In 2013, I moved to Beijing to teach ceramic design at the Central Academy of Fine Art (CAFA), China’s premier arts university. While my background in studio ceramics incorporated elements of design, my graduate thesis work was mixed-media installation, which merged ceramics with video and sculptural components. As a new teacher in the CAFA design program, I knew the experience would change how I understood the creative process in ceramics. As I conclude my four years of teaching at CAFA, I am reflecting upon how I’ve restructured and redefined my understanding of the roles and boundaries of art, craft, and design. What began as a way to address student work has reshaped the way I see and discuss most creative gestures.
In 2006, Alfred University and CAFA established a collaborative program to educate Chinese students in designing ceramic objects for a contemporary Chinese market. While it emphasizes design, the program also encourages a conceptual and technical understanding of art and craft.
After a year of foundation courses (a standard, introductory structure modeled after the French academy), students begin the program curriculum with a studio hand-building class and two lecture courses, one on Western ceramic art history and one on marketing research. To build a foundation in craft and material knowledge, first-semester juniors take a wheel-throwing course and a plaster and casting course as well as a clay, glaze, and industry course. In the latter half of the plaster and casting course, elements of industrial design are introduced through technical drawing and prototyping. The students also take a second marketing class and a lecture course in Chinese ceramic history. The program’s studio class structure is analogous to many Western programs, in giving students assignments that emphasize utility, problem solving, and conceptual development....