Sunday, August 23, 2009

Overthinking Jewelry

These past couple of days, I've been reading this dissertation by Jean E. McElvain. She explores the details of how and why people choose to wear T-shirts expressing support for a cause (political, health awareness, etc). She asks questions like: Is there a relationship between your personal identity and the clothes you wear, when you're wearing a T-shirt supporting a cause? Do you think that people view you differently when you wear such a T-shirt? How do you feel when people comment positively/negatively/not at all on a T-shirt you're wearing? What kinds of sentiments would be inappropriate to wear on a T-shirt in public? Where would you be willing (or not) to wear a T-shirt supporting a cause?

These questions may equally well be asked of any kind of wearable object, even those not directly representing a social cause, or featuring text at all.

Is there a relationship between the jewelry you wear (if any?) and your personal identity? How do people view you when you're wearing this type of jewelry (any type-- pick one: handmade, mass produced, precious metal and gemstone, crystal and wire, clay, paper, glass...)? If your jewelry has words/text on it, what kinds of sentiments are inappropriate to wear on jewelry in public? Do you want people to be able to read and comment on your jewelry? Where is it appropriate to wear certain types of jewelry, and where would you consider it to be inappropriate?

So many intriguing questions. I'll try to answer some of them for myself.

Personally, I think that there is a hugely important relationship between the jewelry I wear and my identity. For one thing, chances are good that whatever I'm wearing, I made! It represents my identity as an artist. But beyond that, my jewelry that I wear most often represents the value I place on handmade objects, on uniqueness, on quirkiness and acceptance of idiosyncracy, boldness, and the discovery of beauty in imperfections.

I hope that these aspects of my personality are made clear when others see the jewelry I'm wearing. I think people do view you differently depending (in part) on your jewelry. The reactions may not be as strong as they are for something like a political T-shirt, but they're there. I try to avoid off-the-shelf pieces that look mass-produced, even if I generally like them stylistically. I find mall-jewelry-store type jewelry (setting plucked from a catalog, set with a faceted gemstone also plucked from a catalog) particularly inconsistent with my sense of identity. I think that the perennial popularity of certain styles and materials is wrapped up in ideals/fantasies of femininity. I reject many of those ideals, so because of that I also tend to stay away from jewelry that would give the impression that I accept these ideals.

Words on jewelry. This is a complicated question for me! I think it deserves its own entry. And I have to think more about appropriateness of different types of jewelry to different situations, too. More on those, later, then.

I'd love to hear your thoughts on these questions. Tell me, tell me!


Anonymous said...

How do you reconcile your interest in making jewelry with your opposition to traditional gender norms? Isn't your jewelry still inherently gendered?

That sounds more like a challenge than it was meant to be. Really, I'm just askin'.

Joanna said...

Oh, good question. Yes, I suppose it is gendered-- I keep trying to make unisex pieces, but haven't quite gotten there yet.

I guess I'm not opposed to all gendering-- I do try to make pieces that will hang nicely etc, and if people want 'elegant', I try to give them something 'elegant'. But I am opposed to artificial limitations and assumptions about what the role of jewelry is. For example: it's there just to look nice with your dress, to be delicate, tiny, and alluring and show off your wealth/femininity. I think jewelry can do other things also/instead. It has the potential to engage the imagination in any number of ways, so why set your sights low? Pretty is easy-- interesting is more of a challenge. (Not that I always manage it, but I do try)