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THIS IS A MUST READ!!!!!!!!

THE FOLLOWING WAS FIRST PUBLISHED IN METALSMITH MAGAZINE IN 2006 AS A RESPONSE TO A QUESTIONNAIRE SENT BY THE ACG AND WRITTEN BY ARTIST, BENJAMIN LIGNEL. 

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What does Contemporary Jewellery mean? 


Not very much, to anyone outside the profession; but the question is a helpful reminder that:

1/ in most countries, the debate will never find an audience outside the actual community that launched it;


2/ this is a simplistic label, falling short of the profession’s complex heritage and range of interests.

But it’s a tricky one, and I tried to list some of the ways one could answer it:




Contemporary Jewellery is a type of practice – understood as the contemporary offspring of a craft-based design activity that finds its origin in medieval workshops. Such a definition stresses contemporary jewellery’s historical past, and finds antecedents in the British and American Arts & Crafts movements, the renewed late XIXth century interest in manual skills (as a last stand against industrialisation), and the emergence of radical jewellery movements in the 60s: it underlines the notions of individuality, craftsmanship, and its troubled relationship to the production mainstream;

or a type of object: poised between high-street jewellery and art (the former’s glorified other, the latter’s poor relative), we know what it’s not (‘just’ manufactured artefacts for wearing), and what it wants to be (the expression of individual talent that reflects on, and sometimes influences, contemporary culture), much less what it is. 
A few distinctive characteristics, however, seem to be beyond debate: the human body as a general working area; an open attitude to methods and material that echoes art’s own agenda, complicated by the notion of wearability; the distinctiveness we associate with individual expression; and an emancipation from consumer goods’ vocation to ‘just’ satisfy consumer desires.



It could also be defined as a market (I follow here the argument that cultural artefacts are defined less by methods of production than by distribution, accessibility and ultimately, potential impact on a larger consumer base). In most countries, a limited number of galleries take care of both distribution and promotion – while the designer-maker is expected (if (s)he wants to make a living) to be represented by at least five galleries, and complement consignment sales by direct, off-the-anvil transactions. From my point of view, the Contemporary Jewellery market works in ways similar to the art market, but on a scale so small, that its lack of visibility questions its existence.

So then: most jewellers would agree that Contemporary Jewellery is a fast-evolving profession at a crossroad between craft, design, and art, currently ridged by identity concerns. However, I think that the problem, rather than one of identity, is one of image. Although the lack of an established definition has contributed to an extremely rich range of output -personal answers to a collective question- it seems that diversity stands in the way of a more cohesive front, one that would focus on explaining to people that there is a life after Cartier, Pomellato and Tiffany’s. And the unsuspecting public still lumps the practice together with its craft-based past, judges its production on a par with high-end (or any other) jewellery, and considers artistic ambition rather like a presumptuous fancy (unless one equates ‘artistic’ with ‘skilled’, ‘meaningful’ or ‘committed to self-expression’).



This happens at least for two reasons:

Firstly, there are not enough of us to rally a larger population to Contemporary Jewellery’s standards: exposure is limited by the output (there are comparatively few jewellery design programs, fewer graduates that stick to the trade, and not many pieces produced per year per jeweller). This scarcity of active jewellery makers is further complicated by our cultural antagonism with serial reproduction -and therefore, bigger distribution (1). A cynical bystander would add: this is a micro-profession, which means little appeal to the press, anaemic cultural budgets, no specific courses in the history of Contemporary Jewellery (to my knowledge), and therefore, no history. As a result, Contemporary Jewellery is always deemed a subsidiary activity, on the margin of mainstream jewellery creation. 
Secondly, designer-makers are by nature a/o trade, uncommunicative, or certainly not prone to enthusiastic pamphlet scribbling. Who’s ever heard of Contemporary Jewellery, outside its confidential network of galleries and specialised clientèle?

The situation, and this is my point, demands more than just communication: instead of shunning assertive promotion/information strategies (for fear of contamination?), we must resist inertia from within and without that confine Contemporary Jewellery to its ill-defined (but restricting) marginal position, and explore new means of proliferation.

So we should communicate more. And explain our intentions. But in the end, let us not be too intent on defining our practice as one thing only: if anything, I would even drop the ‘Contemporary’ or ‘Studio’ used to qualify this jewellery: whatever specific meaning it may have had is now superseded by a vague sense of institutionalised ‘otherness’.



Let’s be proud, and call it jewelry.

THIS TEXT IS LINKED ON THE BLOG ON THE RIGHT SIDE OF THE PAGE UNDER PRACTICAL INFO…

Art Jewelry Forum » Overheard.

I remember reading this bit by Damian Skinner, writer for Art Jewelry Forum and previous speaker at this year’s SNAG (Society of North American Goldsmiths). I was lucky enough to hear a brilliant talk by this man about how art or contemporary jewelry is regionalized and therefore visually designated to the area from which it comes.

This bit came in to mind while I was at the Museum of Art and Design and roughly summarizes topics that I found myself to be curious. I wrote about it in a previous post about material. I’ll preface the piece with this quote from Herman Jünger:

‘A piece of jewellery is incomplete without the person who is to wear it, who will identify with it and who wants to live with it. Art jewellery does not come alive until it is worn, borne around, and seen from near and far. For them it becomes a part of life and so much more than just an exhibit or an investment.’

August 13th, 2011 05:08

OVERHEARD

Damian Skinner

Overheard from a group of four women while visiting the Atelier Janiye and the Legacy of Master Jeweler Miye Matsukata exhibition at the Fuller Craft Museum in Brockton, Massachusetts.

‘I would buy this one. I would buy this one too.’
‘I was going to buy this one, but it is in a private collection.’
‘I love this one.’
‘I like pins because my neck is not that long but pins I can handle.’
‘Oh, this would look nice on you.’
‘I have another necklace for you over here. This one is for you.’
Question: ‘Where would you wear it?’ Answer: ‘In bed, or to museums!’

Hearing these women talk about the jewelry on display made me wonder if this is a different kind of conversation to the one that would take place in front of fine art. Jewelry, in this instance, created a different opportunity for engagement, and seemed to overcome the distancing effects of the museum, encouraging these women to think about their relationship to the objects on display not as viewers but as wearer/owners.

Another woman, also visiting the exhibition but not part of the group, said to me, ‘Doesn’t it aggravate you when people in a museum talk like they are in their own homes?’ Here was a viewer wanting to uphold the attitudes of the museum as a space for reverent contemplation in the best Kantian tradition. I found myself disagreeing, pleased that jewelry had, at least for a moment, disrupted the isolating effects of the white cube, and the removal of these objects from the body and into the safety of the glass-covered vitrine.