Art Criticism Alters the Public's Perception of Aesthetics. About Critique. Interview with Eva Eisler

Interview  /  CriticalThinking   CarolinDenter
Published: 09.03.2020
Eva Eisler Eva Eisler
Carolin Denter
Edited by:
Edited at:
Edited on:

© By the author. Read Copyright.

From the first seven interviews about critique, we received many answers and ideas. But more important: more questions came up. We go into the second round of interviews and talk with people from the contemporary jewellery scene to answer questions about censorship, morality and what value criticism has towards the transformation of society.

In this tenth interview of our new series about critique, we talk with Prof. Eva Eisler, an internationally recognized sculptor, furniture, product and jewelry designer. Her work is represented in some of the world’s most prestigious museum collections, such as the Brooklyn Museum of Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Museum of Arts & Design in New York, the Smithsonian Institution - Renwick Gallery, Washington, Pinakothek der Moderne, Munich, and others. The body of her work includes architectural installations, public spaces and exhibition designs. Eisler is also a respected curator and educator.
We talk in this interview about criticism, being critical and critique. How is your personal understanding of these three terms?
Art does something different to different people. I see art as an open space which seems to have no confines. One can feel absolutely free or quite lost in there. Lots of people complain that they don’t understand art and what is it good for anyway. An art critic’s role is to tell them that it’s about an individual experience rather than understanding it. That we should look at the content, not the subject matter. And that art is part of a cosmic force, because it has been here since ever and it’s essential to our existence, love, understanding each other, humanity. And that art tells us things we didn’t know that we needed to know. The term Criticism means to some a negative review of the work that we are looking at, finding faults, and trashing its meanings and intentions. Some critics are bitter and exhibit sarcasm. Do not mind them. A good critic who loves art and artists is a true advocate of art, a good friend who writes reviews for the reader, not for the artist.    

Being critical? The paradox is that everything has two aspects – good vs. bad, light vs. dark, order vs. chaos… It’s important to see and understand things in a wider context and in being critical of something, we should show understanding of what we criticize, provide space for a dialogue and possibly offer a solution on how to make a change for the better. There should be a fair amount of criticism on a social and political platform against those who want to rule, oppress and manipulate. To give a critique is to analyze, to question, to challenge, to comment, to look at the work from all possible angles, and draw out the essence embedded in the material. To write a good critique is an art form of its own. 

In 2015 you curated SCHMUCK. In a former interview about this task you talked about the freedom of creation we are experiencing at this time that we are living in. Many jewellery makers insist on this freedom when it comes to their art, but on the other hand, creations of jewellery artists are often criticized for their wearability, durability, and choice of material. Do you think that rules or quality criteria would be useful?
I also wrote in that former statement that there are no limits, although one of the conditions of the Schmuck competition is to select so-called wearable pieces. Maybe this requirement goes way back to the founding fathers of Schmuck, although I do not think that people in the Fifties were challenging traditional ideas of jewellery as much as it is happening now. The world of jewellery is still quite isolated from the rest of the artistic media, for which reason some of the artists are crossing the boundaries in order to make a change and progress. But let’s not go too far if we want to stay within the field of jewellery. Today, in today’s world especially, we should take into consideration the responsibility for what we are making, out of what material. Let’s fight against materialism and consumerism, by creating sustainable and long-lasting meaningful works that shouldn’t be easily disposable like an out of fashion accessory. I see a piece of jewellery as a sculpture created for a human body moving through the space, respecting its context and characteristics, communicating with the surroundings.  If a piece of jewellery carries a strong message, then it can cultivate our environment just like any other art form.      

When do you think censorship starts?
It really depends on who is talking. I often sit-in on panels and juries, usually with people who are well informed in the field. Of course, everyone has his or her own opinion. How do you tell bad art from good art? For example, when I see a piece of jewellery completely out of the rank of my understanding and aesthetics, I am still able to recognize great qualities in terms of the integrity and strong ideas within the work or, after giving it serious thought admit that the work is shallow, made just for a cheap effect. The word censorship, however, should not be applied at all, unless there are strict rules set for specific or challenging reasons, but hopefully in a different world and a different time then the one we live in. 

You are very versatile in your work; you are not only a jeweller but also active in many areas. When you compare disciplines such as jewellery, fashion, and architecture, for example, what do you notice in terms of criticism or critical faculties?  Are there differences or do you think that one of the fields here is behind?
I’ll get to your question but let me say this first. Yes, through my working experiences I have had an opportunity to work with many people from various creative fields and production companies. Product design, graphics, furniture, exhibition design, and architecture are mostly collaborative work. As a designer, you have to be able to communicate your ideas clearly to the team which you have selected or are a part of, set the tempo, distribute tasks and follow up the process from the beginning to the end, like a conductor leading an orchestra. Working in the field of contemporary jewellery and art is a completely different story. You are usually alone in your studio, you are bossing only yourself, you have to fight your self-doubts and procrastination, and keep reminding yourself how lucky you are to be free to do what you love. On the other hand, nothing can beat the wonderful feeling of being immersed in complete concentration, in solitude only with your thoughts and being in touch with yourself.

Fashion? I am only active in fashion as a collector of mostly Japanese designers, or something with lasting quality and interesting sculptural property. It’s a good wearable display for jewellery. Overall, I am interested in this interdisciplinary approach to material, concept, and form, in a close relationship to design, architecture and contemporary art because I do not believe that one field ends here and the other starts there. By moving from one thing to another I am trying to prove that one can write a story by applying a form and material as a choice of a language. To answer your question, yes, each discipline has its own criticism and critical faculties. Each field attracts critics of different character. It seems to me though, that very seldom there is someone who truly understands how complex the inner structure of each discipline is and above all, how much it is connected to social, philosophical and psychological aspects.

We understand, there are many different ideas on how the contemporary jewellery world should handle critique and criticism. Some people think there is not enough, some people think there is no place for „loud critique“ anymore. Others wonder, who can be in the position of being a critic. What is your thought on this, where do you see chances and where are dead ends?
To tell you the truth, I read jewellery critiques very seldom. However, the contemporary jewellery world is a vast territory, rich in ideas and creativity, relying on human history and at the same time referring to what each of us as makers stand for in a social and cultural structure. There are many layers of important messages and meanings embedded in this very personal, body-related object. The question of who can be in the position of being a critic of contemporary jewellery? What about a well-educated social anthropologist, or a physicist with an interest in contemporary arts? Someone, who can understand all the connotations of the interconnectedness and the essence of the arts, compressed into a small size, with a huge density like a neutron star. There are specialists who write about cars, there are many magazines about cars, and fashion, a bit less about architecture and contemporary arts. We need an army of critics who would distribute knowledge about jewellery, its development throughout history, its transition into Modernism and eventually into what we call Contemporary. An army of skilled writers with a passion and ability to translate historians’ studies into a human language. 

Who do you think decides about quality and visibility in the world of contemporary jewellery?
Today it seems that it can be anyone who is active on social media or is subscribing to trendy culture or virtual space. Young people already live in a different world. They think. They don’t care about what the words quality, mission, dedication, devotion, responsibility, integrity, concentration and the love of the process of making means…What counts for them is five thousand likes on Instagram.
I hear it from my students. Young people do not like to step outside of their comfort zone, they need an illusion of an immediate success. Who decides about quality and visibility in the world of contemporary jewellery? It used to be a few galleries, the few strong advocates in the field, who worked very hard to educate the public about the importance and the development of contemporary jewellery as a part of the culture as a whole. Those who worked hard to be trusted and convinced people to eventually become serious collectors. Some are still there, slowly getting recognition at the contemporary art markets and art fairs, thank you, but as I hear, there are not too many new jewellery collectors among the younger generation.

Moral and normative ethics are questioned to be the basics of our theory of the society. Which role do you think morality plays in the field of criticism, and is criticism necessary for the transformation of society? 
First, we have to be honest with ourselves and realize that our priority is to fight for personal freedom and respect for each other. No bullshit, no pretention, no playing, no calculation. Nothing has changed in terms of ethics since time immemorial. Life is as simple as it has ever been. The key is the elimination of all the things that are not absolutely essential. Of course, the world is changing, we are being constantly challenged, but let’s take it in a positive way. The most important thing in life is to fight fears and to recognize the moment when someone is taking a stand to manipulate us or society. Criticism is important when we have a cause. This applies for an individual as well as for the community. Our goal is the search for truth and our right to be a fundamental link of the path we are on.  

How do you think, we can avoid the misunderstanding of criticism as a self judgmental practice, and to see it more as a fruitful, exploratory and descriptive thing? Please tell us more about how you share your critical thoughts, good or bad, and where you find a safe space to communicate them?
I live in a country where criticism or being critical is a national sport. The key is not to take ourselves too seriously, not to think that we are the center of the universe and only we are the victims of the cruelty of the world out there. Criticism, when applied in a negative way is counterproductive. On the other hand, nothing is ever perfect. It shouldn’t be, everything is in process. When consulting works of others, I often see preconceived ideas layered on top of each other and my role is to decipher where the person is heading. Usually, there are too many ideas crowded in one place. A declarative sentence is the key. Get to the point! Even if it’s clumsy, never mind. Just don’t waste time. Do not be afraid! Whatever we do, it should have balls. Do not try to explain yourself in your work. Let the others make their imagination work and participate. The work should provoke a dialogue…

What are the leading publications and critical thinkers driving debate about contemporary jewellery in your country? Please explain to us shortly, what do you appreciate about them.
Nothing much to report on this one. The graduates, after they leave school, conform to the taste of the customers in order to survive, instead of maintaining what they believe in without making a compromise. The good thing is that they form groups, they create a community and run the so-called Design Shops, although that is a completely different category. But I like that, and I am proud of them for working hard. After living in New York for 25 years I returned back to Prague with an idea to open a gallery where I would bring together all my interests – art, architecture, design and jewellery, to make people understand how important it is to see them in context and coexistence.
I accepted a position at the Academy instead and realized it would be impossible to do both. Now I tend to motivate Ph.D. students from the Department of the Theory at our Academy to take on such an idea. At least they should make a point of linking it all together in their studies and try to communicate it through their sources.

Now a question for the teacher you have been for over 40 years. In dealing with critical writing, there seems to be still a controversial aesthetic dynamic: Not only on academic platforms, but also in magazines and websites („general audience“ venues) seems to be a contradiction where academic writing is taken to be not only bothersome and difficult for audiences, but the accepted critical standard at the same time. Do you think, this can be part of the problem? Where do you see chances for a change?
Art criticism should not be pathetic. We all make aesthetic choices and judgements. We know when we like films or music, cars and shoes and we can say why. So why are we lost when it comes to art? Art criticism alters the public’s perception of aesthetics. When you take a child to a museum and ask him what he thinks, you get a surprisingly direct and almost metaphorical answer. A change can become visible if people start to think on their own. It needs a lot of eliminations and turning to your own heart for answers. Just be simple. While I am writing this, I am listening to the news which is full of warnings about coronavirus. Certain parts of the world are paralyzed, scared and heavily affected economically. We need less of everything, we need to simplify, we need to be humble and empathetic and start learning from nature once again.      

About the Interviewee

Eva Eisler was trained in architecture and self-taught in jewellery making. The internationally active artist (born 1952 in Prague / CZ), has been Head of the K.O.V. (concept, object, meaning) Studio at the Academy of Arts, Architecture, and Design in Prague since 2007. She gained a worldwide reputation as a painter, designer, interior designer, sculptor and architect. She lives and works between New York and Prague.

About the author

Carolin Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. From 2015 to 2016 she made an Internship as Content Manager at Klimt02 in Barcelona. In 2017 she graduated as Bachelor of Fine Arts in Gemstone and Jewellery at the University of Applied Science Trier, Campus Idar-Oberstein. After her graduation, she worked as Assistance at Campus Idar-Oberstein in the Gemstone and Jewellery Departement till the end of 2019. Since 2020 she is Digital Account Manager at Klimt02.