Bluecoat Display Centre, Hanover St., Liverpool
14.30 Wednesday 7th November 2007
Richard Jacobs in conversation with Lionel Burman
Richard Jacobs is the author of a new book on aesthetics and ceramics, ‘Searching for Beauty: Letters from a Collector to a Studio Potter’.
In the summer of 2002 Dr Richard Jacobs, a Californian collector of ceramics, bought a piece from a young potter by the name of Christa Assad. For whatever reasons, this single act, just one among many by a distinguished professor, educationist and ceramics collector, kindled a desire to set down in print the innumerable thoughts and questions of a tirelessly inquisitive and often heretical spirit.
Taking his inspiration from Rainer Maria Rilke’s ‘Letters to a Young Poet’, Richard Jacobs sets the tone of his letters to Christa Assad with his favourite quote from that classic work, ‘Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language… At present you need to live the question.’
It soon becomes clear that Richard Jacobs himself has always lived the question. ‘Searching for Beauty’ is more – much more – than a collection of authoritative musings on modern ceramics. It is a thoughtful, yet witty commentary and examination of just about everything: contemporary art and aesthetics; philosophy, education, politics; what it means to be a citizen of not just one nation but of the entire planet; on being young, middle-aged and blessed with long experience; above all, on the trials and tribulations of being an artist in the world today.
Richard Jacobs has travelled the world in search of beauty. His journey has not been eased by personal wealth, so it has never been a question of settling for a reassuringly impressive price tag. He has had to employ his well-trained eye, his knowledge and experience, while all the time posing questions about the work, the artist and the very nature of collecting.
In his own words: ‘My uncertainties lead to ironies and a complex absurdity that is central to the brief interval that forms my earthly existence. It is not only a survival strategy for me but a way of playing out a self-conscious comedy of errors. This leads to further adventures and surprises that never match the expected outcomes but can be far richer and more meaningful as a result. My collecting is ultimately not a search for material artifacts as much as a search for a normative vision of how to live a life. The ethical dimensions of seeking justice in what has been a violent and unjust world has haunted me my whole life. The power of art for me has been the compelling evidence it provides that the human species has the redeeming ability to create and contribute the saving grace of beauty. It is that beauty that has nourished my soul and become my final refuge.’
As a devotee of Wlliam Morris, Richard Jacobs is not abashed by charges of being a romantic, a sentimentalist and a visionary. On the contrary, he wishes to rehabilitate the word beauty as one that can be used meaningfully and without apology in our daily lives. At the same time he challenges all craftspeople to think deeply about the meaning of what they do, insisting that many practitioners are too modest and too easily positioned at the periphery by theorists who regard them as naïve.
In praise of ‘Searching for Beauty’:
‘As a collector of ceramic works of art, Richard Jacobs is interested not only in the aesthetics of his pieces, but also in the creators. Most of his collection has been purchased through personal contact with the artists themselves, giving him the opportunity to get to know their personalities, life situations, and special talents. He has great empathy for the issues that potters face: the hard physical work, artistic development, self-promotion, economic realities, and the “to-one’s-own-self-be-true” decisions.’
Christy Johnson, Director, American Museum of Ceramic Art, California
‘I can think of no other contemporary writing that so thoughtfully links pots to language, literature and philosophy, thereby placing pots squarely within the framework of liberal academic discourse. All young potters should read these letters, and all older ones too.’
Mark Hewitt, potter, Pittsboro, USA
‘Richard Jacobs is a spokesperson for the craftsworld, and this is a unique and powerful collection of essays that speaks to each and every one of us.’
Christa Assad, potter, USA
‘Richard Jacobs riffs on the lives of objects in great looping arcs of association; like an improvising jazz musician he places an idea of the ceramic object at its centre and takes us, his readers, on a metaphysical journey.’
David Jones, author, potter, teacher, UK
Richard Jacobs is Professor Emeritus at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. He holds BA and MA degrees in art and a PhD in educational philosophy. Even as a young teacher his approach to educating the disempowered youth of Los Angeles was recognised by Stanley Charnovsky in his seminal work “Educating the Powerless