I started to research this topic and realised that it was vast!
As I am pushed for time (need to get Assignment 4 sent off) I had to narrow down the field. I divided the area into categories:
Ceramicists could include:
-potters making functional objects which they decorate,
-illustrators who use ceramics as a canvas for their art,
-ceramicists who make non functional sculptural forms in clay.
There is obviously a broad degree of overlap within these categories.
Decoration / art work on ceramics can be divided into :
glazes and slip to add colours, before firing
texture added to the surface, before firing
patterns and imagery painted on after firing
In order to look at visual language I decided to look at the ceramics we have at home. I put together a collection of objects from the kitchen shelves. Looking at the objects which range from contemporary to quite old I was able to see the different types of decorations involved. The Japanese tea pot and cups are all about the glaze and firing.
The older plates, bowls and cups have a mixture of patterns and imagery. The shapes are very often from nature, of plants, flowers, natural forms. The more contemporary ceramics tend to have less detailed decorations but again patterns and natural forms predominate. Imagery of food crops up a lot too.
In all cases, the major difference for an artist working with ceramics is that the final piece has a sculptural quality in that it has to work from every viewpoint and direction, which is why I think flowers, plants, food, animals (especially fish) and patterns are so common.