is a necessity for an artist. What I’m gonna say now may sound hard and I may draw reaction on me but in the contrary case, the artist will have no difference than those who try to learn this job at hobby classes. In order to get the best of that diploma and success at profession, knowing technology is essential and following new technologies is very valuable. Besides, as the time is the time of technology and youth are able to get used to all kinds of technology much more rapidly, I strongly advise students to turn this speed and ease of reaching the information into an advantage.
You continue your academic career you began in Anadolu University, in MSFAU. Two privileged universities on ceramics education. Would you please evaluate the institutions giving ceramics education in Turkey, with their pros and cons?
Answering this question is very edgy and risky for me… As you remarked I had the opportunity to become both a student and an educator in two deep-rooted institutions of the country which are both very good at their fields. From time to time I had the chance to visit the institutions giving ceramics education both in our country and abroad. Besides the existing art-design area of ceramics, it also has its’ tradition, technology and industry and this offers a great advantage for the artists working with this material. When I make an evaluation with this fund of experience, I think some of our country’s certain institutions giving ceramics education, are not to fail st all to do with their international competitors. There are institutions which provide this education very well, have decent-qualified resources such as teaching staff, infrastructure and equipment but on the other hand, there’s one thing that annoys me so much as an educator; the vast number of ceramics departments with insufficient-unqualified staff, infrastructure and equipment and the excess amount of students in our country… Can we graduate people with required sufficiency? Do we really need this many artists-designers in ceramics field? Can gradutes be employed?
Whe I look back to my 22 years of active profession I realize that I can not give straight answers to these three questions and this hurts so bad in my heart. I think this is a situation to sit down and think on thoroughly.
You have written a book about the history of porcelain. Is it ready for publishing, did you find a publisher?
A.A.: Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, particularly the Ceramics-Glass Program of Fine Arts Faculty has administrators and teaching stuff that follows up innovations and always thinking about how they can provide better education-training opportunities to students. They asked if I can give a course on porcelain art. And they let me to name it: “Antique Porcelain Art and History”. This course is an elective course with a limited quota (12 people) open to whole university. Meaning that apart from ceramicists, students of departments such as Architecture, Painting and Traditional can also select this course. There’re not any courses with this name and content not only in our country but also in European universities yet. This applied course with plenty of visual material and enriched with museum visits, unfortunately cannot be made face to face in this 2021 pandemic period. The course content is compiled in a book with the name “World Porcelain Art and History” with valuable and recent contributions of the art historian, museologist expert Serkan Geduk. As it’s understood, this work which should be a highly assertive publication, hasn’t got to a full wholesome and maturity yet. With a very meticulous final work on it it can make it up to publishing phase. We couldn’t find a publisher yet for this book of Porcelain Art which will be a prestige book. No one is asking if “we got a book to be published” so I think it will come to the publisher phase as the hardest one after the last touches.
What’s your advice to new generations who wish to contribute in ceramics literature?
A.A.: When observed the goal of contributing in ceramics literature, my advice to new generations is this. Please make all your works and experiences published, make all your projects, master, doctorate/qualification in art thesis published in books. Open exhibitions, follow congresses/symposiums and conferences, publish articles in professional journals. Give lectures and hold seminars at your workshops. Put all of these in writing. You are a generation using and utilizing social communication very well. Ensure everyone get informed about your works. And finally, learn one of these foreign languages very well, English, Italian or French and German.
You’re an expert name on porcelain in Turkey. Are there any significant porcelain collections in our country apart from museums? What will be your advices to those who wish to collect porcelains?
A.A.: I don’t see myself as an “expert” in porcelain. I believe I’m a person who loves porcelain, its material and story. Porcelain collecting is an expensive work needing such effort and has no market in Turkey so as far as I know there’s no important porcelain collections other than museums. Porcelain is the prestige collections of emperors and kings in Europe. They’re seen as objects adding value to governors’ palaces. In porcelain history there was this Chinaware collection of the King of Prussia Freidrich Wilhem, which is known by all over the world with its’ fame. Bruce Chatwin tells the story of this with very fun aspects in his novel named “Porcelain Freak Utz” (Can publishing, 1991): “…One of the most weird diplomatic trades of the 18th century is of the King of Saxonia Augustus’ when, as a result of the agreement he made with Freidrich Wilhem, has given the six hundred giant-formed men (mostly retarded giants) he collected from the eastern states and in return bought 127 Chinaware from the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin…” When I shared this anecdote also with my student in lesson, we will try to calculate how many numbers of porcelains would a poor soldier make to be deployed in Potsdam Bombardier Regiment even he’s mentally deficit!
My advices to those who wish to collect porcelains are these: First they need to decide on what object they wish to focus. For example, I’m collecting pieces such as porcelain rattles, porcelain collets, porcelain coffee cups and sets from the Istanbul Porcelain Factory for they’ll be appreciated more in future for they’re not produced anymore. But I’m buying all these from junk dealers not from snob antique shops. I both pay less and avoid unnecessary comments of smart aleck antique dealers on porcelain. Plus, I don’t bring out my joy when I find a porcelain I’m looking for long since, whether be it in a junk dealer or in a shop - by the way I recommend Dolapdere junk dealers bazaar. This way, when I came across the porcelain platter labelled “Alimzade Omer Efendi” on it and sold in Istanbul-Bahcekapı in the 19th century, on a three-wheeled junk dealer cart, I acquired it for 20 TL. Its’ shop price would be at least the hundred times more!
You also have various collections. How it feels to haven an object of your interested?
There are so many objects of my interest!... I was born in 1940 so I grew up with Art Deco style stuff: Marconi branded lamped saloon radios, armchairs, couches, coffee tables, Serkisof branded watches with chimendefer motives on… Even though I have 250-300 of them I still have strong urge to buy them!