Many people say the terms pottery and ceramics are interchangeable without distinction. Still, you may wonder if the two words have a difference. The differences will soon become easier to understand.
Although often used interchangeably, pottery and ceramics are not exactly the same. Pottery refers specifically to clay objects fired at high temperatures and decorated with paint or glaze. Ceramics, on the other hand, encompass a broader category that includes both pottery and non-crystalline clay objects resembling glass.
To learn more about the difference between ceramics and pottery, follow along as we further distinguish the two crafts.
Affiliate Disclaimer: We are ambassadors or affiliates for many of the brands we reference on the website. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases.
Ceramics vs. Pottery
Ceramics usually refers to the fine arts. You will find many examples of high-quality and fine arts in ceramics. Ceramics are also made from clay but can be Crystalline (a solid body like pottery) or Noncrystalline (glass-like).
On the other hand, pottery is more classified as functional art, where it serves a functional purpose, such as dinnerware, serving bowls, ovenware, and Vases. Pottery may serve artistic purposes, but ceramics usually refer to use as fine arts. The level of sophistication usually goes up because of how you can do more things with it than creating functional art. Still, pottery is respected as the oldest form of ceramics.
What Crafts Exist within the Ceramic Arts?
Excluding pottery, some of the crafts found within the ceramic arts include anything made with ceramic materials like clay. Some of the craft categories include:
- Tile arts
- Glass arts
An art piece made from clay classifies as a ceramic piece, but a container made from clay counts as pottery. You also notice glass arts mentioned here as ceramic art. Ceramics may include some materials not made from clay, like the glass-making process, which involves several steps in the ceramic-making process.
Understanding Ceramics and What They’re Made From
Traditionally, most people think of ceramics as made from clay. Technically speaking; however, they classify as anything made from non-metal materials. The material changes form when heated in the kiln. Most of the ceramic arts make use of glazes during the firing process.
Looking beyond the ceramic arts, you have several objects that classify as everyday ceramics, such as:
In terms of clay used in ceramics and pottery, they fall under the Four most common Clay Types:
- Ball Clay
All of these clay materials fall under the category of ceramics. When something uses these materials, it counts as a ceramic piece, but it may not count as pottery. Check out The Four Common Types of Clay for more detailed information.
How Pottery and Ceramics are Similar
We spoke a lot about the differences, but you should know where they intersect. For example, studying the ceramic arts will have crossover knowledge of pottery because many of the processes will be similar, such as the firing of ceramic materials. Learning how to work with clay in the ceramic arts also has a carryover effect if you decided to work at the potter’s wheel. You will find that you can manipulate the clay better.
Whether doing pottery or ceramics, when working with clay, you must Wedge the Clay to eliminate air bubbles.
What About Handmade Pottery Not Made on the Wheel?
Handmade pottery classifies as pottery—obviously. Think of the above as a general rule with one exception meant to simplify your understanding. The key distinction is that you’re making a pot by hand—pottery. Cups also fall under this category, and usually, we refer to anything like a container as pottery.
All other things made by hand classify as ceramics, but with pottery, other topics fall under ceramics as a category of the ceramic craft.
Pottery and Ceramics: The Surface
When adding things like sand and grog, pottery may have a coarse surface. In fact, some potters sand the surface of their pottery with 220-grit sandpaper to make it smoother. It’s common with more earthenware and stoneware clays. Just be sure the clay remains wet, or if dry, it’s important to use a Dust Mask.
On the other hand, ceramics feel smoother to the touch because they serve a different purpose and people create them in a way that doesn’t produce as coarse of a surface.
The Difference in Pottery
Ceramics use more materials than pottery. What you use will depend on the ceramic art being done. With pottery, you will always use clay as the material for your pots. At the same time, the techniques from pottery will differ slightly from ceramics.
For example, when sculpting your clay figurine, you will use tools like a small knife, and you will often draw a picture of what you want to sculpt from three separate angles. This helps you as you begin to sculpt your piece from clay.
Are clay pots considered ceramic?
Anything made with clay then fired in the kiln is now considered a ceramic piece. Traditionally, items made from clay were what people thought of as ceramics, but ceramics now encompass a broader range of materials. It would be correct, however, to also refer to pots as ceramics.
Hopefully, this shows you that pottery and ceramics are not the same. Pottery exists as a category under ceramics. While pottery is a ceramic art, you could refer to your pottery as ceramics. Not all ceramic arts are pottery. Many similarities between the two exist, but at the same time, it would be a mistake to think of them as exactly the same.