The issue of wearability plays a huge role in my work. It is very
important to me that the work I make is wearable-- as I define that.
Not every piece that I make can be worn every day on all occasions.
Not every ring can be worn under surgical gloves, not every brooch
worn on sheer, light- weight fabric. But if I make a neckpiece that I
want to be worn, outside of the performance realm, I take great pains
to make it well and to build it from materials that will not harm
clothing or react to the body. Any of those who have been in one of
my workshops or classes has heard me stress the importance of
durability and craftsmanship. I couldn’t agree more that --in my
work-- the challenge that I find so compelling is walking the edge
between wearbility and formal/conceptual exploration.
But these are MY rules, rules that are tailored for what I wish to
get across in a specific piece or body of MY work. Rules that occur
on a spectrum whose poles are on one end conceptual and the other
market driven. If I want to make work that will be less challenging
to be worn and therefore more likely to be sold to a broader
audience, I will tailor it–
material wise and design wise-- to that audience. The
"functionality" of that work in no way competes with or affects the
validity of a more “conceptual” ring, say, built around a 9" long
porcupine quill. They are simply two very different things generated
from the same mind and built by the same set of hands. One is to be
worn, perhaps, to the grocery store or even the opera, while the
quill ring is engendering an entirely different set of discussions.
(I built a set of wall mounts to display the trio of quill rings
pictured on my web site. The rings can be easily removed from the
mounts and worn. It is the placing of each ring on the finger that
validates it, in my mind, as jewelry. But I recognize this
functionality as distinct from that of a custom wedding ring. Both
pieces, however, may contain elements of my personal visual
vocabulary: one fuels the other. For me it is this conceptual
stretching, tempered by the real world issues of durability and ease
of wear that makes the truly wearable work exciting.)
I think that what galls me the most is the need that others feel to
impose such strict parameters on to what others wear or build, and to
dismiss efforts at exploration. I had a friend who was in the Peace
Corp in Zaire (Congo-- Belgian Congo) many years ago who got quite a
kick out of a gentleman that he met who wore a plastic toilet seat
around his neck as a neckpiece. Such an item was a rarity in that
place at that time, the shape of it led directly to an obvious
function and the material was quite unique to his experience.
Duchampian associations (Ready-mades) aside, I would be hard put to
dismiss this piece of jewelry as goofy or somehow less valid. Making
high priced fine jewelry out of aluminum in this day would seem odd
and fool hardy. But not that long ago aluminum was quite rare,
possessed of noble qualities and made into beautiful objects often
combined with high carat gold. They are very collectable and
beautiful. The (now prosaic) material was treated with the dignity
reserved for any precious material. And I think that maybe this is
the key. Please don’t mistake my opinions as applying to all
nontraditional or experimental work. Poorly made work, no matter what
the materials, does not ring my bells.
I agree with John that most, if not all, art is at its core in some
way conceptual. But I most strongly disagree with the statement that
"‘Conceptual Art" is a short way of saying, "I can’t actually DO
anything, so I just wing it.’" While there is certainly much
conceptual art that I find to be trendy, shallow and poorly made, I
make those judgments through the eyes and sensibilities of a person
drawn to Craft. I also know b.s. when I read it in an overly florid
and contrived artist statement that can’t possibly justify the work
it is written about. But these overblown statements simply do not
invalidate ALL artists’ statements. Why throw out the baby with the
bathwater? It seems that any intelligent person-- such as John–
would understand that speaking in such broad generalizations takes
the power out of the argument, as does the somewhat reactionary tone.
I’m sure that this thread will continue and I will be glad when it
does, but I hope that it doesn’t continue to degenerate into a bunch
of tired platitudes about “crap’ and “phd level babblings” and
"artspeak”. Why are so many coming across as so angry and intolerant?
Simply stop buying Lark books, going to galleries that mount these
exhibitions, begin approaching venues and organizing your own
exhibitions or write thoughtfully about why some work should be
considered jewelry and other not. Either do some research and support
the argument with facts rather than simple opinions or at least state
such opinions less dogmatically.
Better yet, if there really is a “grass roots” movement of people
fed up with "conceptual’ jewelry and art --as John implies-- then why
don’t those who are so vocal in their disdain for this type of work
approach Lark Books with a proposal for a 500 book that might explore
what they consider to be valid and exciting. “500 Channel Settings”,
“500 Wearable Rings”, etc. I am serious in this regard. It might even
be a great book.
Andy Cooperman, Back from Denver-- barely.