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Contemporary Jewelry Is Not A “Look” — It’s A Way Of “Thinking”

Posted by learntobead on February 15, 2018

CONTEMPORARY JEWELRY IS NOT A “LOOK” —
IT’S A WAY OF “THINKING”

by Warren Feld, Jewelry Artisan
warren@warrenfeldjewelry.com
718 Thompson Lane, Ste 123, Nashville, TN 37204
615-292-0610


“Canyon Sunrise”, Warren Feld, designer, 2004, Austrian crystal, glass seed beads, 14KT gold chain and constructed clasp, fireline cable thread, photographer Warren Feld

Abstract:
Contemporary Jewelry represents a specific approach for thinking through design. Making jewelry is, in essence, an authentic performance task. The jewelry artisan applies knowledge, skill and awareness within the anticipation of the influence and constraints of a set of shared understandings. Shared understandings relate to composition, construction and performance. These understandings are enduring, transferable, big ideas at the heart of what we think of as “contemporary jewelry”. They are things which spark meaningful connections between designer and materials, designer and techniques, and designer and client. Managing these connections is what we call “fluency in design”.

Jewelry Design is a professional discipline. Every legitimately defined profession has at its core a discipline-specific way of thinking. This includes core concepts, core rules, and core beliefs. And it includes professional routines and strategies for applying, manipulating and managing these. The good designer is fluent in how to think through design, and the good contemporary designer is fluent in how to think through design which earns the label “contemporary”.

But, the jewelry designer can only wonder at this with crossed eyes and bewilderment. As a profession, jewelry design balances a series of contradictions, most notably to what extent the practice is craft, art or design. This works against professional legitimacy.

Jewelry Design, as a discipline, is not always clear and consistent about its own literacy – that is, what it means to be fluent in design. Its core concepts, rules and beliefs are not well-defined, and often break down by medium, by operational location – (visualize museum, gallery, studio, store, factory, workshop, class, home), and by the degree of involvement and commitment to the profession of the jewelry designer him- or herself. The diversity of materials, approaches, styles and the like make it difficult to delineate any unifying principles or professional image.

As designers, we see, feel and experience the evolving dynamics of an occupation in search of a profession. But our profession is still in search of a coherent identify. Perhaps we see this most often in debates over how we come to recognize what jewelry we think should be labeled “contemporary” and what jewelry should not.

On the one hand, the idea of contemporary can be very elucidating. On the other, however, we are not sure what contemporary involves, how the label should be applied, and what the label represents. Yet, our sense-making search for its meaning is at the forefront of the professionalization of jewelry design. Our persistent questioning about “What is contemporary jewelry?” opens up thinking and possibilities for every jewelry designer, working across many styles and with many materials, both experienced and novice alike.

The term “contemporary” is defined as something occurring in our time, and that can be very confusing for the jewelry designer. We get caught in a major Identity Crisis for lack of a clear, agreed-upon definition of contemporary. How we resolve this Identity Crisis around a common understanding of “contemporary jewelry” can go a long way, I believe, towards developing a coherent disciplinary literacy and professional identity for all jewelry designers. Resolution can be very unifying.

Many conceptual questions about contemporary jewelry arise. We need to be very cognizant of how we think through our responses.

Does the label apply to every piece of jewelry made today? We see all kinds of styles, shapes, silhouettes, materials, techniques, fashions all around us. There appears to be no common denominator except that they all have been created in our time.

Should the label be applied to all this variation?

Could it?

Why would we want it to?

Does the label apply to a certain timeframe, with the expectation that it will be supplanted by another label sometime in the future?

What is contemporary jewelry?

“Contemporary” Is A Specific Approach For Thinking Through Design

I suggest that contemporary jewelry is not a specific thing. But rather it is a way of thinking through the design process. It is a type of thinking routine[1] which underlays the universal core of contemporary jewelry design.
Contemporary jewelry is not every piece of jewelry made in our time. It is, instead, jewelry designed and crafted with certain shared understandings in mind – understandings about composition, construction and performance.

Contemporary jewelry is not associated with any particular color or pattern or texture. It is, instead, a strategy for selecting colors, patterns and textures.

Contemporary jewelry is not something that only a few people would make or wear, whether boring or outlandish. It is, instead, something most people recognize as wearable with some level of appeal.

Contemporary jewelry is not restricted to the use of unusual or unexpected materials or techniques. It is, instead, something which leverages the strengths or minimizes the weaknesses of any and all materials and/or techniques used in a project.

Contemporary jewelry is not a specific silhouette, or line, or shape, or form, or theme, but, instead, something which shows the artist’s control over how these can be manipulated, used, played off of, and, even, violated.

Contemporary jewelry is an integral part of our culture. We wear jewelry to tell ourselves and to tell others we are OK. It is reflective of the sum of all our choices about how we think through our place among others, our relative value among others, our behaviors among others, our preferred ways to interact, challenge, conform, question, organize and arrange.

The contemporary jewelry designer is especially positioned to serve at the nexus of all this culture. The designer’s ability to think through and define what contemporary means becomes instrumental for everyone wearing their jewelry to successfully negotiate the day-to-day cultural demands of the community they live in. Designers have a unique ability to dignify and make people feel valued, respected, honored and seen.

Think of all that power!

Each person stands at that precipice of acceptance or not, relevance or not. The jewelry designer has the power to push someone in one direction, or another.
If only we had the established profession and a disciplinary literacy to help us be smart about this.

FLUENCY[2] IN DESIGN: Managing The Contemporary Design Process

Jewelry design is, in effect, an authentic performance task.

The jewelry designer demonstrates their knowledge, awareness and abilities to:

1. Work within our shared understandings about contemporary jewelry.

2. Apply key knowledge and skills to achieve the desired result – a contemporary piece of jewelry.

3. Anticipate how their work will be reviewed, judged and evaluated by criteria reflective of these same shared understandings.

4. Step back, reflect, and validate all their thinking to reject any misunderstandings, and make adjustments accordingly.

The better designer is able to bring a high level of coherence and consistency to the process of managing all this – shared understandings, knowledge and skills, evaluative review, and reflection and adjustment.
This is called “fluency in design”.

Shared Understandings[3]

Shared understandings should be enduring, transferable, big ideas at the heart of what we think of as contemporary jewelry. These shared understandings are things which spark meaningful connections between designer and materials, designer and techniques, and designer and client. We need, however, to recognize that the idea of understanding is very multidimensional and complicated.

Understanding is not one achievement, but more the result of several loosely organized choices. Understanding is revealed through performance and evidence. Jewelry designers must perform effectively with knowledge, insight, wisdom and skill to convince us – the world at large and the client in particular — that they really understand what design, and with our case here, contemporary design, is all about. This involves a big interpersonal component where the artist introduces their jewelry to a wider audience and subjects it to psychological, social, cultural, and economic assessment.
Understanding is more than knowledge. The designer may be able to articulate what needs to be done to achieve something labeled contemporary, but may not know how to apply it.

Understanding is more than interpretation. The designer may be able to explain how a piece was constructed and conformed to ideas about contemporary, but this does not necessarily account for the significance of the results.
Understanding is more than applying principles of construction. It is more than simply organizing a set of design elements into an arrangement. The designer must match knowledge and interpretation about contemporary to the context. Application is a context-dependent skill.

Understanding is more than perspective. The designer works within a myriad of expectations and points of view about contemporary jewelry. The designer must dispassionately anticipate these various perspectives about contemporary design, and, bring some constructed point of view and knowledge of implications to bear within the design and design process.

We do not design in a vacuum. The designer must have the ability to empathize with individuals and grasp their individual and group cultures. If selling their jewelry, the designer must have the ability to empathize with small and larger markets, as well. Empathy is not sympathy. Empathy is where we can feel what others feel, and see what others see.

Last, understanding is self-knowledge, as well. The designer should have the self-knowledge, wisdom and insights to know how their own patterns of thought may inform, as well as prejudice, their understandings of contemporary design.

How the jewelry designer begins the process of creating a contemporary piece of jewelry is very revealing about the potential for success. The designer should always begin the process by articulating the essential shared understandings against which their work will be evaluated and judged. For now, let’s refer to this as Backwards Design[4]. The designer starts with questions about assessment, and then allows this understanding to influence all other choices going forward.

When designing contemporary jewelry, the designer will push for shared understandings about what it means to be worthy of the label “contemporary.” I propose the following five shared understandings as a place to start, and hopefully, to generate more discussion and debate.

These are,

1. Fixed Frameworks and Rules should not pre-determine what designers do.

Rules do exist, such as color schemes or rules for achieving balance or rhythm. But rules may be challenged or serve as guidelines for the designer. In fact, the designer may develop and implement rules of their own.

Designers do not learn understanding if they are only able to answer a question if framed in one particular way. How the designer invents and applies rules for managing design as a process become of primary importance because they reveal design fluency and thinking. And this allows for a variety of approaches as well as an escape from any dominant definitions. Nothing is sacred.

2. Jewelry should extend, rework, and play with, or even push, the boundaries of materials, techniques and technologies.

Contemporary designers are meant to ask questions, evaluate different options and experiment widely. They do this in order to leverage the strengths and minimize the weaknesses of materials, techniques and technologies used. Their jewelry should reflect this.

3. Jewelry should evoke emotions.

The audience is an integral part of the success of contemporary jewelry. The viewer/wearer recognizes things in the piece and is allowed to, (in fact, expected to), react and interpret. The designer’s goal is to achieve a level of resonance.

4. Jewelry should connect people with culture.

Contemporary jewelry is not made for art’s sake alone. Contemporary jewelry is made to connect to the world around us. It is meant to assist a person in recognizing how they want to live their lives, and how they want to introduce their view of themselves into the broader community or communities they live in.

5. Successful jewelry designs should only be judged as the jewelry is worn.

Jewelry is not designed in isolation from the human body. Its design should anticipate requirements for movement, drape and flow. Its design should anticipate the implications of the context in which the jewelry is worn. The implications for all jewelry design choices are most apparent at the boundary between jewelry and person.

Given that the designer “backward-designs [4],” he or she begins the process by anticipating those understandings about how their work will be assessed. The designer then is equipped to make three types of informed choices:

A. Choices about composition
B. Choices about construction
C. Choices about performance

The designer determines (a) what design elements to include in the piece, and then (b) rules for manipulating them. The contemporary designer (c) measures these against our shared understandings about contemporary design. These measures are a continuum – degrees of contemporary, not either/or’s or absolutes. In any given piece of jewelry, some design elements may be very contemporary, and others might not.

GOOD COMPOSITION:
Selecting and Articulating Upon Design Elements and Their Attributes

Jewelry making is a constructive process. It makes sense for the designer to begin with something like building blocks, which I call design elements. Design elements include things like color, movement, dimensionality, materials, use of space, and the like.

Each design element, in turn, encompasses a range of acceptable meanings, yet still reflective of that design element, and which are called attributes.
These design elements can be arranged in different configurations.

The combination of any two or more design elements can have synergistic effects.
Working with design elements is not much different than working with an alphabet. An alphabet is made up of different letters. Each letter has different attributes – how it is written, how it sounds, how it is used. Configurations of letters result in more sounds and more meanings and more ways to be used.

A person working with an alphabet has to be able to decode the letters, sounds and meanings, as letters are used individually as well as in combination. As the speaker becomes better at decoding, she or he begins to build in understanding of implications for how any letter is used, again, individually or in combination.

This is exactly what the jewelry designer does with design elements. The designer has to decode, that is, make sense of a series of elements and their attributes in light of our shared understandings about jewelry design. The contemporary designer decodes in light of our further shared understandings about contemporary jewelry design.

The designer might, for example, want to select from this list of design elements I have generated below. I have arranged these design elements into what is called a thinking routine[1]. The designer uses the routine to determine how each element might be incorporated into the piece, and how the desired attributes of each element relate to contemporary design. They might also use the routine to look for issues of true and false. They might use the routine to rate each element as to importance and uncertainty.

DESIGN ELEMENT LESS CONTEMPORARY MORE CONTEMPORARY
Dimensionality Flat; Width/Length focus Not Flat; Noticeable Width/Length/Height focus
Movement, Moving Elements Little or no movement, either from the movement of actual components, or from how colors or patterns are used Great sense of movement, either from the movement of components, or from how colors or patterns are used
Color, Color Blending Follows color rules, resistant to violate them Pushes color rules to the edge, or violates them
Light and Shadow Little sense artist attempted to control light and shadow in a strategic sense Great sense artist attempted to control light and shadow, strategically
Negative and Positive Spaces Little sense artist attempted to control negative and positive spaces in a strategic sense Great sense artist attempted to control negative and positive spaces strategically
Point, Line, Plane, Shape, Form Conforms to expectations; comfortable working within basic parameters Violates expectations; challenges basic parameters
Theme, Symbols If used, themes and symbols are simplistic and readily identified If used, themes and symbols have a complex relationship to form and structure, and stimulate debate and discussion to fully make sense of them
Beauty and Appeal Primary goal of piece Synergistic relationship between beauty and function to achieve designer’s ends
Structure and Support Little concern with movement, drape and flow; unwilling to sacrifice appeal for function Considerable concern with movement, drape and flow, and a willingness to make tradeoffs between appeal and function
Materials Materials are selected for how they look Materials are selected for how they function; designer leverages strengths and minimizes weaknesses
Craftsmanship Disconnect from Artist as if Artist was anonymous Shows Artist’s Hand
Context, Situation, Culture Pieces created for the sake of making something, or for the sake of beauty and appeal only Pieces created in anticipation of shared understandings about contemporary jewelry
Balance, Distribution Conforms to expectations; comfortable working within basic parameters Violates expectations; challenges basic parameters
Technique(s) Selected without questioning implications of how technique affects boundary between jewelry and person Selected after questioning implications of how technique affects boundary between jewelry and person
Texture, Pattern Conforms to expectations; comfortable working within basic parameters Violates expectations; challenges basic parameters
Reference and Reinforce an Idea, Style May or may not reference and/or reinforce symbolic meanings; if so, usually does so in a linear fashion, such as mimicking or repeating them May or may not reference and/or reinforce symbolic meanings; if so, learns from them, and then, based on this learning, takes the references to another level

Example of some choices I made using the routine when creating my piece Canyon Sunrise:
Canyon Sunrise, Warren Feld, 2004

What are some things which make this piece “Contemporary”?

Dimensionality Two layers of beadwork. The top layer overlapping the bottom layer, where the first row of the bottom layer is attached to the 2nd row of the top layer, forcing a curvature along the top. The pendant sits on top of bottom layer and in line with top layer.
Moving Elements The two layers are only connected at their tops. As the wearer moves, each layer can move somewhat independently of the other.
Color, Color Blending The piece uses a 5-color scheme, but increases the natural proportions of one color relative to the others. There are many gaps of light between all the beads which calls for a color blending strategy(ies). The piece relies heavily on simultaneity effects, as well as the overlapping effects of transparent and translucent beads.
Technique(s) The bead woven strips are allowed to fan out from the top, thus better accommodating the wearer’s body.

GOOD CONSTRUCTION:
Applying Knowledge, Skills, Competencies for Manipulating Design Elements

Design elements need to be selected, organized and implemented in some kind of satisfying design. Towards this end, the artist, consciously or not, anticipates our shared understandings in order to make these kinds of choices.

These are the most visible choices the artist makes. We can see the finished piece of jewelry. We interact with it. We question it. We get a sense of whether we want to emotionally respond to it. We either feel its resonance, or we don’t.

Most artists manage intuitively, learning to make good choices as they receive feedback and assessment, and adjust their decisions accordingly. The better jewelry designers, however, show “metacognitive awareness” of all the things they have thought of, anticipated, structured, and accomplished during the design process as these relate to larger shared understandings about contemporary jewelry.

Let’s return, for a minute, to the analogy with building blocks and the alphabet. The design elements are building blocks. I compared them to the letters of the alphabet. Building blocks have attributes, and letters have attributes. Attributes further define them and give them purpose.

The novice designer learns to decode these building blocks and their attributes. With more experience, the blocks, just like letters, get combined and constructed into words and phrases and larger, meaningful ideas and expressions.

In essence, the finished piece of jewelry is an exemplar of the jewelry artisan’s vocabulary and grammar of design. The fluency in how the artist uses this vocabulary and grammar in designing their piece should be, I would think, especially correlated with the success and resonance of the piece.

Often, artists implement their design element choices with attention and recognition to Principles of Construction. Principles of Construction are the rules or grammar for using design elements in a piece. Given the artist’s goals for beauty and function, the artist is free to apply the rules in any way she or he sees fit. However, we expect to find this grammar underlaying all pieces of jewelry, whether the piece is contemporary or otherwise.

When we want to apply the label “contemporary,” however, we search for the choices and logic the artist has used for constructing design elements into a contemporary whole, and in anticipation of our shared understandings.

I suggest these 10 Principles of Construction. All Principles need to be applied, yet each is different from and somewhat independent of the others. For example, the colors may be well chosen, but proportions or placement not right.

Principle of Construction What the Principle is About
Rhythm How the piece engages the viewer and directs their eye
Pointers How the piece directs the viewer to a certain place or focal point
Planar Relationships The degree the piece is not disorienting; obvious what is “up” and what is “down”
Interest The degree the artist has made the ordinary…”noteworthy”
Statistical Distribution How satisfying the numbers and sizes of objects within the piece are
Balance How satisfying the placement of objects (and their attributes) is
Dimensionality The degree to which the piece is flat or 3-dimensional, how satisfying this dimensionality is to the piece
Temporal Extension How well the parts are integrated into the whole in anticipation of how, where and when the jewelry is to be worn; the whole should be more than the sum of its parts
Physical Extension/Finishing The degree the piece is designed so that it accommodates physical stresses when the piece is worn
Parsimony There should be no nonessential elements; the addition or subtraction of one element or its attribute will make the piece less satisfying

GOOD PERFORMANCE:
Seeking Continual Feedback and Evaluation About Choices and Results

The jewelry designer brings perspective. The designer shows they can rise above the passions, inclinations and dominant opinions of the moment to do what their feelings, thoughts and reflections reveal to be best. And, at the same time, the designer shows that they can strive for a rapport, a sharing of values, an empathetic response, a type of respect deemed contemporary.

If we return to our alphabet metaphor, it is necessary, but not sufficient, for the artist to assemble a palette of building blocks, thus, design elements. It is necessary, but not sufficient, for the artist to apply a vocabulary and grammar for arranging these building blocks, thus for constructing a piece of jewelry.

Most importantly, however, it is both necessary and sufficient for the artist to anticipate how the piece of jewelry will be assessed prior to making any choice about design element or construction. The more coherent and aligned each aspect of this process is, the better managed. To the extent the artist can strategically manage this whole “backwards” design process, the more fluent in design that artist is. The more fluent in design, the more the finished piece reveals the artist’s hand and resonates.

So, there is a very dynamic performance component to design. The contemporary jewelry designer needs to think about what criteria their client and the general culture and market will use as acceptable evidence of “contemporary” and “good contemporary design”, when the piece is introduced. The artist needs to think about things like connection, emotion, resonance, integrity, market.

The designer needs answers to several questions at this point.

What is the designer’s process and routine for thinking about shared understandings and evidence of authentic performance?

How well have they anticipated these criteria of evaluation?

Has the designer created a continual feedback loop so that acceptable evidence is introduced throughout the full process of design?

To what extent will the eventual evaluation of the contemporary jewelry designer and their work be fair, valid, reliable, and a sufficient measure of their results?

_________________________________________________________


WARREN FELD, Jewelry Designer
warren@warrenfeldjewelry.com
615-292-0610

For Warren Feld, Jewelry Designer, (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com), beading and jewelry making have been wonderful adventures. These adventures have taken Warren from the basics of bead stringing and bead weaving, to wire working and silver smithing, and onward to more complex jewelry designs which build on the strengths of a full range of technical skills and experiences.

Warren leads a group of instructors at Be Dazzled Beads (www.bedazzledbeads.com). He teaches many of the bead-weaving, bead-stringing, jewelry design and business-oriented courses. He works with people just getting started with beading and jewelry making, as well as those with more experience.

His pieces have appeared in beading and jewelry magazines and books. One piece is in the Swarovski museum in Innsbruck, Austria.

He is probably best known for creating the international The Ugly Necklace Contest, where good jewelry designers attempt to overcome our pre-wired brains’ fear response for resisting anything Ugly.

_________________________________________________________

FOOTNOTES

1 Thinking Routines. I teach jewelry design. I find it useful to engage students with various ways of thinking out loud. They need to hear me think out loud about what choices I am making and what things I am considering when making those choices. They need to hear themselves think out loud so that they can develop strategies for getting more organized and strategic in dealing with information and making decisions. My inspiration here was based on the work done by Visible Thinking by Project Zero at Harvard Graduate School of Education .

2 Fluency. I took two graduate education courses in Literacy. The primary text we used was Literacy: Helping Students Construct Meaning by J. David Cooper, M. Robinson, J.A. Slansky and N. Kiger, 9th Edition, Cengage Learning, 2015. Even though the text was not about jewelry designing per se, it provides an excellent framework for understanding what fluency is all about, and how fluency with language develops over a period of years. I have relied on many of the ideas in the text to develop my own ideas about a disciplinary literacy for jewelry design.

3 Shared Understandings. In another graduate education class, the major text reviewed the differences between understanding and knowledge. The question was how to teach understanding. Worth the read to gain many insights about how to structure teaching to get sufficient understanding to enrich learning. Understanding by Design by Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe, 2nd Edition, Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 2005.

4 Backwards Design. One of the big take-aways from Understanding by Design (see footnote 2) was the idea they introduced of “backwards design”. Their point is that you can better teach understanding if you anticipate the evidence others will use in their assessments of what you are trying to do. When coupled with ideas about teaching literacy and fluency (see footnote 1), you can begin to introduce ideas about managing the design process in a coherent and alignable way.

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5 Questions Every Jewelry Designer Should Have An Answer For

Posted by learntobead on December 14, 2017

Interested in trying your hand at jewelry design? Before you begin, consider the following 5 questions, as outlined by Nashville jewelry designer and teacher Warren Feld  (www.warrenfeldjewelry.com) 

Susan felt very unsure of herself. And unsure of her jewelry. Would people like it? Was the color mix appropriate? Was the construction secure? Was the price smart and fair? She allowed all this uncertainty to affect her design work – she had difficulty finishing pieces she was working on, starting new projects, and getting her work out there.

Like many of my jewelry and beadwork students, Susan needed to be empowered as a designer.

Empowerment is about making choices. These choices could be as simple as whether to finish a piece or not. Or whether to begin a second piece. The designer will make choices about how to draw someone’s attention to the piece, or present the piece to a larger audience. She or he may decide to submit the piece to a magazine or contest. She or he may want to sell the piece and market it. The designer will make choices about how a piece might be worn, or who might wear it, or when it might be worn, in what context.

And for all these choices, the jewelry designer might need to overcome a sense of fear, boredom, or resistance. The designer might need to overcome anxiety, a sense of giving up, having jeweler’s block, feeling unchallenged, and even laziness.

The empowered jewelry designer should have answers to 5 critical questions:

Question 1:  Should BEADWORK and JEWELRY MAKING be considered ART or CRAFT?
The jewelry designer confronts a world that is unsure whether jewelry is “craft” or “art.” This can get very confusing and unsettling. Each approach has its own separate ideas about how the designer should work, and how he or she should be judged.

When defined as “craft,” jewelry is seen as something that anyone can do – no special powers are needed to be a jewelry designer. As “craft,” there is somewhat of a pejorative meaning — it’s looked down upon, thought of as something less than art. But as “craft,” we recognize the interplay of the artist’s hand with the piece and the storytelling underlying it. We honor the technical prowess. People love to bring art into their personal worlds, and the craftsperson offers them functional objects that have artistic sensibilities.

When defined as “art,” jewelry is seen as something which transcends itself and its design. It evokes an emotional response from the viewer.   It has more of a sense of clarity of purpose and choice, a sense of presence. As “jewelry art,”  things done to improve functionality – durability, movement, drape and flow – should play no role at all, or as a compromise, merely be supplemental.

How you define your work as ART or CRAFT will determine what skills you learn, how you apply them, and how you introduce your pieces to a wider audience.

QUESTION 2:  How do you decide what you want to create?
What kinds of things do you do to translate your passions and inspirations into jewelry? What is your creative process?

Applying yourself creatively can be fun at times, but scary at other times. It is work. There is an element of risk. You might not like what you end up doing. Your friends might not like it. Nor your family. You might not finish it.  Or you might do it wrong. It may seem easier to go with someone else’s project.

Set no boundaries and set no rules. Be free. Go with the flow. Don’t conform to expectations.
Play. Pretend you’re a kid again. Have fun. Get the giggles.
Experiment. Take the time to do a lot of What Ifs and Variations On A Theme and Trial and Error.
Keep good records. Make good notes and sketches of what seems to work, and what seems to not work.
Evaluate. Learn from your successes and mistakes. Figure out the Why did something work, and the Why Nots.

QUESTION 3:  What kinds of MATERIALS work well together, and which ones do not?   
The choice of materials, including beads, clasps, and stringing materials, set the tone and chances of success for your piece.   There are light/shadow issues, textural issues, and color issues.  All of these choices:
… affect the look
… affect the drape
… affect the feel
… relate to the context

I always suggest using the highest quality materials your budget will allow.

Question 4: Beyond applying basic techniques, how does the Jewelry Designer evoke an emotional response to their jewelry?
An artistic and well-designed piece of jewelry should evoke an emotional response. This takes both the successful application of techniques as well as skills.

Unfortunately, beaders and jewelry makers focus too often on techniques and not often enough on skills. It is important to draw distinctions here.

Techniques are necessary but not sufficient to get you there. You need skills. The classic analogy comparing techniques and skills references cutting bread with a knife. Technique:  How to hold the knife relative to the bread in order to cut it. Skill:  The force applied so that the bread gets cut successfully.

Skills are the kinds of things the jewelry designer applies which enhance his or her capacity to control for bad workmanship. These include:
– Judgment
– Presentation
– Care and dexterity
– Taking risks

QUESTION #5: When is enough enough?
How does the jewelry artist know when the piece is done? Overdone? Or underdone? How do you edit?

In the bead and jewelry arenas, you see piece after piece that is either over-embellished or under-done. Things may get too repetitive with the elements and materials. Or the pieces don’t feel that they are quite there yet.

For every piece of jewelry there will be that point of parsimony, where adding or subtracting one more element will make the experiencing of the whole greater than the sum of its parts.

The empowered jewelry designer will have answers to these questions, though not every designer will have the same answers, nor is there one best answer. Yet it is unacceptable to avoid answering any of these 5 questions, for fear you might not like the answer.

The empowered jewelry designer will have learned the skills for making good choices. These choices include making judgments about combining materials, both physical and aesthetic, into wearable art forms and adornment. This is jewelry making and design.

 

Warren FFor Warren F., Jewelry Designer and teacher in Nashville, TN, beading and jewelry making endeavors have been wonderful adventures. These adventures, over the past 25 years, have taken Warren from the basics of bead stringing and bead weaving, to wire working and silver smithing, and onward to more complex jewelry designs which build on the strengths of a full range of technical skills and experiences. Learn more about Warren here!

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The DESIGN PERSPECTIVE

Posted by learntobead on November 3, 2011

The DESIGN Perspective
On Beading and Jewelry Making

The DESIGN PERSPECTIVE is very focused on teaching beaders and jewelry makers how to make choices. Choices about what materials to include, and not to include. Choices about strategies and techniques of construction. Choices about mechanics. Choices about aesthetics. Choices about how best to evoke emotions.

These choices must also reflect an understanding of the bead and its related components, and how all these pieces, in conjunction with stringing materials, assert their needs. Their needs for color, light and shadow. Their needs for durability, flexibility, drape, movement and wearability. Their needs for social and psychological and cultural and contextual appropriateness, satisfaction, beauty, fashion, style, power and influence.

This DESIGN PERSPECTIVE contrasts with the more predominant Craft Approach, where the beader or jewelry maker merely follows a set of steps and ends up with something. Here, in this step-by-step approach, all the choices have been made for them.

And this DESIGN PERSPECTIVE also contrasts with another widespread approach – the Art Tradition – which focuses on achieving ideals of beauty, whether the jewelry is worn or not. Here the beader or jewelry maker learns to apply art theories learned by painters and sculptors, and assumed to apply equally to beads and jewelry, as well.

The Craft Approach and the Art Tradition ignore too much of the functional essence of jewelry. Because of this, they often steer the beader and jewelry maker in the wrong directions. Making the wrong choices. Exercising the wrong judgments. Applying the wrong tradeoffs between aesthetics and functionality.

The focus of the DESIGN PERSPECTIVE is strategic thinking. At the core of this thinking are a series of design principles and their applications. These principles provide the beader and jewelry maker with some clarity in a muddled world.

The belief here is that, since there are so many different kinds of information to be learned and applied, it is impossible to clearly integrate this information all at once. When learned haphazardly or randomly, it becomes too difficult or confusing to bring to bear all these kinds of things the beader or jewelry maker needs to do when designing and constructing a piece of jewelry. Thus, the beader and jewelry maker best learn all this related yet disparate information in a developmental order, based on some coherent grammer or set of rules of design. This is the DESIGN PERSPECTIVE.

So, we begin with a Core set of skills and concepts, and how these are interrelated and applied. Then we move on to a Second Set of skills and concepts, their interrelationships and applications, and identifying how they are related to the Core. And onward again to a Third Set of skills and concepts, their interrelationships and applications and relationship to the Second Set and the Core, and so forth.

In the DESIGN PERSPECTIVE, “Jewelry” is understood as Art, but is only Art as it is worn. It is not considered Art when sitting on a mannequin or easel. Because of this, the principles learned through Craft or Art are important, but not sufficient for learning good jewelry design and fashioning good jewelry.

Learning good jewelry design creates its own challenges. All jewelry functions in a 3-dimensional space, particularly sensitive to position, volume and scale. Jewelry must stand on its own as an object of art. But it must also exist as an object of art which interacts with people (and a person’s body), movement, personality, and quirks of the wearer, and of the viewer, as well as the environment and context. Jewelry serves many purposes, some aesthetic, some functional, some social and cultural, some psychological.

The focus of the DESIGN PERSPECTIVE is on the parts. How do you choose them? How should they be used, and not be used? How do you assemble them and combine them in such a way that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts? How do you create and build in support systems within your jewelry to enable that greater movement, more flexibility, better draping, longer durability? How do you best use all these parts, making them resonate and evoking that emotional response from your audience to your style, vision and creative hand that you so desire?

The beader and jewelry maker is seen as a multi-functional professional, similar to an architect who builds houses and an engineer who builds bridges. In all these cases, the professional must bring a lot of very different kinds of skills and abilities to bear, when constructing, whether house or bridge or jewelry. The professional has to be able to manage artistic design, functionality, and the interaction of the object with the person and that person’s environment.

Read: ABOUT GOOD JEWELRY DESIGN: Principles of Composition

Enter: The Ugly Necklace Contest – A Jewelry Design Competition With A Twist!

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Need for Critical Writing About Beading

Posted by learntobead on August 27, 2009

Need For Critical Writing and Dialog About Beading

One of the major gaps in Bead World is the support of more open and frequent critical writing and dialog about beading.   What it is.  Why it is.   It’s relationship to art.   The relationship of current modes and techniques to historical ones.   Contemporizing Traditional Beadwork.    Adding dimensionality.   Why there are numerous ways to work thru the same stitch, like Peyote, Brick, Daisy Stitch or Right Angle Weave.    Design elements and rules of composition underlying beading.    Beading structures.  Documenting beading techniques.  Forms and functions of beading.    Sex and sexuality, wealth and poverty, emotion and no emotion, and other pertinent themes underlying beading.   Comparative analyses of artists works.    Use of color with beads.    The relationship of jewelry as display item and jewelry as item as it is worn.   Why beads have power.   What makes some jewelry resonate.

Bead World lacks an academic center, which would encourage such discussions.   Bead World lacks magazines and journals which support these kinds of discussions.   Bead World is very step-by-step craft focused, and doesn’t tend to raise a lot of questions.     It doesn’t tend to support detailed documenting of beading traditions.   It doesn’t support urgent efforts to document and collect beadwork of rapidly disappearing ethnic groups, such as those in Dafur Africa.   It doesn’t create a clear sense of what is good beadwork, and what is sloppy beadwork. 

We have a recent history of beading in the US that began around 1960, and few people have witnessed the story.   Few people have asked deeper questions of the artists and teachers who first brought about an unbelievable increase in beading in the  1990s.   A lot of information has been lost.  

The information could be used to broaden the field, attract more people into beading, and encourage experimentation, research, deliberation.

Very sad.

At the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, Oregon, they have created exhibits and ongoing discussions about criticality in craft, in general at least.   Beading and jewelry come into play occasionally.  

Their new discussion series — CALL + RESPONSE — is outlined on their web-site:

http://museumofcontemporarycraft.org/call/introduction.html

It’s definitely worth a visit.   Be sure to read the full essays from each participant, as well as view images of the works associated with each essay.

Anya Kivarkis, area head, jewelry and metalsmithing, University of Oregon

Anya Kivarkis, area head, jewelry and metalsmithing, University of Oregon

 

 

 

Namita Gupta Wiggers, curator, Museum of Contemporary Craft
Complaints about a need for critical writing on craft surface with great frequency. Drawing on the musical concept of “call and response,” this exhibition opens a space for critical dialogue and exchange between craft-based artists and art historians. From nearly three years of discussion, studio visits and exchanges of ideas, the resulting exhibition presents artwork and essays by eight pairs of artists and art historians, all of whom currently teach in Oregon colleges and universities.

 

 

 

 

Kate Mondloch, assistant professor of contemporary art history and theory, University of Oregon on
Josh Faught, assistant professor and program coordinator of fibers, University of Oregon
Knitting was passed down to me from my grandmother. However, I attribute most of my early experiences with craft to my time in summer camp. In fact, I think it’s safe to say that I learned to weave before I learned to draw or paint. It’s a biographical aspect of my work that I still like to talk about since it locates my skill set from a time iconically loaded with issues of identity construction. In college, I studied art history and English but when I graduated I gained a bit more confidence in my creative abilities. 

 

 

 

 

 

Abby McGehee, associate professor, Oregon College of Art and Craft on
Anya Kivarkis, area head, jewelry and metalsmithing, University of Oregon

For any student of material culture, objects provide the means for understanding social values, ritual and domestic procedure, and individual artistic development. Objects and structures are proxies for vanished makers and patrons, and remnants of the world they created. But there is always a tension between the substantiality of these physical remains and the absence of their historical context.

 

 

 

 

Kirsi Peltomäki, assistant professor of art history, department of art, Oregon State University on
Jiseon Lee Isbara, associate professor and fibers department head, Oregon College of Art and Craft

Hand-sewing, whether to join fabric pieces together or make a mark on them by embroidery, remains at the center of Jiseon Lee Isbara’s artistic practice, although she freely makes use of a sewing machine as well, and, on occasion, includes other techniques such as inkjet printing on fabric. A fiber-based artist by training and profession, the material and conceptual dimensions of Lee Isbara’s works simultaneously resonate with contemporary sculpture, particularly work by Eva Hesse and Mona Hatoum, and with the Korean textile tradition of pojagi wrapping cloths. Lee Isbara’s recent work involves pieced fabric stitched into patchwork forms and displayed in three-dimensional installations or two-dimensional wall arrangements. In any configuration, Lee Isbara’s work constitutes mental maps, visualizing territories that are coded and decoded in languages at once familiar and uncharted.

 

 

 

 

Dawn Odell, assistant professor, department of art and art history, Lewis & Clark College on
Sam Morgan, ceramics instructor and art chair, Cascade Campus, Portland Community College

Although the necessity for a division between the fine and decorative arts has been under assault for decades, the ghost of this separation continues to haunt discussions of contemporary craft. When considering ceramics, for example, the fine/decorative divide is often breeched by emphasizing the sculptural qualities of ceramics, both in terms of the objects’ three-dimensional form and also by assuming that the work is best contemplated from a distance. Sam Morgan’s art resists this conflation of ceramic as sculpture. 

 

 

 

 

Rob Slifkin, assistant professor of art and humanities, Reed College on
Studio Gorm (John Arndt and Wonhee Jeong), associate professors, product design, University of Oregon

Understood in its most expansive sense, to design is to forge a possibility. Whether one sketches a preliminary study for a painting or sculpture, or draws a plan for a building or a piece of furniture – or outlines a draft for an essay – the act of design entails the projection of a desired future outcome from a present moment. 

 

 

 

 

Matt Johnston, assistant professor, department of art, Lewis & Clark College on 
Karl Burkheimer, associate professor and head of the wood department, Oregon College of Art and Craft
From Karl Marx to Clement Greenberg and beyond (and probably echoing as a refrain in this collection of essays), both craft and art are portrayed as heroic but losing enterprises within an increasingly pervasive dehumanization of life brought about by the growth of capitalist society. A tool-making species, in this apocalypse of our own creation, we are losing touch with basic hand-eye skills required to fashion, manipulate, and interpret objects; in effect losing the ability to re-imagine and re-make the world, and are instead becoming mere passive consumers of machine-fabricated commodities. 

 

 

 

 

Anne Marie Oliver, assistant professor of intermedia and contemporary art theory, Pacific Northwest College of Art on
David Eckard, chair of the sculpture department and an instructor in the foundation and intermedia departments, Pacific Northwest College of Art

It would be a mistake, however, to view magic simply as a reenactment of social behavior, the logic of belief, or a mere lure or decoy by which attention is drawn away from some tasks in order for others, often traumatic or violatory, to be accomplished. In the final analysis, magic is far more disturbing than any conjectured relation between duplicity and consciousness, belief and disbelief, distraction and destruction. 

 

 

 

 

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What Is Craft?

Posted by learntobead on March 27, 2009

This question comes up often:
What is Craft?

Is Craft Art?

Can Craft be Art?

In many circles “jewelry” is considered a craft.  In others, “jewelry” is art.

At the Victoria and Albert Museum in England, they have opened up their art collections to include those of craft.  Yet they continue to make a distinction between the two, as seems to be common across Europe.    Craft is what you do with your hands, and Art is what you do with your mind.

To celebrate a new partnership between the V&A and the Crafts Council, we asked leading figures in the craft world to tell us what the term craft means to them. We hope these comments will inspire you send us your views too, resulting in some healthy debate.”

[While you are visiting the V&A museum online, check out their jewellery collections — don’t you love the way the British spell jewelry!.]

va1

 

 

 

va2

 

I think in America, any distinctions between craft and art are starting to get very murky.    I guess we tend to be much more democratic about things.

I recently finished reading a book called SHARDS by Garth Clark on ceramic art.   Clark’s is a major voice for understanding craft as art.  But he decries the lack of leadership in the ceramics field in how ceramics are taught, and how ceramics are promoted.    He feels that ceramics relies too much on an industrial model — making the best toilets, and not enough on an art model — making objects that resonate from an artist’s personality, sensibilities, and social/cultural perspectives.

I wonder sometimes if there are not parallels in jewelry and beading to Clark’s assessments of ceramics.

Another book I’ve just begun is THINKING THROUGH CRAFT by Glenn Adamson.    He asks provocative questions about the marginalization of craft within modern art.   He advocates for visual artists to take a renewed look at craft to better understand the “working in media” craft techniques and theories which also underly the visual arts, but are too often ignored.

 And just in time for our blog discussion on craft vs. art, I received this announcement from the Museum of Contemporary Craft in Portland, OR.

Community Conversations
Museum of Contemporary Craft, Pacific Northwest College of Art and panelists from Oregon’s creative community invite you to engage in a series of conversations about the anticipated integration of these two institutions. Explore the broader concepts relevant to creating a more vibrant and expanded organization that will strengthen its contribution to the cultural voice and economic vitality of the region. Conversations are moderated by Tim DuRoche, community program manager at Portland Center Stage.
 

Thursday, April 9, 6:30 pm
The Changing Dynamics of Craft and Design

Pacific Northwest College of Art, 1241 NW Johnson, Portland

Panelists
:
Andrew Wagner
, editor-in-chief, American Craft magazine
Namita Gupta Wiggers, curator, Museum of Contemporary Craft
JP Reuer, chair, MFA in applied craft and design, Oregon College of Art and Craft (OCAC) and PNCA

Karl Burkheimer
, head, OCAC wood department

What Does Craft Mean To You?   What Do You Think It Means To Others?
How Does This Affect Jewely Making, Beadwork and Jewelry Design?  
PLEASE POST YOUR VIEWS AND FEELINGS:

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Mandy Greer: Dare alla Luce

Posted by learntobead on March 5, 2009

Mandy Greer: Dare alla Luce

January 22-May 31
Museum of Contemporary Craft
Portland, Oregon

Northwest artist Mandy Greer creates her largest and most intricate artwork, extending her sculpture to a room-sized scale. Greer employs humble handicraft processes and materials, executing her work through crochet, braiding, sewing and beading processes that use yarn, beads, shells, feathers and more. Merging the mythical and the mundane, the resulting work intertwines objects and space in an exuberant, sensual and visceral installation.

See the installation on video

http://vimeo.com/2905630?pg=transcoded_embed&sec=2905630

  Read the rest of this entry »

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