It really touches on the roots of why we as individuals make jewelry
and why people wear jewelry, and the relationship of jewelry to
other art forms. And the really big question from a practical
vantage, who is our customer and why do they want our stuff?
In our culture, apart from jewelry which identifies life changes or
affiliations (wedding rings, class rings,) I would guess that the
majority of people wear jewelry at least in part as a conspicuous
display of wealth, for the purpose of establishing social status.
For such people, it is important that the materials composing the
jewelry be “precious,” i.e., expensive, and more importantly,
immediately recognizeable as such to others. Thus, gold, platinum,
diamonds, rubies, etc are preferred over silver, copper, agate, etc.
Lesser-known but still expensive stones are dark horses in this
race, since although an educated customer may understand their
value, the stones don’t scream “expensive” to most onlookers, and
conspicuous display of wealth is all about its effect on onlookers.
Particularly for those of us who make jewelry as art or as a mode of
self-expression, conspicuous display of wealth may not enter into
the equation. If, for example, I have chosen to express my aesthetic
by setting beach glass in acrylic, absent some incredible marketing
trick, my work will probably not go over well with those who wear
for conspicuous display of wealth. The good news is, in this
situation all of the makers of “bling” are not my competition, any
more than a Corvette is competition for a Hummer. We are in this
case appealing to different audiences buying to satisfy different
There is a phenomenon related to the conspicuous consumption of
wealth, which is the conspicuous display of taste, originality,
cleverness, etc. People in some subcultures, particularly those
involved in the arts themselves, seek out jewelry specifically to
identify themselves as being in touch with a particular aesthetic,
and seek jewelry which is artsy, clever, original, out of the
mainstream in order to establish their status within the in-group.
Some people also actually purchase jewelry simply because it speaks
to them- something about the design, or the materials, resonates
with them personally, and they wear their jewelry as a form of
self-expression. Related to this is the phenomenon of jewelry as
fetish; jewelry which provides the wearer with a sense of
connection, perhaps connection to the natural world, or to the
spirit world, to the earth, to a tribal group, etc. These I think
are internal motivators, in contrast to the previously mentioned
motives which tend to be directed towards others.
So, the question reduces to, who is your audience and why do they
desire your work? Once you know the answer to that question, you
need to figure out what venues they frequent and how to appeal to
them. It is not as simple, I think, as “crafts vs fine arts.”
With regard to the issue of jewelry and art, it is maddening. I
think that two distinct groups have evolved, those who do art, and
those who talk about and pronounce judgement upon those who do art.
Both groups can be limited in perspective and trapped in cliche. For
example, I still hear jewelry extp;;ed by the latter group as
“challenging the concept of wearability.” The concept of wearability
has been challenged to death and beyond, both as pretentious conceit
and by unintentional poor design or execution. At best, making
unwearable jewelry is a simple resurrection of Dada (yawn.) Lets get
over it. Would we extoll the virtues of a sculptor whose works were
not balanced enough to stand and which fell over and broke? Would we
go gaga over paintings framed in such a way that they could not be
properly hung on a wall? Probably not.
Jewelry is looked down on by some elements of the fine arts
community, I think, because it does not “challenge the viewer,” in
the sense of iconoclasm or flouting convention. While challenging
the viewer is a legitimate end of artistic expression, it is by no
means the whole shootin’ match. Much of the world’s great art is
great not because it “challenges the viewer,” but because it offers
a fine insight into and rendering of light, of color, of form, etc.
All of these things can be found in jewelry as well.
My 2 cents, anyway.
Dos Manos Jewelry