China, Zhejiang Province
Southern Song period, Late 12th-early 13th century
Stoneware with glaze (Ge ware)
H. 3 1/4 in. (8.3 cm), D. 4 5/8 in. (11.7 cm) at mouth; 1979.146

Artist Comments

Brother Thomas
We may take the colored crackle glaze on this Song vessel for granted because we have seen it so often in Asian ceramics. But in this piece and pieces like it from this period, we are seeing the origins and the originality of it.

Technically the cracking or crazing of a glaze is considered a defect in ceramics. The co-efficients, the measure of expansion and contraction of the glaze and body, should be the same, but in the case of this censer they are not; the glaze in the cooling process has contracted more than the stoneware body of the piece. The glaze is said not "to fit" the body. The result is that the glaze cracks or crazes under the compression. A technical mind would correct this defect.

But turning "defects""into aesthetic effects seems to have been a special gift of the song potters. This piece is a wonderful example of this gift, an intuitive original, the work of an artistic mind, not a technical mind. Whatever prompted that artist potter to color the crackle with ink or some carbonaceous material does not come from any technical knowledge, it has nothing to do with his skills. It is spontaneous artistic intuition. Why did he/she think of it at all is the mystery of originality and art. Even to use the word "think" is inaccurate. It came to that artist from some contact with a field of reality of which we only have the vaguest awareness at this stage of our humanization.

The artist's real medium is not paint or stone or clay, but the mystic substance of the universe. This artist was in touch with it.