Function or Fine Art? – Day 354

Artwork: Light and Shadow Series by Giraffe Melinda Barcs
Light and Shadow Series by Giraffe Melinda Barcs. Copyright © Melinda Barcs

Sculptors, ceramicists and other three-dimensional artists often decide early in their careers whether their goal is to produce work that is functional, or work that is research-oriented for the fine art world. Ceramics in particular is so often considered a “functional” medium, however there are artists who enjoy pushing the boundaries of that perception, experimenting with form, often using the clay itself as the research material.

Giraffe Melinda Barcs is a ceramicist who walks on both sides of that line. “Nowadays ceramics has become an open-ended medium that is not easy to categorize,” she says. “However, there are at least three main areas in which it is applied. Product-design is possibly the most well-known use of ceramics. In our day-to-day lives, we could find ourselves using any number of different functional products made from the material. Since the word ‘designer’ has become more popular, we pay more attention to being creative with our products, resulting in a marriage, a working relationship between practicality and art. The same can be said for the second area which is architectural-design but, as I see it, there has been an unfortunate decline in popularity within this area resulting in it being a less obvious feature of our environment. These two categories can be influenced by the third category, fine art, and we can also see the opposite, when fine art makes a reference to a functional product.”

Artwork: Cutaway Teapot by Giraffe Melinda Barcs

“Cutaway Teapot” by Giraffe Melinda Barcs. Copyright © Giraffe Melinda Barcs

Barcs has created an excellent example of this last reference when she used the shape of a teapot as a starting point for constructing a sculptural object which is completely removed from the original function.

“We can imagine a fictive linear gauge with pure design on one end and pure fine art on the opposite end,” says Barcs. “Ceramicists can move this gauge between the two ends, choosing to specialize radically in a certain category, but I personally enjoy blurring the borders while creating pieces.”

And sometimes the research isn’t uniquely about form. Lately, Barcs has been researching experimental approaches with the medium of clay itself. Her current project is based on a material research focusing on deterioration in art to highlight the contrast between transience and permanence. “I have been working on experiments with porcelain,” says the artist, “trying to find the best way to make this material extremely fragile. I have achieved this by creating delicate porcelain layers usually highlighted by a solid supporting frame being the permanent part of the objects. I have been working on this project for two years and I still feel it is only the beginning. I can see a long period of research in this area.”

Artwork: Porcelain. Giraffe Melinda Barcs
Porcelain. Giraffe Melinda Barcs. Copyright © Giraffe Melinda Barcs

But then again, Barcs still enjoys the challenge of designing something tasteful which also serves a function. Her zippered jewelry Pendant Boxes are perfect examples of design, form and function.

Artwork: Pendant Boxes by Giraffe Melinda Barcs

Pendant Boxes by Giraffe Melinda Barcs. Copyright © Giraffe Melinda Barcs

So how does the artist classify herself? “I would say that in my work I wear two skins, that of a fine artist and of a designer,” Barcs replies. “They are both parts of my practice but obviously one of them will temporarily overpower the other. I can achieve different aspects of my creative goals while working within the design industry than when preparing pieces to be in a fine art gallery.This approach allows me to have two completely different ways of thinking, while still handling the same materials. And of course, on the other hand, I am a young artist who is trying to grab every opportunity to finance my larger projects.”

In the end, artists generally are less interested in labeling their artwork as they are in achieving their creative goals. Regardless of whether work is considered fine art, design or fine craft, the artist concentrates on producing while leaving that distinction up to the critics.

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Giraffe Melinda Barcs’ artwork can be viewed at: Giraffe Ceramics/Zsiri Dempsey

[Update: The artist hs changed her name and is now known as ​Zsiri Dempsey.

The 365 Days Project

In 2012, Serena Kovalosky committed to writing an article a day for 365 days as an exploration into the lives of artists and the value of creative thinking in our society.

Experience the full evolution of the project! Click below to read the entire collection of articles.
Click to view The 365 Days Project

Artist Credits for the images included in this post:

Giraffe Melinda Barcs, Ireland

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