- Carolin Denter
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From the series of 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 more people from the contemporary jewellery scene to answer questions about censorship, morality and the value of criticism.
In this fifteenth interview of our new series about critique, we talk with Caroline Broadhead internationally renowned jewellery and object artist and former programme leader of the BA Jewellery Design Course at the Central School of Art and Design, London and now Professor Emerita there.
For almost 50 years you have been working as an artist. From 2009 to 2018 you were Course Leader of the BA Jewellery Design course at Central School Martins, London. That means you have many different insights and perspectives but also different positions in the world of criticism. You receive and give criticism. Please give us an insight into your approach on how to deal with criticism, being critical and critiqued. What is your understanding of these three terms?
Firstly, I’ll speak from a tutor’s point of view. Criticism is sometimes seen as a problematic word as it has negative connotations, so one of the tasks when teaching is to establish criticism as a process that is something constructive and valuable. It is used to raise questions, challenge and provoke thinking. Encouraging an openness to criticism as a process to advance and improve work by each student is fundamental. However, it is important to recognise that critical thinking and analysis is just one element in the act of creation such as intuition, unconscious thinking and pleasure are equally important and each play a part at different times. During tutorials, the first role of criticism is supporting students through discussions about intentions, processes, choices, and decisions in order to clarify and strengthen their position. Talking about possibilities and points of reference you are looking to the future. The second role of criticism in a teaching role is when it comes to making judgements for assessments, one has to examine what work is present, what has been achieved at a particular point in time, as opposed to what one considers its potential.
When you put your work in a public space, you have to acknowledge that the audience for that work will have an opinion, good, bad or indifferent, and that they may share their views with others. Being critiqued is a part of professional life. In terms of receiving criticism of my own work, before I show work publicly I will sometimes ask the opinion of people I trust. I welcome this opportunity which gives me a chance to hear a response which doesn’t always align with what I'm thinking. Discovering the views of others both in this situation and in more public situations through reviews, for instance, is refreshing, illuminating, and offers a different perspective.
- It is difficult to generalise about students’ ability to be criticised, some are very hungry for discussion and direction and use that process as a stepping-off point, while others are maybe over-reliant on the opinions of others and others are more self-sufficient.
How did you experience changes in the world of contemporary jewellery and the education system in the past decade? Do you see any changes in qualities and/or the abilities to be criticised?
I’m not sure of the changes over the last ten years, but since I left college many decades ago it is noticeable that the consideration of the ideas and views of individual students has become much more important and there are less assumptions about what direction or career path a student might want to take and so the criteria that work is judged on is therefore wider and includes the identification, acknowledgement and encouragement of a more diverse skill set. The dialogue between staff and students is less rigid and top-down and more supportive and orientated towards each individual. I always saw my role as a mentor rather than someone who had all the answers. It is difficult to generalise about students’ ability to be criticised, some are very hungry for discussion and direction and use that process as a stepping off point, while others are maybe over-reliant on the opinions of others and others are more self-sufficient. Pastoral care is important, a recognition that students sometimes have life problems which impact upon their progress.
- Both art and art criticism reflect an individual’s opinion, position or interest and both are motivated by different reasons, whether cultural, aesthetic, personal, social, commercial or professional.
"Art criticism is massively produced and massively ignored, just as art itself", says James Elkins in his book "What happened to art criticism?". One of the main causes of this situation might be the so-called “academisation” of critical thinking. Considering that, what institutional changes would you like to induce?
I would agree with Elkin’s quote. There is a lot of art, and jewellery, produced which in turn can elicit criticism. Each endeavour, both art and criticism, will claim attention and require time and thought on the part of their audiences, so it is inevitable that some will get missed or ignored. The question implies a failure of teaching at university level, or at best a narrowing of focus in writing about art. While I don’t have any direct experience of this type of approach, I do think there is a difference between the way fine arts and work that has emerged from a design or craft tradition, such as jewellery, is discussed. This work has grown from a more tangible base, and its context and therefore discussions around it are different. There is a strand of writing which is very dense and sometimes hard to understand, but I have always admired experts who can use words in a way that can communicate complex ideas in language that is accessible.
Both art and art criticism reflect an individual’s opinion, position or interest and both are motivated by different reasons, whether cultural, aesthetic, personal, social, commercial or professional. I think the best critiques of art (or jewellery) are when the critic attempts to enter the world of the artist and allows the work to adjust their perspective. It takes openness, thought, effort and time.
Critical thinking is highly valued but difficult to teach effectively. What do you think, how is it best taught?
Encouraging analysis and critical thinking on a making course is a slow process. It is not something that is expected to have an immediate effect, it is a practice which needs to be reiterated and in many different ways over a period of time, with the aim that it will percolate down to someone’s thinking in the future and become second nature. It is a way of exercising the way a brain works for it to become a life practice. On leaving university, the opportunity to discuss one’s work and receive honest and thoughtful responses, is not always available, so practicing critical analysis, questioning and reflecting on one’s work during university is a step towards self-reliance. It is best to teach critical thinking in a variety of ways, most importantly by example, through discussion which is supportive and constructive, and then through formal demands of critiquing their own and others’ work, orally and in written form. Students have essays to write where critical thinking is valued more highly than descriptive texts. They are encouraged to ask questions at lectures, seminars and other sessions. If there is a culture of “there’s no such thing as a stupid question” then there is less fear of being made to look foolish or embarrassed.
- It is best to teach critical thinking in a variety of ways, most importantly by example, through discussion which is supportive and constructive, and then through formal demands of critiquing their own and others’ work, orally and in written form.
A couple of ways in which we introduced elements of criticism, firstly, at the final assessment of the BA Jewellery Design course, students presented a document which honestly examined what each of their works had achieved, what had been learned in the process, what could have been improved and what further developments each might prompt. Secondly, we established a collaboration with another course at Central Saint Martins, BA Culture, Criticism and Curation (CCC). Towards the end of the final year, each jewellery student was assigned a CCC student and after a number of sessions and tutorials, the CCC student produced a very short interpretation about the jewellery student’s work. This text was included in the catalogue and also displayed at the graduation show. The advantages of this collaboration were multiple: the dialogue the jewellery student had with their counterpart, having to explain their work and potentially also the context of contemporary jewellery; the tutorials they shared with the BA Culture, Criticism and Curation tutor, a professional journalist and reviewer; the CCC students’ texts were promoted publicly; and the audience gained from having more background to the work both n print and at the graduation show.
You‘ve spent a lot of time investigating contemporary jewellery, both as Jeweller and as Professor. What criteria do you use in judging art?
My job as a tutor what to judge contemporary jewellery rather than fine art. At Central Saint Martins, we used a formal list of criteria to assess the students’ work, such as the quality and extent of research from a variety of sources, creative risk taking, independent thinking and so on. This list was common to all courses at the same level and used in order to achieve parity and consistency across the college. In the end, the generic criteria identified elements that added up to what one hopes for from any creative output - something that transmits a sense of surprise, delight, enthusiasm, energy, a bit of magic to inspire, to elicit a train of thought, a potent or poignant response or which offers the possibility of knowledge or understanding of someone else’s view of the world.
- I’ve written a few essays for books and catalogues and my position is one that offers a personal response to people’s work that I particularly appreciate.
Looking at the history of art criticism, we witness a constant change of the field. From the archaic to a more admiring observer, who looks at the work and contextualises it. How do you position yourself within this archetypical spectrum?
Occasionally I have used my position of tutor and practitioner, as a platform to commentate on the work of others. I’ve written a few essays for books and catalogues and my position is one that offers a personal response to people’s work that I particularly appreciate. With these opportunities, I give myself some time to consider the work carefully and I note and examine my responses. Putting these into words is a slow process which allows for opinions and associations to emerge and through writing and rewriting, reading and rereading, the aim is to give a clear and concise account of how I interpret the work. I have sometimes curated exhibitions, jewellery exhibitions such as New Tradition, British Crafts Centre (1984) and Then and Now at Marsden Woo Gallery (2007) and in those instances I identified certain current thinking and concerns and offered an overview of what I saw happening across the field. This was about observing, digesting and finding a line of enquiry though a huge amount of possibilities and finally selecting a presentation that aimed to offer an insight into current practice and to make sense to an audience, who were coming to it for the first time. More recently, I co-curated with Mark Dunhill, The Size of Thoughts exhibition at White Conduit Projects Gallery (2019), where the theme was the power of small scale, presenting jewellery and small sculptures together.
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” any more. Others wonder, who can be in the position of being a critic. What are your thoughts on this, where do you see opportunities and where are dead ends?
From a practitioner’s point of view, it is welcome to receive attention and feedback, positive and negative, about exhibited work. It is more welcome when the response is thoughtful, considered and time has been taken to see the work from criteria that is evident and which is communicated well. Everyone who is witness to a piece of art or jewellery will have an opinion about it, which is valid. To publish or make that opinion public is a responsibility. When that opinion is by someone who’s been looking carefully at a lot of work in the field/s, someone who has assimilated many other approaches and ideologies and who might offer an insight into a maker’s previous works, a wider history, connections between other art forms and so on, this will clearly carry more weight and influence than others. It is fair that the critic’s position is clearly stated and they declare any issues the text is addressing. There is conflict when a critic judges work on criteria that are important to themselves but not necessarily important or appropriate to the artist or jeweller.
- The advantage of having more discussion, interpretation, criticism in the field of jewellery is, of course, to draw attention to excellent practice, to gain a wider audience, for the work be taken more seriously, and to secure a legacy, a place in history.
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 jewelry into a bigger area, such as craft, art, environment (…), and what are the questions we should deal with?
How can we strengthen criticism in order to widen the scope of jewellery? In terms of progress, over the last fifty years or so the debate has expanded significantly. At the start of my career, the reviews and articles were a bit patronising, reporting this jewellery as ‘fun’ and how it did not compare well with ‘real’ jewellery. There is now a much larger and widespread audience and the community of contemporary jewellers has grown enormously, as well as the number of books, catalogues, and activities such as exhibitions, public collections, fairs, jewellery weeks and conferences. So, this development is positive.
The advantage of having more discussion, interpretation, criticism in the field of jewellery is, of course, to draw attention to excellent practice, to gain a wider audience, for the work be taken more seriously, and to secure a legacy, a place in history. In terms of how criticism could support the process of integrating jewellery into a bigger area, this raises more questions. How can the subject of jewellery contribute to, make associations with or raise consciousness of these wider issues? Does criticism follow the practice of jewellery or can it play a part in directing its purpose and concerns?
Serious world issues seem at first to be at odds with the traditional notions of what jewellery stands for. But I think widening the agenda for jewellery has already started. There are students as well as professional jewellers whose concerns for the environment, the political situation, the wastefulness and dubious sources of materials, and these concerns are coming through in their work. Ideas about what society values or undervalues are profoundly felt and as jewellery is about what is valued at a personal level, it is a good area to explore these questions. Jewellers, curators, collectors and critics can all identify the most urgent themes for today and present those publicly for focus and inspiration. All these people have to consider the areas they want to concentrate on, to establish their speciality. Bringing things to light is the way to introduce these themes to the conversation and for the next generation too.
How do you think we can avoid the misunderstanding of criticism as a self-judgmental practice, and see it more as a fruitful, exploratory and descriptive thing?
How you understand criticism comes from example, experience and education.
From a makers’ point of view, a lack of confidence in the value of what you are doing can mean any adverse criticism is felt more deeply. An ability to be objective, to feel a sense of distance from your own work, can be beneficial. In the wider arena, there is a need for people who are motivated and prepared to put in continuous effort to create opportunities for discussions about the subject, to bring people together who are knowledgable, articulate, open minded and interested in the breadth of the subject.
Peter Deckers said critics are a link in the jewelry 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 agree with Peter Deckers’ remark, it is very useful to have a written interpretation to inform an audience about someone’s work and which can also provide a record of it for the future. On the whole, my critical thoughts are usually shared privately, I don’t feel the need to share further unless it is in a professional capacity, as a tutor or a commissioned writer.
What are the leading publications and critical thinkers driving the debate about contemporary jewellery in your country? Please explain to us briefly what you appreciate about them.
Information about the jewellery scene here comes through Crafts magazine, Findings, the magazine of the Association of Contemporary Jewellery, exhibitions catalogues, and websites such as Art Jewelry Forum and Klimt02. My feeling is that debates are driven by conferences, lectures and other arenas, which seem to be mainly in Europe. Where people get together to share and exchange views at such events as Munich Jewellery Week, Zimmerhof Jewellery Symposia, Jewellery Matters symposium at the Rijksmuseum, the sense of energy is palpable. The Crafts Council plans to reopen its gallery in London next year which will hopefully invigorate conversations in the UK.
Where does censorship start for you?
Censorship is a tricky one. It can have the opposite effect and draw attention to something that might have gone unnoticed otherwise. I am thinking of Simon Costin’s Incubus necklace, one that had phials of sperm where you might expect gemstones to have been set. In 1987 it was impounded from the gallery by the police and so gained enormous notoriety.
About the IntervieweeCaroline Broadhead’s work centres around objects which come into contact and interact with the body, and include collaborations and performance work. Some pieces are intended to be worn and changed through touch and movement and other works have explored the outer extents of the body through light, shadow and reflection.
Caroline has lectured, taught and exhibited widely and her work is represented in many public collections worldwide. A recent book, published by Arnoldsche, and a retrospective exhibition at CODA Museum, Netherlands showcased work spanning four decades. Other acknowledgements include: Jerwood Prize for Applied Arts: Textiles, 1997; Textiles International Open, 2004, and The Goldsmiths Craft & Design Council Lifetime Achievement Award, 2017.
Recently retired as Course Leader, BA Jewellery Design at Central Saint Martins, she is now Professor Emerita there.
About the author
Carolin Denter completed her training as Goldsmith at Master School for Craftsmen in Kaiserslautern in 2013. 2015 she made an Internship 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.
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