Contemporary Jewelery as Art: A Philosophical Study

Book  /  Essays
Published: 15.05.2015
Contemporary Jewelery as Art: A Philosophical Study.
Ana Campos
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UAB - Universtitat Autónoma de Barcelona
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567 pages
Out of print

This PhD thesis was presented as a philosophy of contemporary jewellery. I analyse it as a world of reasons that are historically and contextually made possible. It proposes a specific identification regime that articulates ways of thinking and doing. It is a type of jewellery that distinguishes itself from other forms of art and other things / Ana Campos
The opening process that started with the Enlightenment opened many roads towards freedom, art and democracy, which can still be observed today, even if I consider that they change according to the context and along with history. Following Descartes, Kant introduces the concept of the reflective subject, the idea of an individual being able to think with his own mind and to judge by his own taste. Later, Kant introduces the aesthetic idea, a concept that points to the analysis of intentional metaphors contained in works of art, and towards the art of reflective nature. Here the reflection concerns both the author and the recipient. Following the introduction of this concept, today, several philosophers consider that we can all have aesthetic experiences where there is a dialogue with the works of art. This is possible if we decide to develop our reflective capacities (e.g. Jacques Rancière and Gerard Vilar). However, we have to recognise that there ought to be a discursive platform of philosophical and hermeneutic nature, one that accepts, in this case, that contemporary jewellery has created its own identity or matrix, one that leads to different claims, according to each jeweller.

This thesis is based on the principles inherited from Kant, the ones that are still relevant today if we accept pragmatic revisions such as the one proposed by Gerard Vilar in 2005 in his book Razones del Arte. Especially from the twentieth century – following Duchamp and particularly from the middle of this century – philosophers widely agree on the complexity inherent to defining a concept of art. In this respect, this thesis is based on a definition by Morris Weitz: art has an open texture, it is a concept that cannot be closed. We thus always expect that art will keep on presenting us with the unexpected, like extraordinary languages, far from the ordinary that resides in the real and common world. Nevertheless, artists criticise and transfigure the real world. They make statements about their contemporary world, communicating with us through means that transfigure them, using symbolic languages used by each artist.

I go back to the question of taste. Still today, we judge – we criticise – depending on our subjective taste. The reflection on art is changing towards reconsidering old questions of aesthetics as a philosophical discipline. The Critique of Judgment by Kant stands out. Kant looked at questions that had to do with aesthetic rationality, experience, judgment, taste, and common sense. As Gerard Vilar says, Kant considered those questions with a critical eye, just like the exercise of the faculty of judging appearances, their forms and their meaning. What Vilar pretends to investigate is what makes an object or any action, in certain circumstances, be experienced as a work of art. Or, as Kant said, that it be an “occasion” for an aesthetic judgment. Aiming at the construction of a philosophical discourse that enables the understanding of traditional art, modern art and contemporary art, one of Gerard Vilar’s important proposals is the rehabilitation of the perspective of the aesthetics against that of the philosophy of traditional art. So, beyond taste, we can consider quality, strength, or better, the power of a work of art with which we engage in a dialogue until we get to understand it. Meanwhile, we also discover that not everything is art.

Taste as a form of reason is problematic. Freedom of choice will, however, open other unforeseen paths that do not have anything to do with art or aesthetics, but rather with types of jewellery. Kant didn’t appreciate ornaments of any sort. If we associate jewellery with the development of modern mechanical arts — crafts, as named by the Enlightenment — we will see how it has been possible to gradually reconfigure it. Already in Kant’s time, and progressively during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, jewellery has become more democratic, and will later gain distance from fashions and other culturally meaningful fields.

Jewellery is a polysemic word, it refers to a multitude of signs, indices and various cultural, social or religious meanings. Since the beginning of the twentieth century, many Artists, already recognised as such, have also created jewellery. They hope to break or reconfigure traditional terroirs of art. In the middle of the twentieth century, embedded in a specific historical context, a different type of jewellery arises, independent from fashion and artist jewellery. This new type of jewellery corresponds to what I describe as contemporary jewellery, still, I could describe it as studio jewellery or author jewellery, etc. Contemporary is an ambiguous term, as we all know. But I make a parallelism between this term and contemporary art. It corresponds to self-conscious individuals who created a matrix of symbolic writing and critical languages, and who follow polemic paths created by each author. They are thus, unique.

Favoured by educational models that have evolved, these jewellers propose to consider, philosophically, a turn they have taken towards art. This type of jewellery gives continuity to a new jewellery, a vanguard born in the 1960s, when the opening of art also reached many areas of social and cultural life. A number of jewellers think jewellery as a possible carrier of free symbolic meanings, free from rules or subjections, order or grammar, exactly as contemporary art does. They reconfigure and oversize forms. Even if jewels are wearable, they don’t work to adorn the body, to embellish or aestheticize it. They symbolically refer to the body or argue about the body as they argue about other issues of life and the world depending on how those may touch their sensitivity. They propose reflective aesthetic experiences, as already stated by Kant.

Contemporary jewellery is a reflective art. This was my thesis. I interpret the logic of contemporary jewellery as a free aesthetic discourse that crossbreeds art and crafts. Intentions to communicate through creative discourses stand out, bringing reasoning and doing together, like a game disinterested in forms of power. First, they break a few principles of the Enlightenment, those that point at an intellectual type of Art (always written with a capital A) and arts, as crafts or manual arts. These jewellers decide to think with the hands, or to think in action, as defended by the environmentalist Denis Rougemont (1936), the jeweller Ramón Puig Cuyàs (2000) or the architects Campo Baeza (2007) and Juhani Pallasmaa (2009).

Through emancipated attitudes, among tense politics and between consensus and dissent, ways to share the sensitive are being formed on a perceptual platform, constituted as a discursive and learning arena. This arena is a world of reasons that has built a matrix for a type of jewellery that is different from its contemporaries. In it, we can find crossbreeding and anti-totalitarian attitudes. These jewellers simultaneously want and do not want to be included in processes common to the traditional terroir of art. Contemporary jewellery does not copy other forms of art. It has its own intentions and pursues contemporary perspectives. It distinguishes itself from other forms of art for it creates tangible metaphors and sometimes it is wearable.

This PhD thesis was presented as a philosophy of contemporary jewellery. I analyse it as a world of reasons that are historically and contextually made possible. It proposes a specific identification regime that articulates ways of thinking and doing. It is a type of jewellery that distinguishes itself from other forms of art and other things.

Key words: Jewellery, typology of jewellery, education in process, democracy, art, crafts, art autonomy, intersections of contemporary art, fusion, autonomy of art, heterogeneity, world of reasons, intentions, interpretation, symbolic creativity and symbolic communication, from disorder to dis-order, perceptive platform, aesthetic experience, the institutional world contemporary jewellery.

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About the author

Ana Campos was born in Porto, Portugal, 1953. She is a jewellery designer, lecturer and was the coordinator of the Jewellery Art BA course and of the Post Graduation course at ESAD - Academy of Art and Design, in Matosinhos, Portugal (1995-2013).

She graduated in Communication Design at Fine Art Faculty, Porto University. She studied jewellery design at Ar.Co in Lisbon, and later post-graduated at the Massana School in Barcelona, with a scholarship from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation, Lisbon. Her post-graduate studies in Intercultural Relations at the Open University in Porto led to a Masters Degree in Visual Anthropology. Following this last, her Master dissertation, presented in 2000, is entitled Sky and Sea: Ramón Puig, actor in a new jewellery scenario. The anthropologist José Ribero supervised it.
In November 2014, she presented her PhD studies in philosophy at UAB, Barcelona Autonomous University. The philosopher Gerard Vilar supervised it. This thesis is entitled Contemporary jewellery as art: a philosophical study. In both her Master and PhD studies, she received the highest possible mark, concerning the mentioned universities: Master – Very Good; PhD – Excellent.

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