Tuesday, April 13, 2010

art jewelry

Did you know that the term 'art jewelry' drives me nuts? I hate it, I really do. It's use is rampant, random, and contradictory. Art Jewelry Forum features academic, high-brow work that is either conceptually based or incorporates unusual materials, while Art Jewelry Magazine publishes beginning metalsmithing instructions and 30-minute projects for hobbyists and professionals alike.

This came up while reading Part I of Tamra Gentry's series on jewelry definitions, as defined by author Marlene Richey. Tamra is a very smart and talented metalsmith who makes beautiful work, I will let you read her post for the full definition of 'art jewelry', it's basically the high-brow approach. Richey says, "Art jewelers are not hindered by price point or the number of units sold, and wearability and size are not in their lexicon."

I make some purely conceptual work myself, pieces that are created for exhibition and may never be sold. Having accepted terminology that distinguishes this work from my everyday wearable pieces is very helpful, but the label 'art jewelry' has always made me cringe - I think it diminishes the very work it characterizes. One would never say 'art painting' or 'art sculpture' because it's obvious and redundant, not to mention grammatically incorrect. I think it's ridiculous and sounds apologetic, and to hear someone say 'art jewelry' in a haughty, elitist way just makes me laugh.


  1. I totally understand what you're saying, and I agree with some points. However, I can't quite agree with them all.

    I think that for the sake of Richey's book, she's speaking specifically to the whole notion of business and marketing. You would, perhaps, market something like that huge condom piece on the cover of Metalsmith magazine much differently and to a totally different audience than something like a David Yurman piece. In that regard, I think that there is a need for categorization of some kind--the condom piece needs a bit more of a clarifier than just "jewelry." And given the creator's artistic intent, why not?

    On the other hand, I think that in the academic art world, jewelry has always tended to be more of a cultural/historical/anthropological *thing* that has only recently (mid to late 20th century) become something unto itself. It was shunned by/cast-out from the traditional fields of art (e.g., painting, sculpture, etc.), and likewise had eyebrows raised at it by more commercial fields of jewelry. It used to be a stepchild that nobody wanted to claim.

    Part of me can understand why there is the need to label it as such; on the other hand, I do dislike the haughtiness of it all, which is why I vowed to myself that I would *never* again attend another SNAG conference (I went to one back in 2005, and the academic/"art jewelry" world had a strong presence--and I had the experience of totally feeling like I didn't belong--but that's a post for another day...;-).

    So, if the "art jewelry" world needs to be elite to make themselves feel better, well hey. ;-] Hell, there isn't much in academia that isn't elitist...

    Again though, for the purposes of the book, Richie makes the distinction specifically with regard to marketing, sales, etc.

  2. I forgot to add that the random/rampant/contradictory(/bastardized) misuse of the term that you mentioned drives me insane too. Seeing it used on Etsy and other such venues for cheap beaded jewelry (often preceded by the word "fine" as in "fine art" jewelry) makes me want to hurl daggers... Dealing with the term the way we're discussing is one thing--but then there's *that* as well. Sigh!

  3. Misuse and misapplication of terminology is a way of life in marketing circles. Ultimately it is about misdirection, misinformation and most importantly, SELLING shit. At 2Roses, we produce Art Jewelry that is fat free, dishwasher safe and has 30% less calories that other leading brands of art jewelry. 2Roses Art Jewelry meets 100% of daily recommended dose of academic bullshit and is environmentally friendly. No animals were harmed in the production of 2Roses Art Jewelry, and 110% of all proceeds are donated to the Save the Plankton Foundation. 2Roses Art Jewelry is a cure for cancer, aids and the heartbreak of psoriasis.

  4. Impressive! My art jewelry isn't effective at treating anything, but my mom swears by my small sculpture that references the body for her eczema flare-ups.