Ceramic art and design programs teach people to create art works out of clay and similar materials. Students learn how to hand mold and throw clay on a wheel. They study slips and glaze techniques. They also learn how to operate kilns to fire ceramics.
Before recorded history, artists used clay to make pottery and bricks. They learned early to harden clay with fire. Clay - soil whose particles are smaller than five one-thousandths of a millimeter - adheres with special strength because of its density. The oldest form of clay pottery is earthenware. Later forms include stoneware and porcelain. Because of its durability, clay is an important element in earth dams and cement.
Now, clay is appreciated not only for its functional qualities, but for its beauty. A range of objects can be made from clay, from platters to jewelry to abstract sculpture. Potters and ceramicists are uniquely skilled in that they can make both things we use everyday, like plates and bowls, and artistic pieces meant for display only. In addition, there are many different kinds of clay, glaze, and firing techniques that can make two objects look very different from one another. What's more, some artists prefer to build all their pieces by hand where others prefer to "throw" them on the potter's wheel. It's easy to see that clay is a fascinating medium!
In ceramics programs, your course work teaches you basic art principles such as art history, drawing and design. You then concentrate on all the different aspects of ceramic art, from throwing to handbuilding to sculpture. You also learn basic skills such as how to operate a kiln and mix and measure glazes. Many courses are designed to give you ample time in a studio where you create your own style and focus on a particular method of building your pieces.
Many colleges and universities offer ceramics programs that lead to the bachelor of fine arts (BFA) degree and the master of fine arts (MFA) degree. Community colleges and independent schools of art and design also offer studio training and programs in ceramics and ceramic design. They may lead to associate of art (AA) degrees. Independent art schools may also grant BFA degrees. They focus more intensively on studio work while colleges and universities offer more in the way of general requirements in addition to studio work.
It takes four to five years after high school to earn a BFA degree and six to seven years to earn an MFA degree. The MFA is considered a "terminal" degree, meaning that you do not need a doctorate if you desire to teach at the college level. However, a few schools do offer doctorate degrees in ceramics. Keep in mind that graduate study is almost always offered through a larger art and fine arts program, so be sure to read this program of study as well.