THE ORIGINAL MEDIUM: Imagine day one of a standard Introduction to Art History lecture course. A projected slide depicts the Pyramid of Djoser baking splendidly in the Egyptian sun. The professor begins with one of the field’s great trick questions — “What is the original medium of all art?” One by one, her students ponder this ancient art historical koan. What could the answer be? Is it “piles of rocks”?

No, the original medium of all art is light. The pyramids are made of stone, but it’s through light and shadow that they achieve an effect. The professor offers this distinction, the difference between a medium — understood as the means by which art achieves an effect — and a material, understood as the specific physical basis for that process.

“Increment” ceramic by Jenchi Wu

This useful reminder from Art History 101 explains how a shared embrace of light, the original medium, unites photography and ceramics, artistic practices otherwise conceptually divided from one another by their different materials. This month, two new gallery shows make excellent contributions to the long conversation about light that all kinds of artists have been having ever since the pharaohs.

A PORCELAIN GAS CAN: At the Jane Deering Gallery on Canon Perdido Street, where the current exhibit of ceramics is called A Thousand Hours, the lush tactility of sophisticated glazing techniques transforms a variety of objects into heightened, shimmering images of themselves. Matthias Merkel Hess has provided the show and the season with at least one unforgettable sight: his high-gloss representation of an ordinary plastic gasoline container. I’m not sure what it means, but once seen, it lingers in the mind. Sculptors Jenchi Wu, Christopher Bates, Sandra Torres, and Jared Theis are the others responsible for this intricate web of ceramic signifiers. The show closed at the Canon Perdido location on January 16, but it can be seen by appointment at a private residence in Montecito through the end of the month. There’s also a panel discussion with the artists there at 7 p.m. on Friday, January 18. Call the Jane Deering Gallery at (805) 966-3334 to reserve a tour or a spot at the talk.

BEAUTIFUL MY DESIRE: Over at Crista Dix’s Wall Space Gallery on Yanonali Street, the seventh annual New Directions juried show of contemporary photography is on until February 3. Ann Jastrab of the Rayko Photo Center in San Francisco has curated these 40 images by 30 artists, and the very competitive field means that the quality is uniformly high. The show more than fulfills this intriguing direction from the original call for entries: “Ann is looking for the physical, emotional and abstract qualities of light. Manifestations of how light impacts and informs your visual world, and how you illuminate your work for others to see.” And there’s an opening on Friday, January 18, from 5-8 p.m. While you are there, stop by the Arts Fund, where they will be opening Double Trouble Redux the same night.

CALM AT HEART: A benefit for CALM, the Child Abuse Listening Mediation organization, is taking place now in the form of an exhibition at Sullivan Goss, An American Gallery on Anapamu Street and will culminate on Friday, January 18, with a luncheon, silent auction, and presentation about healing through art at the Coral Casino. The luncheon begins at 11 a.m., the art that’s been donated is from some of the city’s top artists, and it’s an extraordinarily righteous and noble cause. For more information, call (805) 965-2376 or visit


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