Sunday, September 6, 2009

Overthinking Jewelry: words

Back to words, then. Words on jewelry. Here's my approach:

Words have what linguists call 'argument structure'. 'Argument structure' refers to what goes with a particular word in a sentence. For example, some words need an additional word to go with them, as an integral part of their meaning-- you might see such words as carrying an empty slot along with them that has to be filled with another word. Verbs are the best examples of this: if you hope, you're hoping [for something]. If you create, you're creating [something]. There's a little empty piece that can be filled in. Not just the object, in fact, but also the subject: [You] are creating [something]. And also indirect objects are sometimes required: [You] give [something] [to someone].

Ok. So, nouns generally don't have much argument structure. Most nouns are ok just floating out there on their own, and they're complete that way. They make great labels, but they don't leave much to the imagination. There's not much crying out to be filled in, meaning-wise. I generally stay away from nouns on jewelry for this reason.

Verbs, on the other hand, have one or more empty slots in them that have to be filled in at least subconciously in order to make much sense: subject, direct object, indirect object. All of these are things that a person reading the word will have to supply in order to make sense of the word. On jewelry, this can be wonderfully imaginative and unique to each person. So I love using verbs on my jewelry! When you see a pendant that says give, you still have to do some work: give [love] [to everyone]? Give [money] [to the needy]? Give [time] [to your family]? All of the above? It gets you thinking a bit, and allows each person to come up with an interpretation that's meaningful to them personally.

Next we have adjectives and adverbs. These are interesting because they too 'require' things be filled in-- nouns, of course, in the case of adjectives, and verbs in the case of adverbs. So that takes us back to my stance on nouns and verbs-- I will use both adjectives and adverbs in my work, but I'll take an adverb over an adjetive any day. If you put an adjective on a pendant, it's sort of taken by default to refer to the person wearing it. "Brave", for example. "Ok, the wearer says she's brave." And that's kinda the end of it. Turn it into an adverb, though, and suddenly all sorts of questions are raised-- do what bravely? You understand there to be some verb lurking there. Then you have to fill in its argument structure. The imagination is fully engaged at this point. It's a bit more work-- ok, a lot more work-- and some people may simply choose not to engage with the piece, but others (especially the verbally talented among us) become absorbed, as they create meaning, and build a little world around the verb I've given them.

My absolute favorites are the prepositional phrases that describe manner or time. The principle is the same as for adverbs-- they evoke an event, the contents of which is left open for the viewer (or coauthor as I sometimes like to think of it) to construct. "After the moon rose", or "with a careless joy" beg for more information: what happened then? What did she do so joyfully?

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