Peter Voulkos, Untitled, ca. 1959-60. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
Rose Slivka was all about the idea that people like Voulkos were helping to elevate craft to the same level as art by using the materials of craft to create art. In her second book about Voulkos, she does a particularly great job of explaining this point, stating that:
Peter Voulkos caught the spiritual and intellectual exhilaration of the action painters of the era–Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Franz Kline–and applied it to clay, working the material as performance and process, and the process as art. In so doing, he enriched and expanded the world of ceramics as, in turn, his ceramics gave new depth to the other visual disciplines.
Through his work, Voulkos was playing with and changing the traditional structure of the pot, using ceramic forms as sculpture.
Peter Voulkos, Rocking Pot, 1956.
In more recent years, the questions of whether Voulkos’ work can be placed within the realm of traditional ceramics, sculpture or possibly both, has been reexamined. In contemporary discussions about Voulkos and his work, Garth Clark, an art dealer, ceramics expert and writer, has been at the forefront of ceramics criticism, particularly in relation to Voulkos’ work. Whereas Slivka looks at Voulkos’ work as sculpture within the craft tradition, Clark sees Voulkos’ work, no matter how much the traditional functionality of the original pot has been changed and added to, as still essentially belonging to the category of ceramics and to the classification of these traditional forms. In his discussion of one of Voulkos’ most famous pieces, entitled Rocking Pot, Clark explains that, despite its simultaneous presentation as “a pot, a sculpture, and a demented birdfeeder”, Voulkos had no reservations about unequivocally stating that, “I claim this as a Pot.” Clark carries on his discussion, placing this statement within the context of the argument about craft versus art that Slivka was at the forefront of in the 1960s. He explains of Voulkos’ claim of his work as a pot:
That, then, should then be the last word on the subject. But in the world of ceramics there is a curious tendency to ‘upgrade’ pots to sculpture when they project the energy of art, as though the pot is too lowly a medium for higher levels of expression…But this elevation to sculpture is meant to be a compliment to the artist (albeit backhanded), and undoubtedly this is what Rose Slivka intended when she described the Rocking Pot as ‘one of Voulkos’s earliest outright sculptures. The pottery technique is evident, while the pottery function is subverted to the formal invention.’ This statement is perhaps the core misunderstanding among the fine arts in appreciating the dynamism of pottery. Pots do not cease to be pots when function is subverted.
Peter Voulkos, Solano, 1959.
This statement is particularly important when Clark puts this piece into the context of Voulkos’ history as a ceramicist and the idea that he was revolutionizing the field during the zenith of his career. Because Voulkos rejected the use of the smaller, more intimate scale in his pieces, they become more about mass and physical space than functionality. In the same way as Slivka, Clark explains Voulkos’ influences of jazz, Japanese pottery, and especially and perhaps most importantly to Slivka, Abstract Expressionism, but Clark also goes onto emphasize the important fact that at the time of the creation of this piece, Voulkos’ work was more about play than profit. Clark explains that:
They [Voulkos and his contemporaries] did not expect to make pieces that could be sold, let alone pots that would fine their way into museum collections. They were not sure whether they were making great art or junk. Furthermore, they did not car. Action was more important than judgment, and it is partly out of this sense of liberation from all expectations, not just those of traditional pottery, that gives this object its subversive majesty.
This is a great example from which to compare Slivka and Clark’s ideas about ceramics versus sculpture, especially when looked at in terms of the different times in which these two critics were writing. While Slivka has continued to write about Voulkos into the 90s, her position on the idea of elevating his work to the status of fine art is still central to her writings about his work. Clark, on the other hand, came out of a tradition of thinking about craft, and ceramics in particular, in a world where Voulkos’ work can be viewed in a fine art museum next to paintings, sculptures, and other traditional fine art objects. Voulkos’ non-functional ceramic pieces have been accepted for what they are: sculptural ceramics that retain the semblance of functionality.
 Rose Slivka, “Introduction: The Dynamics of Duende,” in The Art of Peter Voulkos, ed. Rose Slivka and Karen Tsujumoto, (NY: Kodansha America, Inc., 1995). Published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Art of Peter Voulkos” shown at the Oakland Museum, Newport Harbor Art Museum, and the American Craft Museum, 13.
 Rose Slivka and Karen Tsujumoto, The Art of Peter Voulkos, (NY: Kodansha America, Inc., 1995). Published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Art of Peter Voulkos” shown at the Oakland Museum, Newport Harbor Art Museum, and the American Craft Museum, 12.
 Garth Clark, “Subversive Majesty: Peter Voulkos’s Rocking Pot,” American Art 6, no. 4 (Autumn, 1992): 110.
 Ibid., 110.
 Ibid., 110.
 Rose Slivka and Karen Tsujumoto, The Art of Peter Voulkos, (NY: Kodansha America, Inc., 1995). Published in conjunction with the exhibition “The Art of Peter Voulkos” shown at the Oakland Museum, Newport Harbor Art Museum, and the American Craft Museum, 70.
 Kelly Leigh Mitchell, “Contemporary American Crafts,” Philadelphia Museum of Art Bulletin 87, no. 371/372 (Autumn, 1991): 11.
 Garth Clark, “Subversive Majesty: Peter Voulkos’s Rocking Pot,” American Art 6, no. 4 (Autumn, 1992): 112.
 Ibid., 112.