Published on March 16, 2019

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photography by cody guilfoyle

You’ve seen them while tapping through your feed—those clay-dappled artisans hard at work at the wheel—or maybe you’ve clocked that your friends are suddenly into ceramics, posting hero shots of new mugs and commenting on glazes. Indeed, Instagram has become a major calling card for emerging ceramists, renewing an interest in an art form that practically predates civilization. From BZippy & Co.’s monochromatic Brutalism to Mari Masot’s vibrant geometric vessels, indie brands are presenting their unique creations in a format that makes art more accessible and acquirable.

Those oddly satisfying molding videos and finely crafted finished products seem to be jump-starting a hands-on movement, too. “In the two years since I founded my ceramics business, I can’t count the number of people who have told me they couldn’t wait to take a class and learn how to throw,” muses Neenineen’s Ninon Choplin. “We owe a lot of that appeal to Instagram.” So how exactly did this social platform become a launchpad for the careers of countless contemporary ceramists?

Exposure Can Change Everything

When artists of all kinds share their work on social media, it’s natural that they might grow an audience—and for visual artists aiming to sell their work, this kind of exposure is vital to business.

“It’s crazy what I owe to a little app in my phone,” says ceramist Rachel Saunders.  “I’ve never felt good about or even been able to sell myself to people. The way I have always exchanged best with the world is by letting people come to me. I like Instagram because it acts as a snapshot of my values, vision, and sentiments that people can take or leave—still to this day, I have never reached out to a store or brand about working together. The right ones just always seem to find me.”

Saunders isn’t alone in her feelings either. Many ceramists point to the platform as their key mode of attracting potential customers—an effort made easier through the accessibility of social media. Now, for instance, potters don’t necessarily need to bring their wares to local art fairs and markets to turn a profit. “I actually don’t think my business would function without Instagram,” ceramist Erin Smith adds.

For Some, the Screen Is Limited

Instagram, however, admittedly has its limits—especially when it comes to showing off three-dimensional works of art. “Some works just don’t translate over social media, due to their subtle glaze or scale,” notes Bari Ziperstein of B.Zippy & Co. “But I’ve never had a client say that something was worse in person. It’s usually the opposite—they’re thrilled by its translation from a 2-D image to the mass it takes up in person.”

Of course, beyond the Instagram photo, these objects are made to exist in space. However, Ziperstein notes that the increased popularity of pottery on Instagram has led to creations from ceramists who, ultimately, don’t keep this in mind: “My works are not made for social media, which is what a lot of ceramics are made for these days. They’re made to be lived with, picked up, thought about, and enjoyed as sculptural objects.”

The Digital Community Creates Trends

Wonder why you’ve seen so many ceramists experimenting with Memphis-style shapes and graphics? Or maybe why you might see the same shade of yellow again and again? Because the ceramics community has such a strong online presence, artists are virtually guaranteed to draw inspiration from one another—even if that isn’t their intention.

“In terms of finding inspiration directly online or on Instagram, I think it’s inevitable,” says Marissa McInturff of Mari Masot. “I don’t go searching online; that’s not part of my process. But as designers, we find inspiration everywhere—we’re all sponges.” For some, like Choplin, Instagram can help to inform trending colors that might be applied to original designs, while others, like Smith, use it to avoid any whisper of plagiarism. “I use [Instagram] less as a source of inspiration and more as a guide of, ‘Don’t go there; that person is already doing that.’”

Some ceramists stay away from digital inspiration altogether, relying on the app mainly to share their own work and stay up-to-date on any major news or events in the community. “I stay off Instagram for ceramic inspiration because it can be too easy to accidentally borrow from what your subconscious takes in by mindlessly scrolling,” says Saunders. “With the growing popularity of the ceramics world on Instagram, it has been interesting to see how susceptible even a traditional craft is to micro trends, as well as larger movements. Just like in all areas of our culture, waves of influence will pass through and everyone’s stuff will look vaguely similar.”

Increased Accessibility Means Increased Interest

By and large, the impact that Instagram has had on the world of ceramics is largely positive, giving exposure to independent artists and the age-old craft that they’ve reinvented with their own twists and innovations. For many of these creators, the chance to connect with others in their field has been especially gratifying.

“I have also met a lot of other ceramists through Instagram and found a very welcoming community there,” says Choplin. “This platform has a lot to do with the increased visibility of ceramic arts. I think accounts like @potsinaction and @potteryvideos are bringing out incredible visual content in our field.”

For strict observers, too, Instagram has changed the perception of pottery, with #OddlySatisfying videos of ceramists at their wheels racking up millions of views and eclectic, independently made planters and vases earning their rightful spots in the saved folders of many. That intimacy, some artists find, has put their art in a new light. “I can post a process shot of something I’ve been working on, and for the first time in history, any person can get a glimpse of the amount of work that goes into making something,” says Smith. “I think this is a direct link between Instagram and an increase in interest and art appreciation.”

When inspiration is just a tap or scroll away, it’s nearly impossible not to find something that sparks a bit of creativity, emotion, or motivation to get out and get to a pottery studio yourself. Social media, as it turns out, has made art, its creators, and its consumers closer than ever. “Being able to connect with the designer and learn a bit about their process and personality is something that used to be so rare, and is now the norm,” says McInturff. “That’s really special.”

See more stories from the spring issue:
The Founder of Edie Parker Invites Us Inside Her Technicolor Upper East Side Apartment

This Designer’s Eclectic Home Proves Black, White, and Brass Will Never Go Out of Style
This Wedding Features Every Color in the Rainbow

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