Folk Art Potters of Japan
Beyond an Anthropology of Aesthetics
By Brian Moeran
Routledge – 1997 – 276 pages
Series: Anthropology of Asia
This is a study of a group of potters living in a small community in the south of Japan, and about the problems they face in the production, marketing and aesthetic appraisal of a kind of stoneware pottery generally referred to as mingei, or folk art. It shows how different people in an art world bring to bear different sets of values as they negotiate the meaning of mingei and try to decide whether a pot is 'art', 'folk art', or mere 'craft'.
At the same time, this book is an unusual monograph in that it reaches beyond the mere study of an isolated community to trace the origins and history of 'folk art' in general. By showing how a set of aesthetic ideals originating in Britain was taken to Japan, and thence back to Europe and the United States - as a result of the activities of people like William Morris, Yanagi So etsu, Bernard Leach and Hamada Sho ji - this book rewrites the history of contemporary western ceramics.
'One of the strengths of this book is that it contextualizes a rich, tightly focused ethnography within discussions of the implications of the data to larger theoretical questions Although grappling with abstract theoretical matters, this book is well organized, highly readable, and always grounded in the case study of the potters. Influences are always shown to be reciprocal or circular and not linear. The splendid photographs bring the pots and the setting to life. If Blake can "see a world in a grain of sand," Moeran can in a grain of clay, and he has depicted it for us in rich and satisfying detail.' - Karen A. Smyers, Asian Folklore Studies