Sculpture vs. glass

>>>Sculpture vs. glass

It’s been a swamped (and sometimes harrowing) last few weeks, lots to do, lots to think about. In the midst of everything, I had the great good fortune to be asked for casting advice by a well-known sculptor.

This lady works–beautifully and very successfully–in ceramics. Now, though, at least part of her current project must be cast in amber-colored crystal and attached to the clay. One caster’s already failed her, and she wanted to know if I was up to the task.

The project seemed simple enough (although five’ll get you ten it gets VERY complicated in person), and I told her I’d either give it a shot or recommend a topnotch expert and see the project through. We talked about trading services; I’d help her cast if she’d teach me to sculpt.

I showed her what I was doing, told her what I wanted to learn.

“Why are you working in glass?” she asked.


“It sounds like you don’t need glass to say what you have to say, and you’ve obviously got a lot of skill in clay. So why aren’t you working in clay? I can teach you. It’s the work you need to focus on, not the medium.”

My mother, also a ceramics artist, has suggested something similar so this wasn’t new. But I was a bit stunned to hear it from a stranger.

Not work in glass?

I pretty much dismissed it out of hand, but now I’m having trouble getting it out of my head. I like the versatility of glass. The control I have over light and transparency. The ability to cast, carve, droop, texture, play with the color. (The amazingly expensive investment in colored glass and crystal currently sitting in my studio, the equally expensive equipment…)

But is she right? Am I limiting myself? Is there still too much novelty, or maybe mystery, attached to glass for glass art to stand independent of its medium? So many of the best-known glassists couldn’t do what they do in anything else. Is that me? When does the medium become a crutch?

I don’t know the answer to those questions.

In the past, I’ve suggested that one difference between art and craft is that art can exist in any medium, but craft is medium-specific. (And yeah, yeah, I know that’s not an absolute–Libensky/Brychtova’s work would NOT work in granite but I’d still call it “art.”)

I know that my glasswork–the tackfuses and sketches–must be in glass to make sense. Doesn’t mean it’s not good stuff, but anyone with enough skill and the right equipment (plus the glass) can reproduce it pretty easily.

My heartwork, though, the stuff with content, depends more on the artist than the process. The only valid copy would be a forgery–there’s too much of me in it. Still, does my sculpture need glass to be successful? Would it tell the same stories in ceramic, or bronze or….white chocolate?

Not work in glass?

Wow. I pride myself on always thinking outside of that bloody box everyone talks about, but a single stranger is all it takes to demonstrate that maybe I’m not.

Not work in glass. Hmmmmm.



  1. Lesley Nolan September 15, 2014 at 7:20 am - Reply

    Oh my gosh, I have to respond because that is the question that I am currently working on. I was telling someone the story: If I want to make a dancing figure teapot in clay, I carve it, fire it, glaze it fire it. If I want to do the same thing in glass I have to carve it….well you well know the multiple steps that need to be made. Then as you also well know, shit happens, and this glass is not cheap. I am working in clay right now. I am going to see how this works out. I myself also have this feeling of loyalty to the medium, or as you say, maybe a slave to the medium. Then I thought ….I could do both!

    • cynthia September 16, 2014 at 10:40 pm - Reply

      Hey, Lesley! That post was published years ago (I’m porting a bunch into the new blog), but I’m STILL wrestling with this question. Whenever I sculpt, people ask me why in the world I’m doing it in glass. I haven’t tried bronze casting yet, but one of these days, I will… maybe it’s just part of becoming an artist, instead of a glass artist?

      • Lesley Nolan September 17, 2014 at 5:52 am - Reply

        That is what I feel, that I am moving to just Artist, instead of glass Artist. In fact I have to give a presentation tomorrow about my work and I thought about that. I think I will say that I my main medium for the past 25 years has been glass but that I also work in clay and paint. Because I do and why have I not felt that was okay Weird.

Comments welcome! (thanks)

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