Is Beaded Jewelry Art? If The Critics Say It’s Not … What Does That Say About Me?
The other day, I looked up some quotes that Art Critics and Art Theorists have had to say about beaded jewelry and jewelry artists. What do you think?
“Anything done with beads is not art.”
Here the art critic equates “beads/beadwork” with the canvas of a painting, and not the painting itself. To the critic, beads are merely decoration. In this point of view, it is impossible to use beads in any way so that the finished project would be seen as art.
“Beading speaks for that branch of culture which is too homey, too functional, too archaic, for the name of ‘art’ to extend to it.”
To this reviewer, art is associated with clarity of choice and purpose, a sense of presence, and the evoking of an emotional response (or unleashing psychological content). To this reviewer, these kinds of things are not associated with beadwork and jewelry. In fact, to this reviewer, they can never be. Thus, beadwork and jewelry are not “art.”
“Beading as Art Brut — The work of children, asylum patients, and others untouched by artistic culture.”
My local paper in Nashville — The Tennessean — refuses to cover anything that is not fine art in their art pages. Many galleries and museums refuse to display bead art, often justifying this by saying there is no audience for bead art.
“Objects may only be valued as ‘art’ if they have a link to the academic setting.”
Many galleries and art critics only recognize the art of those artists with formal credentials. The reputation of the schooling of the artist is directly related to the judged “artistic” value of their work. However, there really are very few academic programs in beading/jewelry making. These are mostly involved with technical training, rather than theory and investigation. There are no professional journals where ideas and theories are proposed, discussed, tested and proven. In this model, beaders/jewelry makers stand little chance of getting judged as true artists.
“An object is ‘art’ if someone is willing to pay for it as ‘art’.”
In this sense, making a distinction between craft and art, or trying to blur the distinction between craft and art, becomes irrelevant. Within this definition, a lot of what gets sold as beadwork and jewelry, which many people would not value as ‘art’, will get included within the concept. When a piece of jewelry can get labeled as ‘art’, and retain this label, it becomes more valuable. It can sell for more. More people will indicate that it is good, rather than not good. It (and the artist) have more power.
“There’s nothing conceptual about jewelry. It’s mere hedonism.”
Jewelry is seen as visual spectacle. There are no self-reflective qualities to jewelry. There is no artist’ hand involved in its creation.
It seems that the more beadwork mimics painting or sculputre, the more it gets acceptable as ‘art’. A beaded tapestry or a beaded art doll is much more readily accepted as art, than jewelry.
“The object is ‘art’ if the object shows the artist’s process of conceptualization in its final form.”
Somehow, we must be able to recognize how the artist conceived of the piece, and how the artist implemented his/her conceptions. How did the artist tewst the limits of the materials — in this case, beads? How did the artist exploit the possibilities through the use of beads? How did the artist compose and design the piece?
Within this framework, all the parts of the jewelry — the center piece, the fringe, the strap, the bail, the surface embellishment — are critical to the appreciation of the jewelry as an object of art. Each of these elements of the piece of jewelry require the artist to exploit the possibilities of the material — the beads. Only with this fuller understanding of the piece in its entirety than Classical Art Theory would allow, can the artist, through the jewelry, create something where the whole is more than the sum of its parts. And this, then, is jewelry as art. In Classical Art Theory, the strap, fringe, bail would have to be seen to be subservient to the centerpiece.
Should I Still Call Myself An Artist…
…If The Critics Say I’m Not?
Classical Art Theory is often at odds with my self-image as a jewelry artist and designer. It often denies the very essence of my artistic being, relegating what I do to some secondary status. Who is more right, I often ask myself.
Classical Art Theory holds that if, when talking about a piece, you talk or focus to much on ‘technique’, your piece is not Art. It’s Craft.
Craft is seen as having nothing to do with aesthetics. It is merely a creative engagement with materials.
With paint, the technique to apply it, is seen as virtually irrelevant. What matters with painting is what it says, not how it was made.
If the sense of ‘technique’ supersedes an object of art’s ‘statement’, then the art is really craft, thus a failure… and an embarrassment. Craft is an affront to art.
Art is exploring the expressive qualities of the medium, stoking the imagination of its audience. In fact, crafters supposedly do not play to an audience; art does.
Art critics would want us to talk about beadwork or jewelry making without speaking about technique. With a minimal reference to functionality. With a focus on the central part of the piece, not its strap or fringe or other noncentral embellishment. Apart from our audience as they are wearing our pieces.
The prominence of these are critics and their ideas and beliefs are some of the key reasons people are more willing to pay $5,000 for a painting, but not for most beadwork. They are why these critics see something special about the artist, but nothing special after the craftsperson. There is the pernicious assumption that the jewelry maker does not have to exercise judgment, does not have to worry about presentation, does not need to bring a high level of care and dexterity to the project, uses technique but not really skill, and does not need to take many risks.
Of course, I don’t buy into any of these Classical Art Critics and what they have to say. I know I am an artist. I know my pieces should be judged as a whole, and judged as the pieces are worn.
It is the process of linking the technique to the materials that is “art.” A successful process of jewelry making and design requires an understanding of the intrinsic values of the materials. It requires an understanding of how to manipulate the materials to elicit a positive response from others. It is expressive, intuitive and evokes emotions. The critical focus is not on the techniques. The critical focus in on the linking of technique and material to create something that others emotionally interact with.
Thank you. I hope you found this article useful.
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Other Articles of Interest by Warren Feld:
SO YOU WANT TO BE A JEWELRY DESIGNER
Merging Your Voice With Form
PEARL KNOTTING…Warren’s Way
Easy. Simple. No tools. Anyone Can Do!
SO YOU WANT TO DO CRAFT SHOWS
16 Lessons I Learned Doing Craft Shows