Evaluating Japanese tea bowls – KAKO Katsumi

A potter with only one year of full time training could produce mass produced tea bowls using a mold, using an energy efficient electric kiln ensuring minimal damage to works during firing, resulting in a pleasant yet unremarkable bowl which retails for about $50.  KAKO Katsumi, who made the featured piece here, has about 30 years of experience, fires in a wood burning kiln requiring about 2 or more people for 8 consecutive days of 24-hour monitoring and stoking and a very high bill for so much firewood.  The sacrifice for achieving the extraordinary quality one may admire in the bowl is that often 40-50% (or more) of  the works are damaged in the intense and prolonged wood kiln heat and thus unsalable.  Each bowl is different, and though KAKO-san may make several similar bowls in one small series, they are each one-of-a-kind. Creating a new concept for each series can very time consuming and expensive, but he is constantly innovating and re-inventing himself. Also, since tea bowls are the most scrutinized ceramic works in a culture of educated tea master connoisseurs, it is common for a tea bowl maker to select only the very best (ex. 1 in 10) of the bowls he/she has made for sale and destroy the rest.  Finally, the evolution via centuries of tea bowl production of many dozens of different styles, types and techniques has created a comprehensive criteria for valuating bowls, including visual beauty and impact, weight, balance, lip, feel when holding the bowl, quality of the bowl’s interior when viewing and drinking, the foot of the bowl, the shape, texture, coloring and importantly, the originality (which can be very subtle).  This kind of evaluation may rival wine connoisseurship or the criteria for evaluating violinists in the west.  KAKO-san has repeatedly proven himself as an award-winning master artist crafts person and is recognized by the highest authorities for his originality and finesse, down to the most subtle detail.  Finally, we must add in the costs in selling the bowl.  Selling art is not as simple as selling widgets on-line, but is very time consuming and expensive to conduct. Therefore, $1000 for this bowl is considered under-priced by many. And, Japanese Master Artist ceramics are considered by many to be the best bargain in the international world of art collecting.  That may be why very few if any successful Japanese ceramic artists here become wealthy.


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