One thread that was consistent throughout the Zoom Symposium was that of the role of the maker. Each speaker addressed in some way, who we are, how to approach what we do and the environment we exhibit and sell in.
In this post, I’ll follow that thread as it winds from speaker to speaker, and tell the story with lots of pictures.
We’ll start with Arthur Hash, the laser engraving of enamels guy I introduced you to yesterday:
Arthur talked to us about high tech jewelry, how he uses the high tech tools, including laser engraving, laser cutting, 3D printing, powder coating and more.
My sense from the audience was that this group of primarily students, currently enrolled in BFA or MFA metalsmithing programs, were not super open to his approach to making.
One questioner asked Arthur, “Photographers have been replaced by digital photography, will we be replaced by 3D printing?”
Ah! There we go! This is the same resistance to new technology that inspires such invective on the Orchid list, where railing against CAD/CAM is almost daily.
Here’s a sample clip from a post from just yesterday:
“This is a perfect example of people are letting technology take over their brains. I could take gold wire and make a setting almost as
fast as it would take to turn on the computer and open the CAD
program. They now have boats that you can drive with a joystick
control, I will quit sailing before I will sail with a joystick. We
are being brainwashed with this stuff.”
(He went on to say that goldsmiths are a dying breed and in ten years will be able to name their price for their work. He could be right about that.)
Here’s my sum up of that general idea, which used to be my personal metalsmithing motto:
That got me thinking, What’s behind this fear of high tech production techniques?
Here’s a mind map on that question – a picture of a page from my sketchbook.
The lines coming out of that center say:
Upstarts can shortcut my training, do a run-around on me.
I will lose my status as Maker, hard-earned.
My objects will lose their status.
Let’s look at that another way, asking, “What do we fear is lost when an item is not handmade?”
Here’s what I came up with:
It makes me, the maker less special.
The “touch” of the artist, the “hand” (is lost).
It makes the object less special.
Potential for unlimited “copies” devalues the object.
I’m not saying these are my views, I’m trying to figure it out — where that resistance to high tech methods is coming from.
In response to this one, I asked myself, “What would happen if we released that fear?”
Next, I asked “Should this item be handmade? (or, Why am I thinking of hand making this?)”
only way I know.
handmade-ness is part of the idea of the piece.
technique cannot be replicated in a Fab-Lab method.
I want to emphasize the limited edition-ness of it.
(are those good reasons?)
I concluded that the Idea, Object and Method of Creation are inter-related:
The object still matters. We love to make ‘em, people love to wear ‘em, own ‘em. Sometimes it matters to some customers. It matters to me if it needs to be handcrafted to be in a specific show or sales venue. Beyond that, I’ve released the Cult of the Handcrafted.
Another artist who has released the Cult of the Handcrafted, in my assessment, is Jillian Moore, another speaker at the symposium. Here’s an image of her work, one of the pieces that was in the Shift exhibition.
Jillian originally made these works by electroforming. In electroforming, you create a form in wax, paint it with conductive paint and then submerse it in a bath filled with copper particles and connect your piece with electric wire to attract the copper particles. (apologies for any inaccuracies in that quick description.)
She was taking these electroformed shapes and coating them with layers and layers of paint and resin. It doesn’t always show in pictures, but her pieces have a depth to them, created by those layers.
At one point, she realized it didn’t really matter if it was copper under all that resin. Sure, fellow metal heads cared, but did anyone else? Did anyone appreciate the laborious nature of the electroforming, the copper? She switched to using foam as the base of her pieces, which has the added benefit of being lighter.
This brings us to this picture:
I realize that all of this can seem like a discussion of that question about angels and heads of pins, but it does matter, if we can’t figure this out within our industry/community, how can we present ourselves to the outside world?
Jillian is concerned about that — about how we’re perceived in the world in general as “Art Jewelers.” In response to a question from an audience member (the question was something about the DIY movement), Jillian talked about how she describes herself to the cashier at the grocery store, when asked what she does. She says she starts with “I’m an artist,” and might get more specific if there’s interest.
What she doesn’t do, she says, is say — now imagine Jillian saying this in a very snobby voice — “I make Contemporary Art Jewelry.” She advised us:
Jillian said that the DIY movement gives us a ready made audience we can connect with if we’re not dicks about it. We need to be relatable.
On the matter of handmade-ness, if we’re honest, most of us are already not all the way to the left on the continuum. If designing a piece on the computer and having it 3D printed by another company is all the way over on the right, then over on the left is alloying the metal yourself, pouring the ingot and rolling out the metal before you even get started.
Most of us aren’t all the way over on the left. My primary method of making is having work cast from my waxes. I don’t do my own casting. That puts me pretty far on the right side of the continuum.
Why do I create anyway? Even if I’m not doing it “right” in terms of the handmade police?
Because I believe artists have an important role to play in the culture. We are the transmitters of culture, the commenters on it, sometimes we can move the conversation forward.
Sometimes how the objects that are the culture or comment on it matters, and sometimes it doesn’t. For a terrific example of metalsmithing work with cultural significance, look at the work of another speaker, Stephen Saracino, this is his Columbine Survival Bracelet.
And that seems like a good place to stop for now. The comments are open!