Physically, there is no distinction between ceramics and pottery because they are both made the same way. Each piece must go through a process that includes forming, firing, glazing, and refiring before it is complete. Even though ceramics and pottery are technically the same thing, people still tend to place different meanings on each term. Ceramics are frequently thought of as pieces of fine art that are created to be visually appealing rather than have a function. Pottery is a term commonly used to describe something made to be useful, thereby serving a purpose in daily life.
It is not uncommon to hear someone refer to ceramics to describe the art form as a whole, including pottery. Likewise, some people use the word pottery to describe the creation of both. In artistic circles, pottery is also a word commonly associated with work of lesser or unprofessional quality. Ceramics may be thought of as a piece of high-quality, fine art. Professional sculptors generally prefer for their work to be referred to as ceramics instead of pottery because of the difference in sophistication associated with each word.
There are three main types of ceramics and pottery: earthenware, stoneware, and porcelain. Earthenware is porous and generally more fragile than other types of pottery. Stoneware is waterproof and frequently used to make dishes, although some artists like to use it as well. The primary difference between porcelain and stoneware is that porcelain is usually more opaque and might appear translucent under bright light.
The creation of ceramics and pottery typically begins with the mixing of clay. Contrary to what some people may think, artists do not often take the clay directly from the ground. They normally use special clay comprised of different ingredients to form what they refer to as the "clay body." After the clay has been mixed, it can be formed into the desired shape using a pottery wheel or mold and left to dry out. A kiln may then be used to fire, or bake, the clay so it will be ready for decoration and finish.
Two well-known ceramicists are Bennett Bean and Hideaki Miyamura. Bean, whose work is displayed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, may be best known for creating bowls and teapots out of earthenware. Miyamura uses iridescent glazes on his works that appear to change color depending on the angle at which they are viewed. Pieces created by Miyamura can be found at the Art Institute of Chicago and The Smithsonian Institute, as well as numerous other places.