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Excerpts from 'A Potter's Book'

Bernard Leach. Probably the most influential book on studio pottery, first published May, 1940.




On industrialisation: Factories have practically driven folk-art out of England; it only survives in out of the way corners even in Europe, and the artist-craftsman, since the day of William Morris, has been the chief means of defence against the materialism of industry and its insensibility to beauty.

On mass-production: In the work of the potter-artist…there is a unity of design and execution…that has no counterpart in the work of the designer for mass-production.

On bad taste: In the field of ceramics the responsibility for the all-pervading bad taste of the last century…lies mainly with machine production and the accompanying indifference to aesthetic considerations of individual industrialists…We meet everywhere with bad forms and banal, debased, pretentious decoration and tawdriness of form that must be seen to be believed.

On intuition: The art of the craftsman….is intuitive and humanistic…that of the designer rational, abstract and tectonic…

On tradition: A potters traditions are part of a nation’s cultural inheritance and in our time we are faced with the breakdown of the Christian inspiration in art. We live in dire need of a unifying culture out of which fresh traditions can grow. The potter’s problem is at root the universal problem and it is difficult to see how any solution aiming at less than the full interplay of East and West can provide either humanity, or the individual potter, with a sound foundation for a world-wide culture….

On democracy: Liberal democracy which served as a basis for the development of industrialism, provides us to-day with a vague humanism as insufficient to inspire art…

On students: The problem is that the people who are attracted by the hand crafts are no longer the simple-minded peasantry, who from generation to generation worked on in the protective unconsciousness of tradition, but mainly self-conscious art students.

On the pseudo-medieval: The reaction started by William Morris.....culminated in what I have called the individual craftsman.... Beginning in protest against the irresponsible use of power, it came to an end in pseudo-medieval crafts little related to national work and life. Thence has arisen an affirmation of the mechanical age in art – functionalism (Le Corbusier, Picasso and the Bauhaus)....which tends to an over-intellectual effort to discover norms of orderliness and utility.

On Japan: I have had two extremes of culture to draw upon and it was this which caused me to return to Japan where the synthesis of East and West has gone furthest

On vitality: One may throw fifty pots in an hour, on the same model, which only vary in fractions of an inch, and yet only half a dozen of them may possess that right relation of parts which gives vitality - life flowing for a few moments perfectly through the hands of the potter.

On decoration: not only must the pattern be good in itself and freely executed, but it must combine with and improve the form and harmonise the with the natural variations of both colour and texture of body and glaze

On imperfections: The Far Eastern point of view is that all these qualities can be used and that they are incidental to nature rather than accidental to man

on teaching: I often see electric kilns and power wheels installed in schools, and clay, pigments and glazes bought ready made. This is beginning at the end, and is a loss of opportunity and a waste of money...Children....enjoy finding and digging their own clay, building their own kilns and making their own colours and glazes as potters used to do before the machine age