Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Snapshot, for what it's worth

I am the tough as nails product of an all girls’ school, parents who never called me their little princess, boyfriends who knew I could almost certainly kick their butts. I grew up wrestling with my brother, talking physics with my father, debating religion with my mother, and retreating to the jewelry studio to figure myself out. They call me their changeling; I look like no one but am interested in everything. I am a second wave hippie, third wave feminist, half-Jewish, half-goy atheist, and an inveterate and unrepentant geek. I inhale books on neurology and string theory, economics and evolution, politics and history. I am a babe with a blowtorch, addicted to power tools, with dirt under my nails and cuts on every finger. I am a strange hybrid of left and right brain, paint in my hair and a low cut dress, three books at a time in my injured hand. I am the elephant’s child, full of satiable curtiosity, and I am not ready to settle into a life limited to one dimension. I have too much left to learn.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

Feminist Jewelry

"Because in our culture girls are both the consumers and the commodities in dehumanizing markets that divide them into body parts that can be packaged and redesigned, from your fingernails to your breasts to the size of your thighs. That market depends on institutionalized misogyny and individual self-loathing." -Shapely Prose

The quoted post is discussing something else, but this is at the heart of my struggles with ornamentation and jewelry as a whole, something that is a long term project to try to dissect. Essentially, I want to figure out if it is possible to take jewelry, a medium that has been used to constrain and objectify women more times than not (dowry jewelry, slave piercings, jewelry as status symbol, even engagement rings) and find space for good, for power moving outwards. There are a few angles I want to tackle.

-Overtly feminist pieces: Such as the pieces I've done looking at Eve, or those with Maya Angelou's poetry on them, etc. Pieces that openly discuss feminist issues.

-Jewelry for the wearer: Pieces with hidden messages, that can be worn different ways, that have an altogether richer experience for the wearer than for the viewer.

-Non-binding jewelry: This is just a thought that I haven't explored all that thoroughly yet, but I'm interested in the possibilities for jewelry that doesn't clasp, doesn't lock, doesn't restrict the wearer. It would probably end up being fairly conceptual work, but interesting nonetheless.

-Non-precious pieces: This is complicated, because there are things you can do with silver that you can't do with other materials. But I try hard not to stick gold or stones or anything into a piece that doesn't truly add to it. For instance, I would never use white gold - unless you have an allergy, the color is duller than silver, the only real benefit it has is its expense and accompanying snob appeal. So no huge diamonds, no pieces that serve to simply showcase wealth. Each piece should ideally be beautiful on its own merits, regardless of the materials involved.

I'm sure I'll talk a lot more about this subject in the future, but the quote caught my eye and I wanted to jot down the basics before I forgot.

Mental Health Day(s) and Art/Craft Musings

It's awful that the way my life is set up right now, the only thing I can afford to miss is my time in the studio, which is also the only thing keeping me moderately sane. By Thursday, I was not feeling moderately sane. I was barely able to function, and I realized I had to go home. I haven't had a break since October, and so I took a few mental health days. It's been beautiful - sleeping 12 hours a night, blobbing on the couch, seeing my family. My grandparents came down, which was really nice, and my grandmother even bought a few pieces. Love that.

I finally submitted my application for the dual degree program last night, meaning that I'll know soon whether I'm doing two degrees or one. It's very frustrating, this school would have been a safety school for me when I applied the first time round, but because I'm now coming from art school, there's this prejudice. I've noticed this all around, that artists are perceived to be less smart, that we're often seen to be either stuck in art as a last resort because we're not smart enough for anything else, or wasting our intelligence. As someone who has always been at the top of her class, 1560 SATs, never had a problem with academics, this is intensely frustrating. But I do sometimes see it in people around me. I think the problem is that people have internalized that attitude, that art is fundamentally different from academics and requires no knowledge of the world outside of personal experience. And certainly some good art comes out of a very limited worldview, some art wouldn't be as good if it weren't from such a specific place. But the upper middle class slackers are often just too lazy to learn, and chose art because they wouldn't be forced to learn there. Like Andy Warhol's quote, "Art is anything you can get away with." You know what? Screw you, Andy. Look, if you've had no new experiences in your life, if you come from a place that's "been done" and have no new insights on it, there's no way to make good art out of that, by my definition. I feel like real art requires either a fresh insight on something personal, OR a connection or reference to something in the world, some new piece of knowledge about how the world connects, some commentary. And for that you need to KNOW THINGS. Read books. Go to other countries. Take classes. Try to understand how and why things are the way they are. Sexism, racism, classism, poverty, hunger, war, mythology, xenophobia, these are the experiences humanity has been defined by. I feel like good art NEEDS knowledge, connection, empathy.

And what about things that are just pretty? I'm torn. I think at the end of the day art needs to talk about something, speak with its own voice. Sometimes that can be about innovative form, or space, or expressive color, but I honestly feel like then it has to be that much more impressive, that much stronger. I'm sorry, pretty doesn't cut it for me at the end of the day. Does that make me a traitor to jewelry, especially? Maybe. I would restrict the category of art to pieces that talk about something outside themselves. Either narrative work, or pieces that go REALLY above and beyond in how they interact with the body, what they say about space and form. By my own definition, perhaps the majority of my work wouldn't fall into that category. That's OK. I don't feel like a piece has to be "art" to be valuable, either. Craft is impressive, craft is valuable, craft is a language unto itself. And into the category of craft, I would add most representational painting and drawing and representational sculpture. Just because these are older mediums doesn't mean they are inherently more valid.

And why does it matter? The art/craft distinction? I think the dividing line comes back to where I started from - intelligence as it is measured in the outside world. Knowledge, connection, allusion, insights about the stuff of life. Perhaps even in my perfect world, where art and craft are acknowledged and valued separately, artists would still be looked down on by those in academia. But at least then it would be easier to see it for what it often truly is - a yearning for a life they didn't have the courage to grasp. Luann points out in her blog, "As Bruce Baker says so enchantingly, “To ‘normal’ folks, artists are people that ran away to join the circus!” Fair enough. But is it too much to ask that intelligence and insight and real content not be dismissed just because they're found under the Big Top?