In a Name

There are some core discussions about craft and craftsmanship in our feature book The Children’s Book by AS Byatt. The language around craft is often weighed down in history. Unlike fine art which has comfortably contemporised it’s language along with style, craft has kept its fundamentals, both in methodology and language.

This can be a hindrance both mentally and practically for makers. In highly competitive markets, both in terms of government funding and in commercial settings, you have to be careful what you call yourself. Pigeonhole yourself and you run the risk of only being allowed to take opportunities from one box – the one with your crafts name on it.

I spoke to several makers, who for the sake of ease here we will call jewellers, about the issues surrounding the labelling of their craft. What do they call themselves? Designers? Artists? Jewellers? Gold and Silversmiths? Not surprisingly they offered up different answers to this labelling conundrum.

Liana Kabel, a maker based in Brisbane, has a reputation for turning the brightly coloured plastics of Tupperware into beautiful and wearable pieces. She has a strong online profile and uses social media to great effect to promote her work. Kabel takes a practical half and help approach to labelling her practice

I have the words Art Design Jewellery on my business card/website because I feel in between all these things. I’d say jeweller if I were pushed.

Danielle Maugeri, whose work is stocked throughout Australia, takes a different approach given her complex road to becoming a jeweller.

I have battled with this question for 10 years now. I am formally trained as an industrial designer- but I have never been an industrial designer. I turned straight to making ceramics with no training, then jewellery with minimal training. I call myself a designer/maker. If I say ceramicist or jeweller, those that are these things look upon me as a fake. Does it matter if i have not done the hard yards like them? Granted, I don’t know all that they know…but does this mean I’m not real? Designer slash maker is the best I’ve come up with.

Linda Hughes began as a sculptor before moving into the formal world of study at RMIT in their world renowned Gold and Silversmithing course. Despite this she has allowed herself the ultimate freedom in labelling. When posed the question her email response was a simple one:

art·ist
noun
1. A person who produces works in any of the arts that are primarily subject to aesthetic criteria.
2. A person who practices one of the fine arts

New Zealand born, Melbourne based Vicki Mason, displays a more flexibly mindset.

I tend towards calling myself a jeweller. I could use all those other words as I’m all of those as well, but for me personally I decided to keep it simple and jewellery is what I make. I think it’s a term that sums up everything and although it leads to confusion sometimes and the need to explain to others what sort of jewellery I make, it seems more honest to me.

I’m a jeweller, perhaps not as some would know in the traditional sense, but I make objects to wear essentially and this is what jewellery aims for the most part. It is about making objects to be worn.

It’s a big word (jewellery/jeweller) once you start to think of nuances and this can be good I think as it unites all of us who make these objects to be worn, art jewellers, trade jewellers, costume jewellers, contemporary jewellers, studio jeweller etc.

Sometimes I say contemporary jeweller but less so these days and sometimes I call myself an art jeweller but its dependent on who I’m talking to and who how I’m feeling that day.

The way we label ourselves can go some way in indicating to our audience our style and sensibility and perhaps we need to allow for multiple branches from the one tree. At the end of the day we are all makers and that label will always be one to be celebrated.

4 thoughts on “In a Name

  1. It’s fascinating to read how important a name is to craftspersons. But there, I’ve done it. I’ve used that bureaucratic gender-neutral word of the late 20th century. So what makes a ‘maker’ different from a ‘craftsperson’? Is it freedom from tradition? The word ‘maker’ seems very popular in South Africa, where it is associated with township entrepreneurialism. While ‘artisan’ is the most common term in Asia – perhaps with an element of subservience. ‘Maker’ seems to be about small business, while ‘craftsperson’ opens the work to criticism from peers. It seems important to know what the game is in the name.

  2. The root of the problem here is that ‘fine’ are has for at least two centuries defined itself as not craft. When the Royal Academicians led by Sir Joshua Reynolds were arguing for the the status of painting as one of the liberal arts they needed to emphasis its intellectual side at the expense of its physical dimension, at the cost of anything that might associate it with mere ‘mechaniks’. Nothing has changed, craftspeople may wish to be judged artists or some weird something/artist hybrid but the art world, by and large, does not and will not admit them. It knows it must police its borders with relentless rigor to maintain its status. Craftspeople meanwhile are a bit like a subjugated population that has bought the mythology that reinforces its very subjugated. As long as craftspersons look to ‘art’ as the status of craft will remain confused (and low).

  3. Sorry all, I typed that last comment in a hurry and can see some dreadful typos there.
    It should read:
    The root of the problem here is that ‘fine art’ has for at least two centuries been defined as NOT craft. When the Royal Academicians led by Sir Joshua Reynolds were arguing for the the status of painting as one of the liberal arts they needed to emphasize its intellectual side at the expense of its physical dimension, at the cost of anything that might associate it with mere ‘mechaniks’. Nothing has changed, craftspeople may wish to be judged artists or some weird something/artist hybrid but the art world, by and large, does not and will not admit them. It knows it must police its borders with relentless rigor to maintain its status. Craftspeople meanwhile are a bit like a subjugated population that has bought into the very mythology that reinforces its subjugation. As long as craftspersons look to ‘art’ the status of craft will remain confused (and low).

  4. I realise when reading the discussion that I avoided a label and gave a glib answer,
    because labels limit, they function as descriptors and don’t tell a full story.

    When asked what I do; I used to say ‘I type in order to finance an obsession with making things. I work at a jewellers bench but I use plastic and glue.’ I avoided saying jeweller because of the materials I use, avoided saying artist because it sounded egotistical, avoided craftsperson too.

    I have aspirations… maybe I’m sniffing too much glue… but in reality ‘art’ may still be in my head whereas the results of my labours are prosaic. The aspirations remain and as such don’t limit me and perhaps I may still travel towards my potential. ps. I don’t type anymore… that label served me well

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