Richard Burkett on Computers, Then and Now

By Christina Dabek
Jun 20, 2019

IBM 1620 at DePauw University. Photo courtesy of Richard Burkett.Screenshot of Rhinoceros software. Photo courtesy of Richard Burkett.The current issue of Studio Potter highlights the importance of 3-D printing in the ceramics field. Professor and author Richard Burkett’s article, “A Perspective on Computers & Clay,” acts as a time machine that exposes the computer’s role in ceramics through the years. He recounts his first experience with a computer, the IBM 1620, in 1968. Twenty years later, he developed the first working version of HyperGlaze, a glaze calculation software. Fast-forwarding to 1992, Burkett became a co-owner of ClayArt Listserv, the first online ceramics discussion forum. He then takes readers through the mid-nineties, when he was introduced to Rhino3D software for ceramic design. Zooming up to the present, Burkett writes,

I would love to see where technology takes us in another seventy-five to one hundred years. I can only hope that the hand is still involved, along with the heart and mind… Be fearless about art and by all means embrace change and innovation, while respecting the past.

Speaking of the past, let’s jump in our own SP time machine: Richard Burkett wrote an article about computers in Studio Potter, Volume 20, Number 2, June 1992, titled, “Ceramics and Computers.” In it, he explains the benefits of his educational glaze calculation software, HyperGlaze, including calculations of percentage recipes, batch recipes, cost of the batch, and estimated thermal expansion and unity molecular formula for the recipe. At this time, the computer did not have much of a role in ceramics. One subheading is even titled, “Do Real Artists Use Computers?” Burkett explains why artists were hesitant to use computers by writing,

There is a great deal of questioning by the art world whenever artists make use of such seemingly alien pieces of equipment as the computer. Computers, many would argue, are in the realm of engineers and scientists who measure the world in numerical data. Artists deal with visual descriptions and translations of the same world on a more personal and emotional level.

Who would have thought that just twenty-seven years later computers, that were once considered “alien pieces of equipment,” would become a crucial tool in the ceramic arts? Subscribe to become a Studio Potter member and gain full access to the history of ceramic art through our journals.

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