Sunday, September 27, 2009

Overthinking Jewelry

Time for everyone's favorite feature of the week-- overthinking jewelry! I've noticed a decided dearth of (readily findable) jewelry research that I can really sink my teeth into. But it turns out that I might be a researcher myself: a practicioner of performative research. The description sounds good: "(practice-based researchers) may be led by what is best described as 'an enthusiasm of practice': something which is exciting, something which may be unruly, or indeed something which may be just becoming possible....Practice led researchers construct experiential starting points from which practice follows. They tend to dive in, to commence practicing to see what follows. They acknowledge that what emerges is idiosyncratic and individualistic." That sounds like me! Unfortunately, the article is a bit vague with respect to what the goals are supposed to be, what the output might look like, and of what use it might be in the end. I was confused. What I got out of it, though, is that me engaging in the practice of reflecting in writing about jewelry, may well count as research in this paradigm! Good news.

(I'm sorry, I'm being totally sarcastic. I love me some quantitative research methods, I can't help it.)

So anyway, back to the jewelry. Just an observation, really. There's this widespread idea that the meaning of a work of art resides in the intent of the artist. Or writer. The assumption is that art is an act of communication, and in order to understand the message, we have to be able to get at what the artist/writer was 'trying to say'. I think this idea goes away pretty quickly (or at least becomes disputable) with some careful reflection, but nevertheless, it's out there. For the 'fine arts', anyway, it's out there. Shift focus to jewelry. As often as I have people enter my booth and tell me that my work is Art, only very very seldom do people ask me to tell them about my intent with a piece. Actually I think it happened just once (yes, I was gratified). The rest of the time, they freely engage in discussing what the piece means to them, without any reference to what I may have been "trying to say" or asking me "what it means". I think that's wonderful! After all, that act of personalization and interpretation is exactly what much of my work is about. But it's an interesting contrast. I'd be interested in knowing whether it has to do with the marketplace where they find my work-- perhaps abstract oil painters exhibiting at art fairs have noticed the same contrast, and the main difference is between works that have entered the canon (by being chosen for exhibit in a museum) and works available for purchase, where a person does need to think explicitly about how it will fit into their life and their home before buying. Or maybe it's a fine art vs. fine craft contrast: perhaps in Art, the artist as auteur is more salient, whereas the functionality of craft makes the end user the more relevant member of the pair. I don't know! But I think that there is a difference between where people instinctively locate/construct meaning in one type of artistic product versus another.

I'll close with a bit of Billy Collins (it's only half the poem, forgive me, but go buy the book it's in if you want to read the rest):

Would anyone care to join me
in flicking a few pebbles in the direction
of teachers who are fond of asking the question:
"What is the poet trying to say?"

as if Thomas Hardy and Emily Dickinson
had struggled but ultimately failed in their efforts--
inarticulate wretches that they were,
biting their pens and staring out the window for a clue.

Yes, it seems that Whitman, Amy Lowell
and the rest could only try and fail,
but we in Mrs. Parker's thrid-period English class
here at Springfield High will succeed

with the help of these study questions
in saying what the poor poet could not,
and we will get all this done before
that orgy of egg salad and tuna fish known as lunch.

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