Remain Open for Impulses to Define Your Own. About Critique. Interview with Julia Wild

Interview  /  CriticalThinking   CarolinDenter   JuliaWild
Published: 27.01.2020
Julia Wild Julia Wild
Carolin Denter
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From the first seven interviews about critique, we received many answers and ideas. But more important: more questions came up. We go into a 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 eight interview of our new series about critique, we talk with Julia Wild who studied History and German Studies at the Ruprecht-Karl University in Heidelberg and has been a research assistant and lecturer at Trier University of Applied Science's Department of Gemstones and Jewellery since 2010.
Julia, you are not a jewellery artist but you are confronted with contemporary jewellery every day in your role as a teacher at the University of Applied Sciences Trier, Gemstone and Jewellery at the Campus Idar-Oberstein. I think that your background gives you a fresh view of the field. Please give us an insight on your approach on how to deal with criticism, beeing critical and critique. How is your personal understanding of these three terms and in which situations you give or receive them?
Thank you very much for using this platform to deal with the topic of critical thinking and for starting a discourse on it. I think this is very important, not only for the jewellery sector but also as an impulse to think in general about what criticism can mean in our society today.

I think it's wonderful to talk your head off, to discuss, to argue about things. Questioning and analysing a context, trying to identify the interests of the participants and to deal with other perspectives are special moments for me, both professionally and privately. Perhaps this is due to my background. Because analysing the past, from the perspective of the present, is one of the tasks of a historian. It is a critical approach that strives for objectivity by using tools of analysis, but also always remains subjective because it is guided by one's own point of view.

I have always found it very stimulating to experience a different perspective, whether in conversation or through the examination of an article, book or work of art. By critically questioning another opinion and receiving a reaction to it, by allowing criticism to be directed at me, I get the chance to review my opinion, to take over approaches from criticism if necessary, or at least to bring my arguments more clearly to the point.

I, therefore, feel it as a loss that, in my opinion, a critical discourse has become more difficult in today's world and is being replaced by identity discourses in which questions of demarcation are increasingly at issue - "do you belong to me or not, are you part of my group or not, do you like me or not" - and less about the exchange of ideas.

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?
More, more, more...The critical discourse is important and I think there is still too little of it in the field of contemporary jewellery. Only in critical exchange can categories of judgment beyond personal taste be established. But for this, we first need a diversity of approaches, opinions. These are already articulated by the artists in their objects but are still too little taken up by authors and curators independent of the jewellery makers. And I emphasize diversity here. By making the different positions clearer, comparing and evaluating them, the general and the particular are more clearly distinguished, the criteria and limits of the individual approaches are defined, which also opens up new possibilities.

One might ask oneself why critics who are not jewellery creators are needed for this? Surely the jewellery object should be able to speak for itself? The artist's view is different from that of the critic or art historian. This is not necessarily more objective, but it brings other criteria of evaluation with it. The view from outside and the confrontation with it can help to define oneself and above all to find answers to questions: Have I articulated, achieved what I wanted in the material? Where do I stand? What constitutes my art? With whom do I compare myself? What distinguishes quality for me? How and in what way is quality defined in my field?
This creates a discourse among jewellery makers and, beyond that, with the critics, which creates a conceptuality, a language, which makes it possible to exchange ideas with actors from other artistic fields. Only when I know who I am can I tell others what makes me special. Only when I confidently know the categories and criteria in my field can I recognize interfaces to other artistic fields and themes in the object and communicate them to the outside world. Sometimes I still feel there is too much shame in jewellery, one peers a little enviously at so-called art, moves away from design, does not want to be degraded by fashion. And before one ventures into these areas - which are also very fluid and increasingly borderless - it seems as if one prefers to stay by oneself.

Criticism and the confrontation with it can help to say: Yes, I make jewellery, this is where I come from, my roots, this is what I want to do. Jewellery takes various positions. The object to be considered has emerged from the context of jewellery, but it is an open work of art, it has many levels, which can also be inspiring for the fine arts, design or fashion, and possibly addresses social issues that go far beyond the personal. Both the artist and the critic can analyse this object, point out and explain connections, each in his own way, one with an often intuitive, personal approach, the other with more distance. This creates a dialogue that can be enriching for everyone. But first, one must agree on a common language, sound out terminology, criteria and check them again and again for their validity in the discourse, be it through an exhibition, an article or a discussion at the work table.

  • First, one must agree on a common language, sound out terminology, criteria and check them again and again for their validity in the discourse, be it through an exhibition, an article or a discussion at the work table.

As stated in our previous interviews, there is critique involved in the process of making, but it is not a critique of oneself as a maker. It lies in the act of transforming a material by envisioning an alternative. How do you think we can strengthen a form of criticism, which supports the process of integrating jewellery to a bigger area, such as craft, art, environment (…), and what are the questions we should deal with?
In my opinion, the process of making should be the moment when you leave the artist alone with his piece. This actual artistic process is something very intimate, something worthy of protection, usually guided by intuition, and to intervene from the outside, to criticize it, can be something very delicate and destroy a lot.
In a school context or during an internship this is something different. For there, criticism is sought in the process. The students enroll in order to be accompanied in their artistic process and to reach the point where the actual criticism coming from outside should start: Namely, the question of whether the object communicates something, gets to the point, affects, and if so, why?

The question of the use of techniques and materials is only relevant for me in so far as they support the artistic statement. I think that if one breaks away from the focus on material and technique and makes the formal and thematic references clearer in the critical examination, the jewellery opens up for other areas as well. And I emphasize that by this I mean the discourse. The objects, which often meet high artistic standards, are already on the table and are represented in galleries and museums, or are worn. But how they are discussed, how they are criticized, can help to open this aesthetic world to other areas.

So there are different discourses: The question of what makes a good brooch is essential among jewellery makers and serves not only to improve the technical implementation but also to reflect on and reassure oneself: what do I want from my jewellery? Should it be worn or not (which is legitimate), can a pin be more than a technical connecting link? But the question of technical implementation is not necessarily of interest to the non-jeweller, but primarily the appearance of the entire piece. Whether it appears successful, is coherent in its statement or not. A non-functioning brooch can be a deliberate disturbance that is intended to stimulate reflection or carelessness that may not be relevant to the overall appearance but may perhaps overlay the statement. To evaluate this is the task of a critic: to shift the internal discourse to another level and, depending on the perspective, to develop different but transparent quality criteria.

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?
Through plurality. Allowing for polyphony. Being open to differences, but also to possibilities in jewellery. In comparison, to recognize one's own. Metaphorically speaking: writing jewellery in bold letters on the forehead, wearing it in the heart and going out. Seeing, hearing, talking, trying to find the common ground with the other. But also to understand the limits, to realize what makes you what you are. Remain open for impulses from outside to define your own.

How would you define the “contemporary” in contemporary jewellery? It’s rather a question of a calendar, a (post)historical condition or on the contrary, is the contemporary an always raising condition, a pure virtually. To conclude, why do you think we use the term “contemporary” instead of “modernity” (as an easy escape route, as Pravu Mazumdar suggested in a previous interview) Which words would you like to use, to define the jewellery we are talking about, and why?
The use of the word "contemporary" not only in jewellery, but also in art, testifies that we are in an unidentified time, in an in-between state, limbo. The expression has no content-related attribution beyond the designation of the pure "here and now". Every human expression was contemporary in its time. This term stands outside a definition, a critical, evaluative approach. In addition, jewellery refers to something as contemporary which has a certain historicity and has existed for three generations.
The term "modernity" is certainly no longer appropriate since modernity stands for a break with tradition. If one follows this definition, after the transition of modernity into postmodernism, we find ourselves rather in a time of anti-modernity, marked by a longing for clear identities, traditions, simplifications, of a world perceived as too complex and seemingly unstable. But no name has yet been found for our time.

In jewellery, I follow Marjan Unger, who was skeptical of designations such as author, studio or art jewellery. She suggested the term "gallery jewellery" because it refers to the place that represents an interface between artist and wearer. The gallery is where communication about jewellery is made and this with a view to a wider public. A further possible term would be "academic jewellery", since the formal orientation of jewellery and the reflection on it is largely determined by the international universities and the jewellery artists teaching there. But perhaps one should simply go back to the origins and speak of jewellery. Aware that there are many different kind in jewellery, many divergent terms, depending on the context and the subjects dealt with.

  • The use of the word "contemporary" not only in jewellery, but also in art, testifies that we are in an unidentified time, in an in-between state, limbo. The expression has no content-related attribution beyond the designation of the pure "here and now".

Peter Deckers said critics are a link in the jewellery discourse chain, an important community connection, a voice that brings the audience into the exhibitions. Could you tell us more about how you share your critical thoughts, good or bad, and where you find a safe space to communicate them?
I think, in contrast to the artistic creative process, critical discourse does not need a secure space. On the contrary, for me, the counter-argument is very important, essential. Only then I can check, improve, develop my argumentation.

For me, one of the best opportunities is to be there when an exhibition is set up, to see the pieces, to be able to touch them, to talk to the artists and later to discuss with the visitors, to perceive the jewellery through their eyes and to convey the world of the artist. When I talk to a visitor about the exhibited pieces of jewellery, I learn something about the perception of the pieces and often only in exchange do I realize what I understand, what I can and cannot comprehend and why this is so. Alone, without the discussion, I would certainly also have come to a critical result, but a much more one-dimensional one.

What are the leading publications and critical thinkers driving the debate about contemporary jewellery in your country? Please explain to us shortly, what do you appreciate about them.
Majan Unger was and still is a beacon for me. I appreciate her thinking, that she had a pointed opinion, critically dealt with the jewellery scene in the best sense. She had something that used to be called ‘esprit’. Her lectures were and her texts continue to be inspiring and stimulate reflection, trigger you, demand a position.

The visit of "Schmuck" certainly influences my perception of jewellery to a high degree. Even though it is now almost a mass event and the desire for more curated exhibitions is growing in me from year to year, the freedom to be able to present yourself and your work also offers a lot of creative potentials. It is a great opportunity to see almost the entire diversity in jewellery in its three-dimensionality, from the lowest to the highest quality, subjectively or objectively judged. Here one can try to find out by viewing and talking about it if there is a general trend, a theme, which many jewellery pieces reflect at this particular time and what makes the singularity of some pieces of jewellery.

I consider large overview exhibitions as important for communication to the outside world, but also with regard to the definition of criteria internally, those which also have an historical approach and show not only contemporary works, most recently exhibitions such as "Medusa" in Paris or "Unexpected Pleasures" in London, but also not to forget Graham Hughes' first major exhibition, "The International Exhibition of Modern Jewellery" in 1961. The last dates back a long time, but even then, the emphasis was not only on putting together the exhibition but also - as with the other two examples mentioned - on a publication that stimulates reflection, discussion and provides a basis for debate. These kinds of publications build bridges to people beyond their own time (as in my case with Hughes) or outside the jewellery scene and lay a basis for integrating them into a debate about jewellery.

Last but not least: Symposia such as "Schmuckkdenken" and "Zimmerhof", but also many other gatherings of jewellery makers such as in Turnov and Kremnica, or symposia that are perhaps only held once, on a special occasion. For me, they are especially important because of their internal effect. They initiate debates within the jewellery scene, but at the same time try to open up connections to other areas. Perfect places to find a common language about different things.

Critical thinking is defined as the process of forming judgments based on the objective analysis of factual evidence - with analysis being rational and skeptical as well as an independent and unbiased evaluation as Theo Smeets stated in his interview about critique. On the other hand, there are events such as the german Zimmerhof Symposium, which was titled „ We are family“, pointing out, that the jewellery world is like a family. Many people experience that all private, social and professional contacts they have, are built on „friendship“ or family-like structures. This seems to be controversial. How do you experience to manage the balancing act between the requirement of beeing professional under these circumstances, and how do you experience it in your surrounding?
Family and friendship structures can help if you are uncertain, faltering as an artist. They can catch you. Even within these structures, critical discourses are held, but they are different, more personal, sometimes more radical, sometimes more gentle, different, not better, not worse. But within them, there can be the danger of narrowness and the potential for uncritical self-affirmation.

So there are two sides to the coin. One should try to use one side and avoid the other. This is certainly not an easy task in a relatively small scene. Therefore, it would be welcome if more critics and curators from outside would bring some discomfort to the scene. People unafraid of breaking up these structures, who pay attention neither to animosities nor ties. As they then leave, not sharing the workshop or the apartment. This would help to define an inside and outside, the protected area of friendship-family exchange and the outside, where other questions are asked, other contexts are defined. Which are not more truthful, just different.

Since we all, as artists, brands or institutions, start using social media more and more for self-marketing purposes, it seems to me that self-reflection, self-critics and empathy are disappearing more and more. As most of us know, we have the possibilities to „block“ any person on your channels, which do not agree with us. I get the impression, that people use this, to create their own little online Utopia. Do you think, that this behavior and the censored contents of social media make us less capable of dealing with criticism? Or could it be a new way of being a critic?
Social media are seductive, the wolf in sheep's clothing. There are positive and negative aspects here too: positive is the ease with which you can connect, exchange, follow current social and artistic movements, depending on your interests. I use social media as a daily newspaper to get very specific information in the morning. This would be immensely time-consuming if I had to call up each gallery and artist individually. But I also use groupings to slip under the algorithms. I find this problematic on Instagram, for example, even though it's much more visually pleasing than Facebook, but there I'm more subject to algorithmic selection.

In general, I would describe those social media filters as something, which control our perception and change our aesthetic preferences through the daily visual flooding of image. It would be worth investigating the effect of the two-dimensional on working in the three-dimensional. But this can be discussed and also counteracted; I find the isolation into homogeneous groups and the handling of otherness, which often leaves behind any measure of decency, to be socially much more problematic. Being critical does not mean to insult and degrade someone. This kills any conversation, destroys the flow of ideas. For a long time, this kind of anti-discourse was limited to comments in the virtual world, but increasingly we live in a society where "you are allowed to speak your mind". This is important and a legitimate claim, but it should not be accompanied by hatred and denigration, but by arguments that may be controversial but should be factual.

Find out more about Julia Wilds's writings at 

About the Interviewee

Julia Wild (b. 1970) has been a research assistant and lecturer at Trier University of Applied Science's Department of Gemstones and Jewellery since 2010. She studied History and German Studies at the Ruprecht-Karl University, Heidelberg. Her main focus is on topics such as ritual and symbolic communication and the investigation of jewellery as a social phenomenon.

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.