By cloelea, Feb 23 2017
“After all, what could it (contemporary jewellery) possibly contribute that other visual arts do not explore at least equally as well? Intimacy, unease, voyeurism, consolation, exuberance, silence, beauty…?” (Ted Noten).
Differentiating between jewellery and art doesn’t seem a priori that important, at least in the eye of someone who just looks at jewellery as a pretty thing to wear. However it poses questions on what is contemporary jewellery, why people make contemporary jewellery and why people wear contemporary jewellery, if it’s not necessarily for its prettiness.
In his Jewellery Manifesto (“Celebration of the street “Manifesto of the new jewellery”, for full text: http://www.current-obsession.com/ted-noten-manifesto/), Ted Noten expresses his fear that contemporary jewellery has lost itself in its quest for recognition. His manifesto could be summed up as: Contemporary jewellery is dead, long live contemporary jewellery!
“… along the way it (jewellery) had become fixated on acquiring status that it had lost its purpose and hence control over the wheel. The struggle for emancipation had become its ultimate goal. Then the crash came. And now here it hangs on the wall of gallery …” (Ted Noten).
This is one point that I have felt strongly about, that it seems that nowadays the only way a piece of contemporary jewellery is recognised as such is if it is exhibited in a renowned gallery. The name of the artist is far more important these days than the actual jewel and this name only becomes famous as long as the artist makes the most exuberant and outrageous pieces. This is rather funny that this manifesto comes from someone who is exactly that, famous for being outrageous, as can be seen in the illustrations above of some of his creations.
One important element for me in this manifesto is the fact that jewellery artist are often ignoring the potential wearer. “That process, characteristic for the creation of every piece of jewellery for thousands of years was kept in balance by the astute awareness of its actual calling: as an accessory that ultimately expresses the aspirations and achievements of the wearer, not those of the designer. Yes, conventional, and yes, inevitably judged on craftsmanship but for that fact also recognisable and appreciated by the many” (Ten Noten).
However in that regard, I think that it is the main point of differentiation between contemporary jewellery and traditional jewellery. Traditional jewellery tries to please the potential wearer in many conventional ways: aesthetic, in that it helps us feel more attractive, by following fashion and trends, by using expensive materials and hence become an investment, by being made according to the requirements of the wearer.
Whereas contemporary jewellery tries to attract the potential wearer (and maybe please him/her, or create other feelings) by offering a different vision of the world (yes a personal one, but nonetheless different, maybe new, maybe not so new, this doesn’t really matter). It is a sort of exchange, dialogue, which can enrich life as a whole.
Regarding that difference between contemporary jewellery and other arts, I think the main obvious point for me is that you wear jewellery, as an expression of yourself. A piece of art will stay in its case in a gallery or a museum, or even in someone’s home as an ornament, a decoration. A piece of contemporary jewellery is made, in my opinion, to be worn, but not necessarily every day. In fact, I think that it should only be worn when one strongly feels like it, for various reasons intrinsically connected to the piece itself, what is represents for the wearer.
It is, in this sense, that contemporary jewellery meets art, in that it is an artefact offered to the public to be appreciated or not, in the same way an art piece is. Whereas traditional jewellery is made FOR the wearer, in a way dictated by him/her, by its own aspirations and the general codes of aesthetics. Contemporary jewellery is free from these obligations, but this does not mean that it is not in contact with the public. It might offer the potential wearer a way to express himself which he had not thought of before. It is the designer through the jewellery that steps towards the potential wearer, in order to offer him/her a way (his way) of expressing himself/herself.
Ted Noten’s Manifesto ends on these words:
“Jewellery must be sentimental and never look for compromise.
Jewellery must be owned by the public if it wants to touch the public.
Jewellery must steal and seek to be stolen.
Jewellery must cherish its enemies in order to make friends.
Jewellery must forget the psychoanalysis of the studio.
Jewellery must go out into the street to eat and be eaten.
Jewellery must be shamelessly curious.
Jewellery must look where to attack and neglect its defences.
Jewellery must use traditional codes in order to break them.
Jewellery must neither forgive nor forget.
Jewellery must ignore all prescription.”
The above photos are illustrations of jewellery creations by Ted Noten (this is a subjective selection, pieces that are the most interesting or meaningful to me, consequently they may not be the most influential or representative of this artist). His website: http://www.tednoten.com/