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Jewelry as expression beyond wealth and status


#1

Hello,

I am dealing with the theory that jewelry is a form of expression
beyond display of wealth and status. There are a lot of books out
there that take this as a given for studio jewelry from 1940’s to
today and are disjointed and aporic as to a why but…

Is there a source that postulates Why this change came about in a
whole social sense? Also is there a source that speaks of how that
expression has changed and evolved over the last 70 years?

I can find snippets but nothing concrete. Google has been no help
because I don’t seem to have the right keywords… Any help would be
great!

Thank you for everyone’s help in advance.
Rae


#2

While THE wealth and status parts are obvious, I personally think
that the first reason for jewelry is sexual notice. It draws the
attention to the sexual features that are seen as significant at the
time.

Since we don’t have plumage, jewelry serves in its stead.


#3

Hi Rae:

Many moons ago (1992-93) I looked into doing my MFA thesis on
aspects of the social symbology of jewelry. Gave up because I
couldn’t find much that wasn’t gibberish.

Look into semiotics and material culture, but beware that the
semioticians in particular are a precious little bunch. Very taken
with the notion of their own erudition, without much to back it up.
(Translation: they’ll do their best to baffle you with
incomprehensible BS, and then claim you misunderstood them when you
figure out that it was BS.) I hope there’s been some new and better
writing since I looked into it. Lord knows the field could use it.

Regards,
Brian Meek.


#4

My take on this, is that cell phones, IM, TM, and social networking
has driven us all apart to a degree. People communicate face to face
much less than we used to, and people crave this type of interaction.
So folks look for something that will spark a conversation in person.
A pendant or a ring with that has a story to it can spark a
conversation with a total stranger much better than an average
diamond or ruby, which will appear to just be a totem of wealth or
success.

The groups I find that come in looking and asking about the stories
behind the works are the teens through the 20 something group and the
50+ group. My guess is that the 30-40 something group is in the
wealth and totem category. Or, maybe they just have less disposable
income, with mortgage, insurance, and kids to pay for.

The teen and young adult group have it much better than my
generation. With cars being bought for them and college paid for,
they seen to be the ones paying cash (in my experience). I never had
a roll of hundered dollar bills in my pocket when I was in college.
LOL, I worked two jobs to pay my own tuition.

It could also be that these younger folks are the most into gadget
communication, and they crave the interaction more. That’s just my
guess :o) I hope it helps.

M. Johnson


#5
I am dealing with the theory that jewelry is a form of expression
beyond display of wealth and status. 

The body piercing industry, is a prime example. Get in touch with the
APP (Association of Professional Piercers - safepiercing.org) They
can lead you down a road full of infomation.

P@
www.patpruitt.com


#6

Rae,

There are a plethora of reasons why people wear and buy jewelry. Read
the introduction and first chapter of Jewelry Concepts and
Technology
by the late Oppi Untract for the basics. His Jewel
Mandala in chapter one is a great visual aide.

Larry
Cary, NC


#7
I am dealing with the theory that jewelry is a form of expression
beyond display of wealth and status. There are a lot of books out
there that take this as a given for studio jewelry from 1940's to
today and are disjointed and aporic as to a why but... 

Rae, I don’t know of any books that would take that deeper - I
suspect there are many books that would have a few paragraphs.

I think you need to take it deeper than that, though. Jewelry has
ALWAYS been a form of expression beyond wealth and status - studio
jewelry was just like the Beatniks - they had a mission statement,
essentially, but it’s not like it was new. “Art Jewelry” is similar -
jewelry has always been as much art as it is now, it’s just a
political statement and more than a little insular.

Very often people want the biggest rock so they can show off to the
world, yes. Very often people think it’s about that but it’s not. I
know a woman who wears a $25k watch. It’s her watch, and you wouldn’t
know it was worth that without looking close. She has money, she can
afford it, and it’s the watch she wants. Much of the “wealth and
status” posture is sour grapes from the have-nots, frankly (of which
I also am one, BTW). If you had a billion dollars in the bank, would
you buy your suits at Costco?

It is dangerous and false to assign ulterior, evil intentions to
people because they can afford the best, necessarily. Everybody here
would buy the best cut of steak or the exotic vegetarian fare if
price were no object. Or an extraordinarily beautiful gemstone. You
may take the blonde driving a Rolls Royce as being “an expression of
wealth and status”, but more likely she’s driving it because it’s the
car she wants to drive, just like you and me. Just the bank account
is different.

Just a non-cynical take on what is also not a new question.
Sometimes a cigar is only a cigar.


#8

Rae,

I know of two books that deal with jewelry/art as a form of
expression beyond the display of wealth and status.

“The Life of Forms in Art” by Henri Focillon was written in 1934.
Focillon states "A work of art is an attempt to express something
that is unique… something that contains the energies of many
civilizations… something that lavishly expresses certain aspects of
the life of the mind… something that holds secrets and exposes
reality… something made up of innumerable mistakes that lurk in the
shadow of success… ". Publisher is Zone Books, NY. Paperback. 184
pages.

http://www.ganoksin.com/jewelry-books/us/product/0942299574.htm

“The Language of Ornament” by James Trilling was © in 2001.
Trilling states ornament “is intended, first and last, to give
pleasure. It transforms the inessential into a theatre for passion
and beauty, invention and bravura.” Publisher is Thames & Hudson,
London. Paperback. 215 pages.

http://www.ganoksin.com/jewelry-books/us/product/0500203431.htm

Hope you find these of interest and helpful. They have been both
educational and inspiring to me and I re-read passages of them each
summer sitting on the dock at the lake.

Mary A
Jewelry for the Journey


#9

Hi Rae,

I’m curious to know in what way you are working with your theory? To
put into practice in your jewelry making? Research for a written
topic? I have some interest in these ideas also so hope you will
share a bit more about your query. All the best,

Gary Dawson
Goldworks Jewelry Art Studio
www.goldworksart.com


#10

Sometime, asking a different question can yield the desired answer.
Jewellery is a subset of Decorative Arts and there are a plethora of
material on history of it, philosophy and the like. So investigate
the subject as Decorative Arts and you will find what you looking
for. Start with the ornaments. Decorative Arts is simply an
application of ornaments to something. In jewellery we do it on small
scale and using precious stones as ornament elements, but general
principals and motivations are the same.

Leonid Surpin
www.studioarete.com


#11

Hi Rea-

Yeasty topic. If you want to start at the beginning, with ancient
history or even prehistory, when personal adornment had nothing to
do with ego, how about the works of George Frederick Kunz. His Rings
for the Finger has lots of about the symbolic and
talismanic origins of jewelry: also, more specific to gem materials,
his Curious Lore of Precious Stones. He’s probably still the most
authoritative writer on the subject, an exhaustive researcher who
meticulously footnoted every source.

How we got from there to here, wherever we are now, should be a
fascinating tale.


#12

Hello John,

I was not:

It is dangerous and false to assign ulterior, evil intentions to
people because they can afford the best, necessarily.

I am up to my eyes in the few paragraphs that so many books have to
offer about the subject of studio jewelry and the one sentence that
all of them have in common is some variant or another of “It’s a
backlash against symbols of wealth and status”. I am not making any
value judgements toward anyone I just need a further social context
of why the change happened the way it did.

And yes the pioneers of the Art Jewelry movement had a mission
statement but it has evolved into something else and no one seems to
theorize on that aspect much. The literature out there makes it seem
as if all makers with a message or philosophy are rehashing the same
ideology as their forerunners.As a maker, I know that’s not true!!
And the people that are, are dealing with it in a new way because
society has changed.

I am really flabbergasted as to why so few look at the changes that
have happened to Art jewelry over the last 20 years alone. The
surveys of the field start in the 1940’s and end around the 1970’s.
some extend their focus to the 80’s but not many. It is odd.

There is a gap in our perspective, I think. This is a gap I would
like to find works on!

Still searching…

But thank you for your perspective. A non-cynical eye is important.

Rae


#13
Much of the "wealth and status" posture is sour grapes from the
have-nots, frankly 

I would agree. Being cynical and envious about your customer’s
motives really doesn’t serve you well. In whatever capacity you work,
maker, wholesaler, retailer, whatever-er…you are there to serve
your customer. If you are at odds with your client you only work
against yourself.

If you want to be the starving artist with some
social/political/economic subversive message(more power to you if
that’s your intent)…maybe jewelry isn’t your best choice for that.

I’m glad there are wealthy people and I’m glad they choose to drop
some green with me. Otherwise I couldn’t engage in my own pursuit of
happiness.

Oh, and wealthy is extremely relative.


#14

Mary,

Interesting,

A work of art is an attempt to express something that is unique.. 

Unique to both the artist and the purchaser? Is it my age that
prevents me from seeing and enjoying some of today’s “unique” body
jewelry? I cannot admire the current nose, tongue, lip and eyebrow
adornments. Do their creators see beauty there?

Unfortunately, thanks to the WWW and YouTube, I have also seen the
personal and hidden ones as well. Chastity belts were once
considered barbaric, between them and Jacob’s Ladders, I am amazed at
what some make, and others want. Yikes,

Hugs,
Terrie


#15

After I was diagnosed with a heart condition, I found myself at my
bench, sawing out a heart shape from etched sterling sheet. When I
completed the oxidising and polishing, I strung it on a bracelet. I
suppose that I was symbolically making myself a new heart. My hobby
is also my therapy. There is some self expression there.

Vicki K.


#16

Rae,

First, yours is a question that I asked myself about 2 years ago.
When I couldn’t find a logical explanation for how the field of art
jewelry arrived at its present state, I began a campaign of
voracious reading, which still continues. To answer your question
very generally, wealth and status started being taken for granted
around 1940 because as Modernist thinkers like Clement Greenberg
asserted the autonomy of Painting and Sculpture. Jewelry makers (and
craft artists) tried to assert the autonomy of jewelry as a form of
expression as well. Once jewelry was taught and institutionalized as
an art discipline in universities, etc. the basic question of
identity became perfunctory. To acknowledge that jewelry functions
as a signifier of wealth and status, and that these signifiers are
fundamental obstacles jewelry being a communicative form of
expression would mean that academics (the people most likely to
write the you are looking for) would have to admit that
jewelry is unique unto itself, and not, in fact, autonomous art. I
probe this issue deeper in my essay Transparency: The Key to
Communication. Here is a link:

http://tinyurl.com/csdwz6

Anyhow, the reason that there aren’t very many comprehensive books
is because there aren’t (very many) contemporary jewelry historians,
at least in the US. However there are some good resources to be
found.

If you don’t already read Metalsmith, that is the logical place to
start. It has the best writing about contemporary jewelry theory.
Also, you should check out my blog conceptualmetalsmithing.com

But those don’t really answer your question about how we arrived at
taking wealth and status for granted.

Here is a short bibliography:

Toni Greenbaum - Messengers of Modernism (about the studio
jewelry movement c.1930-60) 

Glenn Adamson - Thinking Through Craft (one of the best texts
ever about craft beyond the object) 

Jivan Astfalk has published and lectured widely about semiotics
as a lens to view jewelry through. I wonder if this is who Brian
was talking about? 

Bruce Metcalf and Janet Koplos are working on a textbook, which
should be out in the relatively near future, about the history of
craft in the 20th century...promising... 

Anyhow, that is a start. I invite you to email me for a more in
depth bibliography. @Gabriel_Craig. I would love to know
exactly what you are looking for or what direction you are headed in
that might give me clue as to where to direct you. Also, there is
definitely more writing coming out of the UK, Europe, and Canada
than the US. You might widen your net a bit.

Happy hunting.

Best,
Gabriel
Gabriel Craig
http://www.gabrielcraigmetalsmith.com


#17
"It's a backlash against symbols of wealth and status". 

Yes, Rae, that can be done. Like the Essenes, the Puritans, the
Quakers, the Shakers and many before and since. The Beats actually
believed they were the first, too.

I’ll watch some TV show about antiquity, and sometimes an
anthropologist will expound upon how some artifact represents
hierarchy or status or some deep religious significance. Which is
your basic Monday-morning-quarterbacking. What if it was just a
pretty rock, to the owner? What’s wrong with simply liking some
ornament?

As you say you understand - there are many pitfalls in trying to
assign deep meaning to things that maybe don’t actually have that
meaning, originally… But it is an interesting study, nonetheless.


#18
Look into semiotics and material culture, but beware that the
semioticians in particular are a precious little bunch. Very taken
with the notion of their own erudition, without much to back it up.
(Translation: they'll do their best to baffle you with
incomprehensible BS, and then claim you misunderstood them when you
figure out that it was BS.) I hope there's been some new and better
writing since I looked into it. Lord knows the field could use it. 

LOL! So funny and too true!

I once met a prof. who was teaching in a Masters program, something
about the semiotics of puppetry. I said something like, you must see
some interesting puppets made by your students. She huffed and
puffed and said "I hope that they spend more time on their work than
making puppets.(The look said that, really MAKING was beneath them)
If they really must, then I look at them, but I’d rather they
concentrate on their work. (!!!) I think my jaw dropped. I was
speechless for a sec and then I laughed. No, I think I roared with
laughter, and then excused myself to get a drink.

Silani


#19

Thank you John for injecting a bit of sanity into this discussion. As
usual you are right on. We all would buy the most beautiful and the
best tooled of whatever we desire if money were no object to us. I
think we are hard-wired to crave well made, beautiful things and
obtain the best we can for our own satisfaction, usually not even
considering how it will affect those around us. Of course, we all
also enjoy the admiration of others - even if it is for a beautiful
bauble on our hand or a lovely car that we are driving.

While I’m saying this, it occurs to me that we also need to educate
ourselves and those around us about the difference between "need"
and “want” and the overwhelming needs of others both in our country
and the world at large.

This has to be an individual decision we make on how to best use our
resourses.

Jan
www.designjewel.com


#20

John:

Yes, Rae, that can be done. Like the Essenes, the Puritans, the
Quakers, the Shakers and many before and since. The Beats actually
believed they were the first, too. I'll watch some TV show about
antiquity, and sometimes an anthropologist will expound upon how
some artifact represents hierarchy or status or some deep religious
significance. Which is your basic Monday-morning-quarterbacking.
What if it was just a pretty rock, to the owner? What's wrong with
simply liking some ornament? 

A couple of experiences I had early on put my back up about critics
in general. Your comment above reminded me about it. I got started
when I was 15, and took off fast. So for a long time, I didn’t look
like I was nearly old enough to be doing the work in the shows. Which
meant that I could wander around the galleries/shows without anybody
thinking I was anything other than just another kid. Which led to an
experience of wandering into a gallery to see a critic holding forth
about the hidden meanings behind one of my pieces. Totally wrong, of
course, but just try to convince her of that. She didn’t twig that I
was the artist until I finally got tired of fencing with her and told
her who I was. Her response was to tell me…crud, I can’t remember
the exact quote, but the gist of it was that I didn’t know what I
meant when I did a piece, it required a critic to interpret it before
the meaning became clear. Trust me lady, if I’m spending a couple of
days banging on something with a hammer for 8-10 hours per day, I
know exactly what I’m trying to say.

The lesson here is never assume the critics actually have a clue.
They might, but then again, they just as easily might not.

Another common experience is that I do a lot of research on
historical metalworking. It’s not at all rare to see a photograph of
an item with tool marks on it that very clearly indicate it was made
in a fashion diametrically opposed to how the learned scholarship of
the catalog entry says it was made. Fortunately, the museums have
been making great strides in the past 10-20 years or so to get people
with practical experience of a craft involved in the evaluation of
their objects, so those sorts of bloopers are less common in more
recent books. (the early theories about how Mokume was done are a
classic example of looking at an object and getting the process
totally wrong.)

The lesson here is that even the books can be wrong. First and
foremost, trust your own knowledge of your craft. (But never forget
the outside chance that you may be wrong too. A little humility goes
a long way.)

My point as relates to the symbology of jewelry, is simply to beware
of complicated theories. The more complex and intricate the theory,
the less probable it becomes.

I have some little blown glass widgets that I keep on the windowsill
just because their shapes and colors please me. It’s just that
simple. Sometimes, it is just a pretty rock.

Regards,
Brian Meek.