Wearable art

Drape brooches, brass

Since I began making jewellery I have struggled with how to describe what I do. 

‘Maker’ begs the question “what do you make?”, so immediately you are back at the beginning. So I could say “jeweller” which makes people think of the traditional jeweller making diamond-encrusted gold rings.

‘Craftsperson’ makes me uncomfortable. How do you ‘craft’ titanium or automotive steel? Isn’t craft something you do with wood or leather? And yet no matter the material, something can be well crafted. 

‘Contemporary jeweller’ sounds a little aloof, as though somehow I am better than just a jeweller – or maybe it infers a break with tradition and traditional skills (does that mean the contemporary jeweller has eschewed the core skills of centuries?). And yet it does describe what I do to an extent, but only if the person you are speaking to has an understanding: my work is contemporary in it’s design and artistic qualities. And yet if it is contemporary now, what is it in 20 or fifty years’ time? Does that matter?

I have toyed with ‘art jewellery’, but somehow it sounds a little pretentious, and infers a lack of design and structure. Jewellery cannot ignore the body, so the object must work on the landscape of the human body to be a success. And it must be easy to put on, and comfortable to wear. These are all important design considerations that will influence the art of the final piece. ‘Jewellery designer’ may infer that the design process is more important than the actual making, or that the making is done by a third party. 

‘Wearable sculpture’ isn’t right, even though some of the amazing work that can be found in any contemporary jewellery gallery is very definitely sculpture. ‘Artisan jeweller’ is also a possible description. An artisan is someone skilled at making things with their hands. Although traditionally artisans aspired to being called artists, after a suitable time practicing their craft.

‘Wearable art’ is probably the closest description I can find. Yes, there is art in the work I create, and yes, it must be wearable – which implies a successful design. “I make wearable art…” Does that sound a little pretentious and obtuse? Will the listener expect me to make miniature canvases?

Contemporary wearable art can often be about telling a story, and often that story takes on a new chapter once the jewellery is worn by the new owner. And once it is on the body, the context continually changes, as each time it is worn it associates with different colours and fabrics, and becomes more at one with the wearer.

I like wearable art because it can have a function other than purely decorative, and it can travel. It may come to you or you may see it in the street. You don’t have to go to a dedicated space to find wearable art. It can tell a story. It can have deep meaning. It can provoke discussion. It can be integrated with what you wear, and even with technology. 

I just don’t quite know how best to describe what I do.

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