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:

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.

Writing things well

Theme for Issue 4.1

"I decided that a kind of rather flat skepticism, and making things, making things well, is better than a utopian attempt to reform society." A.S. Byatt

What is the relation between craft and writing? Is it to enhance our enjoyment of craft? How does the craft sensibility influence writing practice? Is it more about attention to detail than the bigger picture?

This theme is an opportunity to share opinions about the kind of writing that enhances craft, those writers who embody a craft sensibility, and ideas about the role of craft in relation to other elements of the writing trade, such as content and expression.

We are joined at the Table with two erudite guests to lead this conversation, Jenni Sorkin and Ramona Barry. As an appetiser, you are invited to read the interview with A.S. Byatt about her recent novel, The Children’s Book. To contribute to this discussion, take a seat here.

Artists covenants

While reading the original article dealing with virtual guilds, it reminded me of the “Artist’s Covenant” that we follow here in our extremely busy working studio. We have almost 20 artists working out of this space, most as resident artists. We also just admitted our 4000th student in 9 years. This is an extremely active artist collective.

The over-riding philosophy in this space is the “Artist’s Covenant”. This is an intrinsic agreement by all artists utilizing our space. No one is admitted without buying into it. In our case the covenant is as follows. “A Rising Tide Floats All Boats”.

To become a member here you must first agree to be happy for everyone’s success, not just your own. This fosters a positive air in the work environment. Jointly, each artist agrees to not only look out for his or her own opportunities, but also to promote the other artists in the covenant.

If there is an article being written about you, can you mention another of the studio artists? If you have a museum show, can a piece or two be a collaboration with another studio artist? If a show comes along, can you let others know in the collective if their work is appropriate? If a collector comes and buys one of your pieces, can you then show them around the studio and introduce them to others work?

None of these things costs the original artist anything. He/she still has the press, still has the museum show, still has the sale, etc. They simply have increased someone else’s opportunities.

The reason for doing this is simple. As each of the artist become progressively more successful, the opportunities ascribed to the entire collective also increases in number and stature. Eventually, all begin to move up the art world ladder. The difference is that no one has to do it as well. They are surrounded by support.

Many covenants have been used historically, such as the groups surrounded Georgia O’Keefe and Marcel Duchamp. Alfred Stieglitz circle would gather those artists who felt “abandoned” by the mainstream art world. One of those was his future wife Georgia O’Keefe. He would then meet as a group and decide how to promote them selves while still remaining true to their art. He eventually opened a gallery where they formed an allegiance with European artists such as Kandinsky. We take these artists successes for granted these days, forgetting that they were once “outsider” artists.

In the 1920’s there was also the Surrealist movement (both in New York and in Paris)…with such illustrious members as Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Salvador Dali . They were very savvy in that part of their collective was made up of several critics and writers. What began as a collection of artists without a following became a movement, which influences art to this day.

To stay completely positive towards all others successes when we ourselves are not moving forward is tougher than it may seem. Without these unwritten contracts, artists can fall too easily into a solitary guarding of personal turf.

The benefits to this approach are immediately evident in the feel of the working studio…..where all things are possible and the sky’s the limit. The long term is the accelerated success of most of its members. Few could have predicted the future successes of the Stieglitz Circle or the Surrealists. Where artists feel strongly enough about their work, it will only be a matter of time till they find an audience for their work.