New Art Forms
New Art Forms
Over one hundred visitors to the Chicago International New Art Forms Exposition last September left the exposition’s plush Navy Pier site to spend a morning in a dusty attic. There seven panelists were to discuss, according to the flyers, “topics of market, public visibility collecting, material vs. conceptual value and wearability as relates to art jewelry.”
The Schneider-Bluhm-Loeb Gallery, a sponsor of the event along with the Susan Cummins, Franklin Parrasch and Perimeter galleries, provided the attic space at no charge, and the mood was certainly far from bleak. Still, there was a forlorn symbolism to that stark setting. Jewelers who so often perceive themselves as the unwanted orphans of the art and even the craft worlds met in isolated and spartan surroundings to figure out how to wangle an invitation to the fine arts party.
It had been difficult to get an invitation even to this little gathering; the demand for tickets had been so great that many people were turned away. It was a standing-room-only audience comprised primarily of working and student jewelers but including a surprisingly healthy number of collectors, dealers and other proponents of the field who heard moderator Bruce Metcalf promise a morning of provocative dialogue and controversy.
There was little of either. As one might expect from a forum entitled “Art Jewelry Symposium,” the majority of the speakers accepted without examination the belief that jewelry is indeed art. As a result, the event was more a “how to” seminar – how to establish credibility, how to seduce collectors, how to win friends and influence curators – than an introspective look at the field’s investigations.
Eleanor Moty talked about selling to collectors, Ken Loeber about the positive value of production jewelry. In an energetic and ambitious call to action, Thomas Mann set forth over a dozen tasks jewelers need to accomplish, from launching public relations campaigns in their communities to battling tax laws that hinder charitable giving, from demanding uniform professional practices by galleries to lobbying art schools to teach critical writing and business acumen.
Another speaker comfortable with the assumption that jewelry is art was Jan Yager who, like Mann, recited a list of obstacles to overcome and actions to undertake. But Yager also considered barriers imposed by the field itself. When she demanded that every piece jewelers produce be of the highest quality she alluded to the most formidable impediment to jewelry’s success – jewelers who make work that is derivative, poorly fashioned or shallow.
Panelist William Harper never mentioned whether he considers the work of other contemporary jewelers to be art, but he certainly anointed his own with that mantle. Declaring himself an artist and not a jeweler, Harper described the success he has enjoyed in fine arts arenas and among collectors of contemporary painting and sculpture (as opposed to fanciers of craft or jewelry). In lieu of proposing ways in which others might achieve similar success, Harper asserted his disinterest in fostering the field and its market.
In sharp contrast to Harper’s professed indifference to jewelry was collector Kathryn Sackheim’s passion for it. At once emotional and intellectual, strong and vulnerable, personal and professional, Sackheim provided fascinating insight into the thought processes that take place on the other side of the selling counter. She was direct, funny and smart, and when the symposium ended, she bought the piece Metcalf was wearing right off his lapel.
Before becoming the only panelist to make a sale, Metcalf had also garnered two other distinctions – he was the only panelist to examine jewelry’s claim to art status and the only one to reject that claim. In a thoughtful and substantiated analysis, Metcalf concluded that the absence of strong ideology in most jewelry makes it craft rather than fine art and, further, that there is no shame in that.
The ensuing question and answer period illustrated how difficult it can be to put into action the advice that had been offered all morning. Almost every speaker had bemoaned the dearth of good critical writing (Harper characterized existing writing as “crap”), yet none could provide anything more than bland words of encouragement to a young writer expressing interest in the field. Far worse, when a potential collector asked where she might go to actually see some of this work, the panel suggested an American Craft Enterprises fair. Geared to owners of craft stores, these crowded venues enervate and overwhelm even the most educated of collectors. How much better is would have been to refer the unschooled to a body of strong pieces gathered by an expert with a definite point of view than to a vast and commercially oriented craft fair. How much better to furnish the names of a few good books (Ralph Turner’s The New Jewelry comes to mind) and a few good galleries (Susan Cummins’ New Art Forms exhibit featuring work by Lisa Gralnick, Bob Ebendorf, Jamie Bennett, Barbara Heinrich and others was easily accessible; Helen Drutt was sitting right there in the audience).
Rather than this Q & A session, one longed for the promised dialogue. It never occurred. It seemed a shame that people with such diverse aesthetic views as Eleanor Moty and William Harper, such diverse professional approaches as Thomas Mann and Bruce Metcalf, were not allowed to interact.
But there was far more to commend than criticize about this forum. Particularly heartening was the commitment to the field expressed by almost all the speakers, the impressive turnout, and the generosity of the sponsoring galleries who not only furnished space and doughnuts but also managed to attract more jewelry collectors than most jewelers dream exist. The pragmatic approach taken by so many of the panelists created an air of camaraderie, a sense of direction. The complaint most frequently voiced was that the morning had ended too soon, leaving the art world’s orphans, like so many Oliver Twists, clamoring for more.
Here, then, in hopes of encouraging a second go-round, are reprints of three of the speeches. Yager’s and Sackheim’s appeared to generate the most excitement and discussion among participants; Metcalf’s merits careful reading. Animated debate about the ideas expressed in these talks emanated from the cabs that returned the audience to Navy Pier, where they rejoined the rest of the craft community.
Here we are at an Art Jewelry Symposium. The term used, Art Jewelry, makes a very specific claim: that there is jewelry that is also art. If there is such a thing, I think it might be useful to test the assertion. The obvious place to start is by making comparison between jewelry and the larger body of art in the world. How does “art jewelry” stand up?
In this case, the claim to the status of art aims exactly at art museums, art publications, art collectors and other individuals and institutions that constitute the Eurocentric system that controls the reception of art. It is reasonable, then, to make the first comparison to modern European and American art. One overriding characteristic of most of this modern art is that it all refers to specific theories and agendas. Cubism addressed simultaneous perspective and the fracturing of perspectival space; surrealism tried to give visual form to Freudian theories about the unconscious; much New York School painting illustrated Greenberg’s theory that formal values and flatness were the only legitimate competency of painting, and so on. Each epoch, each movement was largely a response to, and a debate about, sets of ideas in conflict. The resultant artwork was a visual record of artists’ attempts to manifest a theory or to resolve a conflict.
Similarly, the history of craft and design since 1850 is actually a dialogue of discourses. The modern craft movement started with the theoretical speculations of John Ruskin, put into practice by William Morris. The Aesthetic movement, Art Noveau, De Stijl, Constructivism, the Bauhaus – all were founded on an ongoing discussion about the role of art and craft in modern society, and how that role might be best implemented. Most of these movements had a fundamental schism, a point about which agreement could not be reached, and the resultant debates stimulated a great deal of interesting work. The production of objects did not occur just because some person felt like making a pot or a rug one day, but because she or he could address an idea. For the past 140 years, discourse has shaped the crafts.
However, contemporary American jewelry evidences little in the way of discourse or argument. The intellectual component is absent. There is a peculiar scarcity of useful and interesting ideas about jewelry and there is correspondingly a scarcity of stimulating discourse. As a result, most jewelers tend to be guided by received assumptions of the nature of the practice and by strict personal intuition. Unfortunately, American craftspeople subscribe to the myth that technical knowledge is sufficient – once you know how to control the process of the chosen craft, questions about its history, theory and status are not terribly relevant. Personally, I blame this myth on college teachers who don’t bother to conduct their own research on the subject, and on the absolute failure of art history departments to incorporate craft into the canon of “important” topics. As a result, generations of students never learn the histories of their own disciplines, ultimately believing that discourse and theory are irrelevant to their practice. While that may not appear to be a bad thing, I believe the lack of discourse has stunted the growth of the discipline and has denied our audience the opportunity to participate in any meaningful narrative about the nature of jewelry.
Most studio jewelers are content to make well-designed, well-made and sturdily functional jewelry. Obviously an important place exists for such work. It’s jewelry, it adorns, it does what we believe jewelry is supposed to do. But I insist that good design, good craftsmanship and pedestrian functionality, taken together but going no further, are not sufficient to art. The net result is that American “art jewelry,” when tested against the rest of modern art, appears to be intellectually shallow and even stupid.
Contemporary art jewelry takes place against the background of the postwar American craft revival, which in turn takes place against the background of a fully industrialized society. It’s safe to say that no Americans buy craft because they have to, because Bloomingdale’s and Marshall Field are full off manufactured items that serve similar purposes at lower prices. Craft is produced and purchased precisely because it is handmade and is perceived as an antidote to the anonymity, impersonality and boring regularity of mass-produced objects. This is an entirely new condition. Theories of art and design failed to account for the possibility that people might reject mass production. Neither the Bauhaus nor the Constructivists imagined that the industrial age they so fervently hoped for might fail to satisfy the needs and desires of the masses.
Because early Modernist theories focused exclusively on ownership, production, reductivist design values and the symbolism of the modern industrialized age, none of them paid attention to the human beings that all the new objects intended to serve. A vacuum was created, and you could say that craft rushed in where theory feared to tread. Where design theory generated stripped-down, machine-made objects for the domestic environment, craft provided decorative, colorful, handmade objects with a broad popular appeal. Craft is also unapologetically mercantile and unashamedly targeted toward the middle class. As such, crafts serves as a counteraction against all the heavy-duty claims and obligations of Modernist design theory. The oppositional characteristic of craft has not been articulated or explored, but it remains one of the most important aspects of the field.
Oriented as it is toward the middle class, toward the market and toward the satisfaction of a range of psychological and social needs, craft can be neither radical (especially in a Marxian sense) nor avant-garde, Hal Foster, writing enthusiastically about Russian Constructivism, defines conservative art as arising from “the legacy of a Western bourgeois culture, of forms of art based on artisanal modes, directed toward individual reception, governed by an idealist discourse of taste, and produced for a patron market.” While Foster disapproves of such things, being an unreconstructed Marxist, he provides an accurate description of the crafts and, by extension, studio jewelry. The accusation of being bourgeois might make a Marxist quake in shame, but these days few Americans regard their middle-class roots as a crime against humanity. As I said, American craft is solidly rooted in the middle class.
Craft is necessarily artisanal and not industrial. Far from being an anachronism, craft in the late 20th century demonstrates that industrial production has its problems answering human needs. Craft is produced for a patron market as well as a mass market. It’s also important to remember that most craftspeople continue to work because the labor itself is satisfying. Craft is “governed by an idealist discourse” to some degree, but certainly not by the “materialist discourse of dialectics” that Foster approves. Instead of offering a radical critique of culture, craft accepts small-time capitalism as an expedient device, and instead of an avant-garde mentality that constantly demands a fodder of fashionable new ideas, it tends to recycle a modest collection of familiar themes. Craft is comparatively stable, respectful of traditions, conservative. Basically, craft is a bourgeois artform.
We are so accustomed to the paradigm of endless forward progress in the arts that it seems the inherent conservatism of craft necessarily renders it unintellectual. This is a false conclusion. When Modernism turned a blind eye to the needs and desires of people, craft was responsive and pragmatic. Craft specializes in empathy to the other – at least the other who can be reached in the marketplace. The discourse and debate that craft so urgently needs can be stimulated by examining what craft has always done: performing a service, mediating between the individual, her environment and her society.
We need to examine how objects function, not just in a physical manner as bowls and tables and garments, but in the realm of the social and psychological. Physical anthropologists have documented how people employ objects in other cultures, so why can’t we regard our own culture the same way? Why, after all, have handmade objects gained such widespread acceptance in this highly industrialized country? How can craft offer a morally and ecologically responsible alternative to mass production? How can we explain the value of decoration, which Modernism attempted to wipe from the face of the earth? Why were the college students I taught so thrilled to work with their hands, when all the overt messages in our culture place physical labor in such a low status? How can crafts address the spiritual emptiness that so many of us sense? These are the questions that can become the subjects of our discourse; that can become the intellectual content of craft.
All these topics are potential subjects for jewelry. But I will caution that most of these ideas are not usually construed as having anything to do with aesthetics, and thus have not been proper subject matters for art. So I propose that jewelers stop trying to make art. No more “art jewelry.” The term “art” is too loaded and biased to be useful; the kind in Art Forum and Art in America is too tainted by ideological limitations placed on the legitimate possibilities of art. The questions I just posed are typically thought to be too banal and dirty to be the subject of aesthetic inquiry and thus beneath the dignity of real artists. Until the whole idea of art can be repaired and revised, let’s have something else: “message jewelry” or “work jewelry” or “real life jewelry.” Instead of hanging around the temple of art begging for entry let’s have a new jewelry that addresses the lives we actually lead.
In the broadest sense, I believe the subject of jewelry is trying to heal some of the dislocations and alienations in late-industrial capitalist culture. While more critical artists propose the reconstitution of the individual or dismantling the privileges of the middle class, jewelry operates in more humble ways. Actually, many practitioners already address the issues I’ve spoken about, but they don’t articulate them. This silence is unfortunate. Nonetheless, by insisting on a collective examination of the nature of personal adornment and of craft, we can draw a map of the place, purpose and possibilities of jewelry. By clarifying an agenda and by describing ambitions, we can start to distinguish between the good stuff and the schlock. We can also use the debate to energize and give a direction to the whole enterprise of jewelry as craft.
The ambition of the Russian Constructivists was to place art into life, a project at which they mostly failed. Craft has undertaken the same project and succeeded, but without understanding. If the insertion of objects into everyday life is a distinguishing characteristic of jewelry then let’s examine and question that enterprise. Only if practice is synthesized with careful thought will jewelry become that elusive thing we all seem to crave – art.
I have always loved jewelry. I can’t pass a jewelry store or jewelry display at a craft fair. I have to look at everything. When I see a great fashion ad or a beautifully dressed woman, it’s the jewelry that catches my eye first.
Jewelry is emotional for me on many levels. Like anything else beyond one’s reach, it’s the forbidden object that holds the most fascination. When I was nine or ten and watched my grandmother get dressed to go out for an evening, she always put on some wonderful piece of jewelry that belonged to her mother, my great-grandmother. Whenever I admired an especially lovely piece, my grandmother was quick to inform me that the jewelry she inherited from her mother would pass on to my sister who was named after my great-grandmother.
My great-grandmother died before my sister was born, and I was the oldest grandchild, two valid reasons for feeling angry and hurt. One does not have to be a mental health professional to have a field day with this story. Suffice it to say that at a very young age I understood at a gut level that the person who owns jewelry and is in a position to give it away wields tremendous power.
The family saga is not over. My sister got hers, although not for many years. When my paternal grandmother died, the distribution of jewelry was assigned to my mother and aunt. My mother told me in front of my sister that she especially wanted me to have a particular bracelet because it was the best piece. This time my sister was devastated. In my family it is the women who are empowered by the ownership of jewelry and the ones in a position of authority to dole it out to subsequent generations.
For me, jewelry not only is something beautiful but also represents control. The more jewelry I own, the less dependent I am on anyone else. I do not hesitate to buy it for myself. It symbolizes my ability to take care of me. Aside from the traditional symbols of wealth and power, jewelry has other emotional aspects. Jewelry is magic. If we put on something that belonged to a mother or grandmother or great-grandmother, we take on characteristics of that person or even become the other person. Charms, amulets, those pieces that are supposed to ward off the evil eye, have an aura that is entirely different from a painting or other more traditional forms of art and craft.
Finally, jewelry is a way to express one’s personality. The jewelry one wears makes an immediate statement to the outside world. In that famous article in Metalsmith (Summer 90), “Closing of Doors,” Garth Clark said that certain clients were inclined to express their intellectual tastes on the wall rather than on their clothes. He described a particular couple who was comfortable buying avant-garde art but not jewelry. He doesn’t have it quite right. I would say that those who do buy art jewelry are in fact willing and ready to reflect their intellectual tastes on their clothes. It is a way to express one’s individuality. He also said somewhere in the same article that some were reluctant to buy art jewelry because they didn’t have the right clothes. That argument doesn’t hold up because a person with a passion for jewelry buys clothes as a background for the jewelry and not the other way around.
So people collect jewelry for all sorts of reasons. Where does acquisition end and connoisseurship begin? What makes one person a collector rather than someone who just hoards jewelry? Collectors study, do their homework, make an effort to find out who is being shown in museums, whose work has been acquired by museum collections or other collectors, familiarize themselves with technique, and in my opinion do not buy everything they see. Rather, they try to acquire fine examples of an artist’s work and may decline to buy a particular artist, no matter how well thought of that artist is, if a specific work doesn’t fit into the collection. A good collection has a point of view and reflects the aesthetic sensibility of the collector. (I will discuss my point of view in a few minutes.) Collectors can’t always afford to buy a special piece immediately. I treasure those pieces that took me months to acquire, and I appreciate the galleries and artists who were willing to work with me.
One artist recently told me that acquiring with the hopes of a piece appreciating in value is the mark of a serious collector versus a semiserious collector. Certainly that is part of my thought process. But every piece of every artist is not uniformly great, and that is where connoisseurship comes in. My own collection is small (at this point about 40 pieces), and with the exception of very few early questionable acquisitions, it is choice. It has quality pieces in it. I list every piece, hold on to receipts and am delighted that three pieces from my collection have been in museum shows.
I may have been moved to start my collection because of emotional issues, but my art jewelry collecting also satisfies intellectual needs. First, collecting contemporary jewelry requires study. Second, there’s something wonderful about owning something made by hand. Once one owns a couple of pieces of contemporary art jewelry, the commercial stuff looks ordinary and bland. It doesn’t feel nearly as good to wear it. Third, in a wonderful piece of art jewelry, there’s line, form, color and texture, all of the traditional design elements. Fourth, jewelry is tactile. One can get involved with it. Fifth, there is something very satisfying in knowing that one can wear a piece of art. Yes, I believe that a great piece of art jewelry is art.
Why does a collector choose contemporary jewelry rather than some of the other schools? For me, Victorian jewelry is well designed and has great workmanship, but it is fussy, repressed and overly decorated. And it reminds me of my grandmothers. Art nouveau and art deco are interesting but not for me. Those schools are fun to look at and admire on others, but I don’t respond to them. I have examined Bakelite bracelets, marcasite pins and the art moderne costume jewelry from the ’40s. Anyone who loves jewelry likes to look at everything, but I’ve never really wanted to own jewelry from those eras. Contemporary art jewelry is more exciting to me. I love examining many examples of an artist’s work and agonizing over my choice. I can pick something that represents that artist’s technique or style. Art jewelry is within reach economically. And it’s exciting. It’s what is happening now.
I do not buy haphazardly. A piece of jewelry has to conform to my shopping list of requirements. If a piece doesn’t fulfill almost every item on the list, I don’t purchase it.
The most important criterion for me is, is it wearable? Garth Clark, in the same article I mentioned before, said that one problem with the art jewelry in his gallery was that the “work didn’t take the site into consideration.” Translated into English, that means the pieces in his gallery didn’t work on the body. He is right about that. A necklace has to feel good on the neck, a bracelet can’t have too many angles, and a brooch has to look right on a lapel or dress. Rings and earrings have to be comfortable as well. I don’t appreciate fighting with findings, and I don’t like being poked or otherwise attacked by my jewelry either. Owning jewelry is supposed to be pleasurable and not a source of physical pain. If I have to struggle more than 30 seconds with a clasp or worry about the sturdiness of a finding, I don’t buy the piece.
I am interested in originality and a strong design statement. Is the piece substantially different from something I already own? There’s a lot out there that’s mediocre. I am always looking for that special piece and usually something with movement. The piece has to maintain my interest. I don’t want to be bored.
Size matters. I’m 5 feet 6 inches. If it’s scaled too small, I don’t buy it. On the other hand, I don’t like my jewelry to wear me or overshadow me. I don’t buy a piece that is too massive either. Generally, however, big is better than small. I want a piece that looks significant.
I am partial to certain material. I love enamel, gold, silver and some stones. I love pearls, whether they are cultured, baroque, mobé pearls or South Sea pearls. I don’t particularly care for titanium or married metals.
Color has an impact. I don’t like brown, beige or orange. A piece doesn’t have to have color, however. I am attracted to sculptural pieces and interesting shapes.
The weight of a piece is important. I don’t like anything that feels tinny. I like substance, something that feels durable.
I am happiest when I have a choice of many examples of an artist’s work. Then I can pick a piece that is most representative. I generally respond to abstract designs, sleek lines, organic forms, some geometric forms and surface texture. I have only two figurative pieces; I am not generally attracted to images of people, and that is another distinguishing characteristic of my particular collection.
If status and a display of wealth were the sole purpose of a jewelry collection, then selection would not be that difficult. Precious gems and almost any commercial design would do. It is an intellectual need that is satisfied by the research and legwork required in the acquisition of a contemporary jewelry collection.
The gallery is the first stop for me. Whenever I am in a new city I try to find a gallery that carries contemporary art jewelry. Museums and museum catalogs from shows are another source of education. I like to look at everything, and I do a lot more looking than buying. Craft shows like New Art Forms are treasures.
I started making beaded necklaces in the early seventies and began acquiring a library of jewelry books then. I need to understand historical references. I also have books on tribal jewelry. I devour Metalsmith, Ornament and American Craft when they arrive. I want to see what’s new, what is being shown in galleries and what the critics have to say so that I can disagree with them and decide what is right for my collection.
I don’t-always buy immediately. Sometimes I have to go home and look for examples of an artist’s work in one of the craft magazines or my books. I have gone as long as three years without making a decision, waiting for the right piece of a particular artist to come along, once I determine that I want to own a piece by a certain artist. In the final analysis, the piece has to speak to me. I have to feel passionate about it, have that feeling of lust that overcomes collectors of any medium. If an artist work doesn’t move me, I don’t buy it, regardless of critical opinion.
Debate among academicians about whether art jewelry is an art or craft is endlessly fascinating but only mildly relevant to me as a collector. I read everything I can get my hands on, but I believe that an object of beauty fine workmanship and great design will hold up. I buy it because it gives me pleasure. It’s something I can touch, look at, be involved with and enjoy wearing. From a collector’s point of view, I would advise artists to concern themselves with the wearability of a piece and good design rather than whether the work is categorized as art or craft. I read Susan Kingsley’s piece, “Jewelry: It’s Not a Pretty Picture” (Metalsmith, Summer 91), with great interest. She ended a thoughtful article with the following quote: “Jewelry provides ritual objects for paying homage to the patriarchy. Jewelry is not about love and beauty; it is about power. Jewelry symbolizes the unequal positions of women and men in our culture. It symbolizes men’s claim to intellectual superiority and women’s supposedly primitive nature. It serves as a visual reminder of men’s economic power and women’s dependence upon men.” I agree with many of her points in the article. Certainly Kingsley’s opinion is valid as it applies to traditional commercial pieces of jewelry and flashy gemstones. As my plain-speaking grandfather used to say, a man shows his wealth by displaying it on his wife. After all, he can’t wear the jewelry himself. He made that quote at a time when men didn’t wear jewelry.
But art jewelry is not about greed and status. It is more subtle than traditional jewelry. I agree that jewelry is about power, but the contemporary jewelry movement is shifting the source of power. Men may be making jewelry, but women are commissioning it and buying it for themselves; a woman purchasing her own jewelry is asserting her independence, aesthetic sensibility and confidence about her taste. My collection expresses who i am, my interpretation of beauty and good design, and announces to the world that I am in control of me.
What will happen to the collection when I am no longer around? I have three daughters. I have instructed them to divide it up and donate what they don’t want to a museum. My greatest fear of course, is that they won’t want any of it. I have heard the following more than once: “You aren’t going out in public wearing that, are you?”
If my problem is educating my daughters, then the problem of contemporary craftspeople is educating the public. A massive PR effort is necessary. Craftspeople need to lecture, create opportunities to promote their work and participate in symposiums like this one. More galleries need to carry fine examples of contemporary art jewelry.
I’d like to conclude by saying that I do believe the beautiful objects being made today will eventually be accepted as “art” by the academic community. Because I feel that a well-designed piece of jewelry endures over time, I plan to continue to add to my collection slowly and carefully. I enjoy wearing my art.
I would like to share some observations on a subject we are all obviously passionate about or we would not have ventured so far, so early in the day, to get here. My hope is that more can be accomplished collectively than any one of us could accomplish alone, and that this may contribute to the discussion.
We are the only animals on Planet Earth that feel a need to adorn ourselves! Considering how jewelry is interwoven with the entire history of man kind and womankind, we might expect art history books to be filled with examples. When I studied art history in school, I found that jewelry and the other crafts were rarely mentioned. Had I known then that jewelry was present in every culture, of every time period, in every part of the world, I would have questioned the omission. It wasn’t until much later – about the same time someone noticed the absence of women artists in the art books – that I got suspicious. It had never occurred to me that Neolithic rock necklaces might exist from the same time period as the Venus of Willendorf!
There are a multitude of possible reasons for this oversight. It may be jewelry’s, in a culture that’s come to measure greatness by the yard. Or perhaps it is its function as symbol of wealth, power and status. Or it may be that its intimate relationship to the body will forever hinder it from loftier achievement. Perhaps it is the result of a Europe-centered bias, or it may be just plain old sexism. What I am safely going to guess now is that these books were written by white men who didn’t wear jewelry.
The lack of status that we in the jewelry field must contend with is, I believe, deeply entwined with the lack of status of women in our culture. As a result, “female things,” things like jewelry, and in a broader sense things like art, art diminished in their value. My hunch is this “glass ceiling” jewelers now confront will not shatter quickly. But it is my belief we must confront and address these issues in order to understand and go beyond them.
I have noticed that many artists and art historians complete their education without a moment’s thought about jewelry as art. The general public spends even less time making that connection. And jewelers themselves begin with little of the historical foundation that seems to be such a long-established and valued part of the other parts. Is it any wonder we are misunderstood by the general public (who got their notion of jewelry from advertising), underrepresented in museum collections and suffer from a lack of critical attention?
WHAT TO DO?
Taking all of this into consideration, none of us can afford less than the highest standards! Artists, do your best work yet. Patrons and galleries, seek it out or, better yet, sponsor it. Help document our field: photograph your work, your studio, your home, your wardrobe, your exhibitions, your collections. Record your thoughts and experiences, offer these to slide banks, libraries, archives. Let’s establish a major comprehensive collection of jewelry somewhere in the USA.
Let’s not be the only ones who understand and love what we do. One percent of the arts is not too much to ask of the media. Let’s infiltrate television newscasts, radio programs, mainstream magazines, daily newspapers. I am convinced art is vastly more interesting that much if the blather in the media now. Lobby for the incorporation of design, art and craft into our educational system. Do this as an individual or collectively through schools, arts councils and guilds. Then learn to count. If no one notices when women are underrepresented, what makes your think they will suddenly notice there is no jewelry, no craft? SNAG’s membership is about 60 percent female; if anything to do with our field does not have female representation, ask why. If jewelry is excluded or underrepresented in competitions, exhibitions or permanent collections, speak up. Learn to write postcards and letters, recognize and take steps toward larger goals.
HOW WILL WE KNOW WHEN WE HAVE GOTTEN THERE?
For me it will be when the art section of the newspaper is as thick as the sports section; it will also be when art museums include as much jewelry in their exhibitions as they do in their fundraisers. Will I have to wait long for the time when jewelers (and not architects and movie stars) are asked to design jewelry?
I will also know we are there when equal numbers of men and women are in positions of authority and decision making, exhibiting, teaching, speaking, writing, jurying, in major arenas. When all of us are represented fairly, each of us is in our rightfully earned place in society.