Back
Open Call Preziosa Young 2017 skyscraper.

After Identity Crisis: Ceci n’est pas “art jewellery” (2/4)

Published: 05.02.2015
After Identity Crisis: Ceci n’est pas “art jewellery” (2/4).
Author:
Ezra Satok-Wolman
Edited by:
Klimt02
Edited at:
Ontario
.

© By the author. Read Klimt02.net Copyright.

Intro
For real change to occur, action needs to take place. My intention with “Identity Crisis” was to drop a pebble into the water and hope that some of the ripples turned into waves. It is in that spirit that I am publishing this follow up essay.

This is the second part of a text that will be published in 4 individual texts. Read the previous article Part 1: Introduction,  and the next Part 3: The Pole Shift.

日本語版 - Japanese version      View / hide description

There are galleries, fairs, exhibitions, university programs, museum collections and stacks of books dedicated to art jewellery.  Art jewellery has gone global.  So how can art jewellery be dead?  The reality is art jewellery isn’t dead, but it has become unrecognizable.  One of the biggest problems that I see today is that art jewellery has become an “umbrella term,” used to refer to a number of different types of jewellery and philosophies about jewellery that collectively create a fairly schizophrenic personality.  It might be more appropriate to suggest that art jewellery has multiple personalities and may at times present itself as craft jewellery, alternative jewellery, or small scale conceptual art (that may or may not function as jewellery at all).  

 
  • One of the biggest problems that I see today is that art jewellery has become an “umbrella term,” used to refer to a number of different types of jewellery and philosophies about jewellery that collectively create a fairly schizophrenic personality
 

Art jewellery should be more successful today than it has ever been, yet we have continued to slump even further into decline as the field has grown and as time has passed.  Our tendency has been to look for external reasons for our struggles, but I believe it is time we accept that the problems lie within what art jewellery has come to be, rather than factors that have impacted it.  We can no longer blame an unstable economy for the lack of art jewellery sales because the jewellery market in general is booming.  In a recent article about the Birmingham School of Jewellery’s 125th anniversary, Professional Jeweller Magazine1 reported that the UK has seen consistent growth in the jewellery and watch industry since 2009 valuing it today at £5 billion annually.  Why then has art jewellery struggled so terribly?  The contemporary art world is also booming, and it shouldn’t be so crazy to think that art jewellery should be enjoying similar success.  I can’t help but think that the problem must lie within the realm of art jewellery itself because things seem to be fine in the outside world.

 
  • The extremist approach to art jewellery has guided artists to become consumed with trying to reinvent jewellery, rather than focus on making jewellery art that other people will both react to and want to wear

 
The problems that have arisen regarding art jewellery’s sustainability may have more to do with issues that are not fundamentally relevant to jewellery at all, but rather relate to radical ideologies about art jewellery that have heavily influenced trends within the field.  We have allowed extremism and dogmatism to take the reigns and now find ourselves asking how we got here.  It is not that people don’t want to buy art jewellery, but perhaps more likely that people don’t want to buy this art jewellery.  The extremist approach to art jewellery has guided artists to become consumed with trying to reinvent jewellery, rather than focus on making jewellery art that other people will both react to and want to wear.  Looking at the full spectrum of what is produced today under the guise of art jewellery might have you questioning how many artists are capable of actually producing good functional jewellery.  Experimentation seems to take precedence over technique. “Narratives” and “concept” have become far more important than the end result.  Craftsmanship and attention to detail seem to be a thing of the past, and too much of either could have people telling you that you’re not an artist at all.  Ted Noten recently spoke about being criticized for this as an art student in a recent interview with The New York Times2 and was quoted saying; “if you want to be an artist you should have the tools and skills to make something.  If you want to come up with concepts, be a writer.”   
 
While I am a dedicated supporter of art jewellery in all forms, the field could certainly benefit from some distinctions being made between the kinds of art jewellery being produced right now.   As art jewellery has grown and developed, a number of facets have taken shape and the term art jewellery has come to represent a diverse range of things, including at times costume, multi-media installations and performance art.  It may be unfair to say that art jewellery in general has failed or has become irrelevant, because some facets are doing much better than others.  There are certain kinds of art jewellery that will always appeal to the market better than others.  There are tremendous differences between the kind of customer that is looking for a highly conceptual piece of “jewellery art” for their private collection, and the customer that is looking for a piece of art jewellery to wear.  I am fairly confident that the number of customers looking to purchase well made art jewellery that can be worn will always outnumber those looking to buy unwearable or overly conceptual pieces that can not be worn.  For the purposes of clear communication and good marketing, it might not be such a bad idea to represent this kind of highly conceptual work separately altogether.  While there may be a place for conceptual jewellery within the spectrum of art jewellery, to have expectations that it will have success on its own commercially may still be unrealistic.
 
Beyond highly conceptual jewellery, the need to distinguish between art jewellery and craft jewellery is also crucial.  For too long we have allowed serial and edition craft work to masquerade as art jewellery.  Too many makers have resorted to focussing on multiple “editions” or serial work, which may appeal to requests from galleries for “new collections,” but often devalues the pieces overall.   As more makers attend fairs to exhibit and sell their work, art jewellery has been altered to fit the needs of the wholesale format.  Once again this is very reminiscent of craft jewellery, as artists look for ways to produce inexpensive multiples and work within margins.  The market is changing for galleries too, many of which are now spending a good amount of time in the field attending fairs themselves.  Contemporary art and design fairs have become hotbeds of activity for both artists and galleries, but it’s still too soon to say what kind of support will be cultivated in the form of new followers and collectors.

 
  •  Ultimately it is the audience or market that determines the value of the art we make.  We can only sell our pieces for what people are willing to pay, if they are willing to pay anything at all. 

 
I often hear people proclaiming that more art jewellery isn’t purchased because the audience isn’t educated, and doesn’t understand the value of what they are looking at.  I happen to disagree with this statement and have found quite the opposite in my experience.  People who have an interest in art jewellery tend to be quite educated.  They also tend to have both an understanding of, and appreciation for art and craftsmanship.  Ultimately it is the audience or market that determines the value of the art we make.  We can only sell our pieces for what people are willing to pay, if they are willing to pay anything at all.  Regardless of how educated the audience is or isn’t, they directly contribute to the valuation and commercial success or failure of an artist’s work, more so than galleries do.  You can’t fake craftsmanship, and it’s something that people have simply come to expect when it comes to jewellery whether you work in gold, plastic, paper or textile.

 
  • It may be fair to say that there is currently a lot of good craft jewellery and conceptual art being made by people who call themselves jewellery artists.  But calling something art jewellery and something actually being art jewellery are two very different things.


Art jewellery has changed dramatically over the last decade.  When I think back to what art jewellery was about when I first became interested in it, I remember a vastly different landscape.  Fundamentally speaking, art jewellery was about artists making jewellery.  The art jewellery movement began when artists who were highly skilled jewellery makers, started exploring different approaches to jewellery making that were outside the traditional boundaries of conventional jewellery. These artists experimented with various kinds of materials, forms, and techniques, developing a field that at the time was quite radical.  Art jewellery was about more than stringing together bits and pieces, or assembling collections of found objects.  Using alternative materials, casual construction, and giving the piece a socio-political title was not enough to qualify something as art jewellery.  It may be fair to say that there is currently a lot of good craft jewellery and conceptual art being made by people who call themselves jewellery artists.  But calling something art jewellery and something actually being art jewellery are two very different things.

 
  • Virtual success is measured by social media ratings which in turn has only fed our need for instant gratification.  In a “fast food” like manner we are constantly bombarded with content, giving us little time to digest between servings.

 
Before the internet became a mainstream resource and tool for communication, the information available about art jewellery was not only limited, but carefully curated as well.  “Information” came in the form of physical exhibitions, books and magazines.  There were no websites or blogs and therefore information was available periodically and for the most part regionally.  Today we each have our own websites or social media “channels,” and information is made available in real-time.  New work is “published” daily and essentially with little to no filter.  The internet has become the ultimate platform for the work we produce, providing artists with the ability to virtually exhibit and sell their work to a global marketplace.  Virtual success is measured by social media ratings which in turn has only fed our need for instant gratification.  In a “fast food” like manner we are constantly bombarded with content, giving us little time to digest between servings.
 
The art jewellery spectrum has been stretched beyond imagination.  Sometimes it seems as though artists are merely competing to see who can take jewellery to the furthest points of abstraction, physically and philosophically, while others compete to see who can use or repurpose the most obscure materials or objects in a quest to create the “nouvo-collage” on a pin or a string.  This is a complete departure from what art jewellery is intended to be, and a departure that I attribute in part to extremism.  Extremism has convinced students year after year that in order to succeed as a jewellery artist, they must reinvent art jewellery  and the materials they use to create it.  Extremism has replaced skill and technique with ego and shock value.  While I have seen some very interesting and thought provoking things arise from this extremist approach to art jewellery over the years, I would venture to say that it is work of the “extremist art jeweller” that could be pronounced dead rather than art jewellery in general.  If you look at the ideologies at either end of the “art jewellery spectrum,” what you will find are extreme interpretations of jewellery that may not have much potential for commercial success.
 
In my opinion, if you remove the craft jewellery, alternative jewellery, and the extreme conceptual jewellery from the mix, there really isn’t a tremendous amount of art jewellery being produced, and much of it probably does quite well in terms of sales.  The “art jewellery umbrella” currently covers a lot of work by default that quite frankly would be more accurately described as something else.  A good example of this dynamic exists at Sieraad Art Fair, the annual event in Amsterdam dedicated to art jewellery.  It was my experience at Sieraad that while there was some art jewellery at the fair, the work was primarily a mix of craft jewellery, alternative jewellery and highly conceptual jewellery.  I believe  Ward Schriver was making the same declaration in his review of the 2013 edition of the fair for Art Jewelry Forum,3 in which he concluded by saying; “If you are keen on seeing, and possibly buying, a great diversity of affordable, “modern” jewelry, you'll have a field day at Sieraad.”

 
  • Many artists no longer think enough about who or if anyone will ever wear their jewellery, which has led to a complete disconnect with the wearer

 
Today’s iteration of art jewellery has been diluted.  Our standards have simply been watered down. Craftsmanship, functionality, and synthesis of concept and form are no longer important when assessing the success or failure of a piece. Photographs and artist’s statements have become more valuable currency than the objects themselves, often obscuring the true nature of the pieces they document, or how well or poorly they are made. The foundation skills necessary for making jewellery  are no longer required to make art jewellery, or so it would seem.  Some groups will tell you that a piece of art jewellery need not function as jewellery at all, as long as the intention exists.  Many artists no longer think enough about who or if anyone will ever wear their jewellery, which has led to a complete disconnect with the wearer.  Artists no longer produce jewellery for people to wear, but rather to build portfolios and develop their own artistic identities.  The wearer or end user has been erased from the equation, and herein lies another one of our critical dilemmas.  Jewellery is something that people need to have a very personal and individual connection with, much more so than art which is generally intended for a broader public audience.  Finding a happy medium can often be the biggest challenge when making art jewellery and must at least begin with a desire to do so. 
 
 
1 Professional Jeweller - Jan 23, 2015, by Sarah Louise Jordan
http://www.professionaljeweller.com/article-15570-why-birmingham-is-boosting-the-jewellery-industry/
 
The New York Times - Dec 4, 2014, by Nina Siegal
http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/05/style/international/ted-noten-jewelry-artist-brings-macabre-art-to-miami.html?_r=1
 
3 Art Jewelry Forum - Dec 23, 2013, by Ward Schriver
http://www.artjewelryforum.org/conference-fair-reviews/the-sieraad-fair-in-amsterdam
 
 
 

About the author

Over the last decade Canadian jewelry artist and goldsmith Ezra Satok-Wolman has been active in the jewelry world, establishing a presence in North America, Europe and Asia.  Having studied extensively in Canada and Italy, learning from the masters of the trade, he continues to preserve the practice of classical goldsmithing in his work.  Combining his passion for traditional techniques and contemporary art, Ezra has managed to successfully create a unique and identifiable style. He has received numerous awards and accolades for his work, and participated in international exhibitions and competitions over the years, including Beijing, Milan and Shanghai Design Week events, The Friedrich Becker Prize, The Niche Awards and The A’ Design Award
 
Appreciate APPRECIATE