Thoughts on ‘contemporary jewellery’

20 07 2012

‘What is contemporary jewellery?’. It’s a question that’s been bothering me for years and years. Many writers have considered the same topic, though I’m more interested in why I would use the term ‘contemporary jewellery’ and how I would consider defining it for my own use.

Using my recent visit to ‘Unexpected Pleasures‘ at the NGV, I’ve been giving it more thought.

Unfortunately I don’t have a cogent theory to offer, just a few thoughts. I have done no reading on the topic – as I find that in reading other people’s thoughts my own thoughts can easily get lost. I wanted to find my own expression and ideas before engaging with the thoughts of others on this topic.

So, I’ve been thinking that makers may use the term ‘contemporary jewellery‘ to:

  • differentiate from ‘high street’ jewellery – the mass-produced kind; and of course to differentiate from jewellery made in previous eras (vintage or antique etc), as the root of the word ‘contemporary‘ means of ‘the present time’
  • indicate a degree of critical engagement in the ideation and making process;
  • (often) suggest that there is a complex conceptual context for the work that may be sensed but not always fully understood upon superficial view;
  • identify as an individual maker, not a ‘brand’; perhaps even to identify as more of an ‘artist’ than jewellers are usually perceived as
  • permit a kind of freedom in, or perhaps justify, the use of all manner of materials;
  • separate from the … erm, how to delicately put this … jewellery made with minimal skill-sets;
  • separate from traditional, perhaps ‘conservative’, goldsmithing; though of course the majority of makers acknowledge their place in the historic lineage (and mine that tradition for resources and ideas).

Many makers of ‘contemporary’ jewellery like to challenge established conventions in jewellery – in terms of wearability (consider Lisa Walker), materials (I especially remember a ‘ring’ made of bread and jam) and ugliness (consider Karl Fritsch).

This is where I think my view of what I do differs from the hard-line (if I may use that term?) contemporary world. While I don’t devalue the place of this kind of making, I find I rarely connect or understand those kinds of pieces. Such differences are utterly essential in a vital making community. And I think I’d like to be part of a different stream of contemporary jewellery.

I’ve noticed those in the ‘challenging’ stream sometimes demean makers who choose to work more ‘conservatively’ … I’ve seen many a sneer at some of the less outrageous jewellers’ work. This is a shame – there is more than enough room for all of our approaches!

I feel like I’m at makers anonymous (MakeAnon???) … Hi, my name is Karen. I like to make jewellery. I like to make objects. I like to get crafty with traditional ‘women’s work’ (embroidery, knitting, crochet). While I appreciate crazy pieces, I make contemporary jewellery which is of a more restrained quiet nature. I prefer classic influences. I am not a fan of realistic figurative representation. …. I could go on….

What would you add to the list of ‘contemporary jewellery’ above?


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23 07 2012
Marcos Davidson

Exellent post & Q’s pose’d , you have touched upon the sensitive, insomuch as U.P @ N.G.V displayed, you might think {via the perscriptive nature of the work in the show} – contemporary jewellery is religated to elitist pop , being its own airless planet, with scant regard for the verdant delights of jewellery at large & its pleasurable use ! There are manifold approaches,to jewellery as contemporary [the impressionist painters Quoted “.No three seconds are the same”] it is not such a miscopic or shabby relm, infact. Marcos.D.




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