"What is X?"


"The Internet has been banned!"

These will be my first words to each of my classes during the first week back after half term. I have decided to challenge my students to only use books and written publications to gather artist reference, to investigate ceramics/sculpture and deepen their knowledge about my subject.


A selection of ceramics books from Bede's library.

There are Ceramics books on the shelves all around the school which I have named "The Unread", but all this is about to change! For some, this may be a difficult challenge as the students of 2014 like the speed and ease of 'Googling' an answer. That is ok if you are searching for which football team won the 1957 FA Cup (I just did, and Villa beat Man Utd 2-1!) but what about investigating a style of ceramic firing, the reason why a sculptor or ceramicist worked (or works) in a particular way, or to enquire as to what ingredients make up a certain glaze?

I always find that the Internet tends to scratch the surface of a research problem but a book can offer solutions, alternatives and outcomes that lay the foundations for developing knowledge and learning.

The excitement of research and investigation can open up so many opportunities. When I was studying for my MA in Ceramics, one of my tutors gave me a quote to ponder by the American philosopher John Dewey that has stayed with me for the last twenty-one years.

 "Arriving at one goal is the starting point of another"

- Democracy and Education, 1916

I like to be challenged with goals and to challenge my students as well. I believe that through reading and patience of investigation, my students can start to think more like a ceramicist and share their own ideas and thoughts with their peers and myself. It can lead to so many pathways of enquiry and when one solution is found another possibility and line of research can start.

Ceramics Anthony Teaching

Sustained reading and for a purpose I believe is important; it is easy to blame new media and technology for making books seem old fashioned or 'unfashionable'. Technology is so important today (I truly love all my gadgets) but I am in the business of learning, sharing knowledge and igniting an interest and expanding knowledge about ceramics and the potential of clay and fire. 

The BBC reported in October 2013 that 'One in five youngsters now regards being seen with a book as embarrassing'. How awful is that statement?! Bede's is blessed to have a fantastic library as well as an Art and Ceramics Library (very few schools have art departmental libraries) and between the three libraries we have hundreds of books and magazines that contain a wealth of knowledge that is ready to be tapped into.

My challenge is to guide students to learn how to read and research for pleasure and not see opening a Ceramics book as a chore! 


There are over 110 copies of  'Ceramic Review' in my department that contain a wealth of techniques and processes that have the potential to light the imagination of Bede's students so, for the next four weeks, the Ceramics students from all years will be challenged to think about 'What is X?' - the type of question that has been foremost in philosophy since the time of Socrates.

I will ask (amongst others):

'What is ceramics?'

'What is clay?'

'What is form?'

'What is beauty?'

These questions will hopefully spur debate and allow my students to think beyond a quick answer, develop new projects, skills and to enhance their (and my own) learning as a ceramicist. (One is never too old to learn from your students).

I will let you know how they get on.