ART CRIMES is both a series as well as an individual multimedia work comprised of ceramics, police evidence tags, poetry, writing, supporting documents, and a booklet of select layman’s reviews of the work. Each individual work comes together to create the whole, a record of struggle, rebellion, overzealous policing, and transmutation. At its center are the four text-based ceramics works that the school seized as evidence of a Crime Against the Public Peace, along with the two evidence tags that came attached to them when I finally got my work back.

The ceramics work is far from perfect. I had begun casually taking classes at the local community college during the pandemic in pursuit of my unfinished undergraduate degree, something I had abandoned in 2013 due to trauma and nascent alcoholism. Ceramics was a gap in my artistic knowledge, so I decided to rectify the issue while simultaneously earning college credit on the cheap.

Being a novice was fantastic, I loved the human errors my lack of craft produced. I intentionally leaned into the imperfection, enjoying my mistakes and the record of learning they represented. It was thrilling to fail, to create art that was crude and offensive to my perfectionist side. I felt raw and free for the first time in years, and I even began writing poetry and incorporating it into my work. I constantly questioned the value of perfecting craft – after all, these days you can buy a perfect cup from IKEA for $3. Why would I waste my time perfecting craft when the act of being imperfect was producing such cathartic results?

Sadly, this attitude did not go over well with my ceramics teacher. We butted heads often, after all I was not the typical community college student given that I have many years of professional art experience. I would share my ideas with him, only to be shut down – he told me I wasn’t allowed to talk at that level without a degree and that “[he] has the MFA and [I] don’t have shit.” He even acted outside of his purview by telling me my wire sculpture is tame and I should stop selling it – and when I countered by telling him my wire work pays the rent, he became even angrier.

As the semester progressed, we butted heads more frequently, but luckily, I’m good at transmuting trauma into art. After each dressing down, I would create. I wrote a poem about the situation, ‘Master Craftsman’, and showed him the first few lines – which were complimentary, but it still made him angry. It was my theory that such a jerk could only be the result of being abused himself during his studies, a sort of five monkeys experiment of generational art school abuse. Another poem that arose from the situation I entitled ‘Entartete Kunst’, which called out art school on its fascist tendencies – a poem part of which I carved into my ceramic piece of the same name.

Master Craftsman

Ten Thousand Hours of
Thumb and fore-finger
forefathers thoughts become his own
a history written in action
a legacy of abuse.

it’s natural to take out our frustration on one another,
to be wary of kindness
making old scars itch.

Since when did
“you gotta pay your dues” mean
“you gotta suffer like I did”

It only takes one generation to
end that cycle, to
practice what they preach, to
offer criticism that is more constructive than combustive, to
stop being so fucking mean
like it’s all they’ve ever known

Since when did
mastering your art mean
you’re the arbiter of truth

Since when did
being a teacher mean
enforcing boundaries rather than
breaking through them

Since when did
being a student again mean
my art is suddenly less
De gustibus non disputandum est

Entartete Kunst

It would be my honor
To be presented alongside the degenerates
the Incompetents, Cheats, and Madmen

My teachers want to break my down and
reform me in their own image

Can’t they see I’m already dust;
just clay
in the shape of a man.

A tangled rope, turned back in on itself
fraying, and
bound with salt and tar

why am I so drawn to those who hurt me.

While calling out my teacher to his face could get me in trouble, the first amendment protects artistic expression, and I used that protection to bring all of my frustration and anger into the world. Eventually his verbal assaults got so frustrating I finally called Desmond an asshole to his face, walked away and later wrote him an email saying I’m no longer comfortable being cornered by him and that anything he had to say, he could say via email

I was definitely poking the bear.

His reaction was to report me to campus police on a number of fabricated charges, claiming I was drunk in class and that one of the vessels I made contained a “racist caricature” of him – despite him knowing that the piece was based on my own trauma and that the figure was an allusion to St. Maud. The accusation of intoxication was especially insulting, given that I’ve been a sober member of alcoholics anonymous since 2015.

Four of my text-based ceramic vessels were then confiscated by campus police on charge of Crimes Against the Public Peace, and I was suspended for a year. The school informed me that they would happily remove the suspension and return my work – but ONLY on the condition that I “voluntarily” withdraw from the school.

Begrudgingly I signed their agreement. When I retrieved my work, the four text-based vessels came with the EVIDENCE TAGS!

Oh, how I wish I could have been in the room when the police were standing around my work, asking themselves, “is this illegal?” It’s an Orwellian nightmare, a Kafkaesque comedy of errors with the volume turned up to 11. I was never officially charged with the crime – after all the first amendment protects self-expression through art, something the SMC campus police clearly did not know.

Not one to be defeated, I turned those lemons into lemonade. Having already been accepted into Saatchi’s The Other Art Fair, I decided to take a risk and present the whole scenario as “art as a crime scene”. The evidence tags, my own personal ready-mades, were the centerpiece. And the ceramics works themselves, initially raw experimentation that should never have seen the light of day, now had real content. They were more than just the record of flailing self-expression by an experienced craftsman leaning into his amateur side in a new medium. Now they were a record of professional jealousy, of overzealous policing, and of what happens when a student challenges academia. Even though I had to abandon my studies to get my work back, their confiscation represents a seal of approval money can’t buy.

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Duncan Sherwood-Forbes

One thought on ““Criminally” Bad Ceramics

  1. Hey Duncan,

    Not only is this hilarious but also widely appropriate given the current climate. You draw the line between antagonist, activist, and artist unbelievably well. The poem was an elegant punch to the face and the evidence tags were a delicious result. I was impressed and tickled by your academic ‘outburst’ and I found it very applicable to modern public education, even in an art class meant for self-expression, teachers are still so willing to suppress the best and brightest. I think now of middle and high school, how discouraging it is for young kids to be pushed into boxes. Overall, your article made me think and for that, I appreciate it.

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