PROCRASTINATION © 1999 Andy Cooperman
A metalsmith friend of mine once told me that jewelers and metalsmiths (male jewelers and metalsmiths in particular) compulsively acquire tools and equipment as a way to procrastinate: holding at bay the uncertainties and discomfort of creating, substituting the highs and deeper satisfactions of the making for the short thrill of acquisition. Now, being a healthily compulsive male tool collecting jeweler/ metalsmith myself, I at first bristled at her statement. Upon deeper reflection, however, I saw the validity in what she had said ... with the exception, of course, of the word "male".
To be sure, I've certainly sat in my studio staring at the bench with my head pressed firmly against a brick wall: no where to turn but dead ends, a tense nail of frustration grinding its way up my spine. My thoughts rapidly descend into a deep well of negativity. "This place is so cluttered; the bench is old and shabby; the studio's a disgusting mess; my career is a disgusting mess; etc.; etc; etc." And then I've felt my pulse quicken as an answer becomes clear in a single word emerging as if from a fog: BENCH. Why... I'll buy myself a new bench! No, better yet, I'll make myself a new bench; of course first I'll need a new jigsaw, a better belt sander and a more accurate drill press. Now we're getting somewhere! All of a sudden a valve turns and a small door swings open through which can flow all that energy that was building up behind the dam of my "metals block". Blessed Relief.
The trouble is that when the bench is built and the shiny new tools--which I've hunted down at considerable bargains-- are put away, more often than not the indecision, along with its attendant frustration and lack of productivity, is still sitting there. The block remains.
I've been thinking a lot lately about fear, procrastination and missed opportunity. The increase in this volume of reflection is in no doubt due to the recent passage of my fortieth birthday. (I'm a walking cliché.) But I've been watching students, workshop attendees and fellow metalsmiths lately and I've seen some procrastination strategies that, while maybe not my preferred methods, are familiar.
With all due respect to the compulsive tool collectors and bench builders, there are some subtler barriers that can be erected between the maker and the making. Some people choose to attend workshop after workshop, accumulating a varied array of information, techniques and procedures along with mountains of beautiful handouts. Their class tackle boxes are full of beautifully executed samples; their vocabularies of the various procedures of metalsmithing are impressive, but for some reason they don't string these technical “words” together to make sentences. Don't misunderstand me: many of them could produce wonderful things. Their ideas, when they share them, are challenging, their designs compelling. But something stands between them and the work. Sometimes pieces never leave the safety of their sketchbooks; other times their workboxes are filled w/ wonderful objects frozen in various stages of development, from small packets of components to nearly, but almost never fully, completed pieces.
I know other jewelers who set the studio space itself between them and their work. One is building the perfect studio, another is perennially trying to rent the ideal space. Something always seems to interfere w/ the process though, some glitch in the permitting process or an unreasonable landlord who refuses to cooperate. Alas, without a proper space in which to work, their innovative ideas never materialize. But one day-- with the right space...
Perhaps an even more destructive form of procrastination occurs with those who make well-considered, complete work: truly remarkable pieces that elicit powerful reactions from most people who see them. The tragedy here is that despite all of the positive feedback and their professed desire to pursue a career as a working metalsmith, they don't take the leap of faith necessary to make their desires manifest. They shy away from compliments and discount their work through self-deprecation. Their pieces are given away to friends or sold at venues and at prices that fall way beneath the caliber of the work. This is fine if it gives them what they really desire. The making itself may, in fact, be enough for them (it should be, shouldn't it?) But if they really want to make a go of it, if they truly want to support themselves as jewelers and metalsmiths, is this the road to their goal? What's standing in their way? What's standing in the way of any of us?
One of the big answers, of course, is obvious: Fear. Fear of failure: What if nobody's interested in my work? Fear of embarrassment: What if they find out what kind of an artist I REALLY am? Fear of the unknown: What if this new direction leads nowhere? Fear of loss: I've had this idea in my mind for so long; dare I risk losing it by trying to actually make it? Fear of what comes next: Well, that's it, no new ideas and I'm all dried up.
It's tough to leave the relative safety of the sketchpad for the risky business of 3 dimensions. It's safe and easier to sit on the hub of a wheel with decisions and commitments radiating, spoke like, outwards in all directions. Choose one and all other options are negated. Choose none and all possibilities remain open. Quite the Catch-22. I've sat on that hub quite few times and, despite the fact that I know better, I'll probably be climbing right back on it next week, fears whirling 'round my head.
Maybe in tomorrow's light the solution to that neckpiece will crystallize. Maybe if I could relax with a beer or two the better of those two design choices will leap out. (God forbid I should make the WRONG decision.) Perhaps if I just had a more pleasant environment in which to work these decisions would come easier. I'm not really sure that I want to stick my neck out and enter that annual competition-- one from which I've been rejected several times-- and subject myself to professional humiliation. And really, it's much more pleasant to sit up here in the office, pecking away on my trusty Mac than being out in the studio beginning the new body of work that's due in California two weeks hence. (Suppose it isn't as good as the last group of pieces?)
But on a fundamental level I know that safety can sometimes be complacency and that the best work often enters through the door marked DISCOMFORT. If you don't turn the key in the car's ignition your chances of having an accident go way down, but so do your chances of making it 10 miles to a meeting that could change your life. Sometime the fluttering wings of those butterflies in your stomach stir up some wonderful things. You can't make an omelet without first breaking a few eggs. Like they say at the gym: "No pain, no gain." Even clichés have their roots in truth.
And A Chicken Shall Lead Them © 2011 Andy Cooperman
Here’s my favorite joke:
Q: “Why don’t cannibals eat clowns?”
A: “Because they taste funny.”
Defining “funny” is like trying to grab a watermelon seed. Hold on too tight and it shoots away. We laugh at many things: incongruity, pain, surprise, the revelation of unspoken truths. We laugh to belong and we laugh to exclude. Regardless, people seem to fall somewhere between two comedic poles: The Banana Peel and the New Yorker. Most can certainly learn to appreciate either the pratfall or the droll cartoon, but I think that we come from the factory hard-wired to gravitate toward certain types of humor. By nature, I’m not a banana peel kinda guy and, cannibals and clowns not withstanding, I like to think of myself as possessing a more sophisticated comedic palate. The Three Stooges raise a smile but I don’t really find them funny. A good yarn--observation, word play, improbable situations: that’s what gets me. I consider the story a higher form of humor, Homo Sapiens to the Stooges’ Neanderthal. A slowly unfolding, multi-layered tale, well told, brings us together. We’re all on board through the zigs and the zags of the narrative, wrapped in the cozy cocoon of a story whose conclusion seems clear until-- out of nowhere --we’re punched in the gut by the twist that comes out of left field. The punch line is the thing that we didn’t see coming. Sometimes though, it’s not a surprise but instead what we knew was coming all along, the fulfillment of a comedic contract. We laugh at the tidiness of the joke and because we are in the loop. Or maybe we laugh at a blending of the two: the anticipated payoff expressed in a word or phrase that is skewed a little to the side, incongruent, improbable and maybe ironic. That’s where the pun lies.
Humor is my Rosetta Stone. It’s how I understand the world. But here’s something funny: As central to my life as humor is, I rarely employ it in my work. And when I do, it is invariably in service to a pun. A pun… the lowest form of humor. My secret shame. I have made diamond engagement rings (abrasive diamond drills standing in for the traditional center stone), an elegant thorn-studded corkscrew and a savagely spiked wine cork (Unscrewable and Unstoppable) and a neckpiece built from steel chain, a basalt stone and a sour dough bun (Rock & Roll). All were made exceedingly well because I take the business of making seriously and I believe that what I make should stand alone as an object once the joke gets old. Even if it contains a rubber chicken.
Is there anything funnier than a pig bladder on the end of a stick? Apparently, the French didn’t think so. Back in the day it was the height of humor for jesters and performers to shake an inflated pig bladder at the crowd. This is the ancestor of the contemporary rubber chicken. I know this from exhaustive research: I was exhausted after five minutes of research. badum-CHING (cue rim shot). Whatever its origin, the classic novelty chicken is the exemplar of bad humor. I am fortunate enough to have a supply of inch long rubber (actually plastic) chickens that are perfect Lilliputian versions of the original (I could find no miniature pig bladders).
My affair with the chickens was hatched with the first Ring-tisserie (aka Rotisse-ring). With a few snips a standard chicken can be transformed: sans feet and head what was Borscht Belt prop becomes spit-roasted delight. (Getting the carcass just right was hit and miss and the carnage was extensive. Tiny yellow and orange chicken heads-- and even tinier feet-- littered the floor; decapitated test chickens lay strewn about my bench.) The Ring-tisserie was a fairly simple ring sporting one of these trimmed birds impaled on a tiny brass spit turned by a diminutive crank. That ring was incredibly popular. To date I have built four iterations, each more complex and carefully rendered. The last two have featured a tiny silver hibachi and Weber-style grill, respectively, each fueled by carved14k pink gold flames and individually fabricated sterling coals. The inherent dichotomy between shtick and craft, the improbability and questionable wisdom of someone devoting such time and care to a bad joke, is hilarious.
Some pieces just demand to be made and once the proverbial door to the coop was opened there was one pun too delicious to resist. Before I even designed the Chicken Choker I had an elaborate mental fantasy of how and where the neckpiece would be worn and the conversation that would unfold around it.
The scene: a sultry summer evening, a lecture or perhaps a music recital at a small performance hall or museum. It is intermission and the crowd moves outside onto a patio that looks out on a broad, manicured lawn. A woman wearing a simple but elegant dress, whose open neck reveals a brightly colored necklace, stands at a stone rail taking in the view. She is approached by another woman who admires the necklace but is puzzled by the materials. The admirer stoops to peer more closely and our lady thanks her and then gamely explains that the necklace is made from pearls and rubber chickens.
“Pearls and rubber chickens?” the admirer asks, blinking her eyes in confusion. “Why chickens?”
“Well… it’s a ‘chicken choker’.”
“I don’t understand”, the admirer smiles uncomfortably, clearly not getting the point.
Our lady smiles back but furrows her brow, deciding how far to take the conversation.
Like a good story, the Chicken Choker unfolds. First there is the overall absurdity of the piece and comical incongruity of the materials--pearls and chickens; then the title itself: a pun-chline that offers smug satisfaction for those in the know. But the deeper humor is more schadenfreude (a German word that essentially means taking delight in the misfortune of others) and comes with the uncomfortable possibility of having to explain the double entendre (which is just a pun in a negligee). The humor of the piece can be experienced at any of those points. From the person who strung the pearls and chickens to the photographer who documented the finished piece, every person laughed, each experiencing the choker through their own lens.
There are now a fowl pair of earrings, the chickens hanging by their necks in a tiny sterling device that evokes a medical halo or brace. These little ambassadors move through the world much more easily than the larger, more involved pieces and elicit smiles and comments from strangers in even the most inappropriate of places. In an airport restroom a young girl who, staring at the chickens dangling from my wife’s ears, approached her and said, “I like your earrings. Are they supposed to be funny?” Upon assurance that they were, the girl threw her head back and laughed. The little chickens broke down barriers. Which, in my mind, is the highest purpose of humor.
In the end, I suppose the chickens are more Banana Peel than New Yorker. So much for my finely tuned palate… And the cannibals? Well, that’s the final irony. Because there is nothing funny about clowns.
Starting Out © 2006 Andy Cooperman
True story: Early spring 1987, my first official solo custom client since quitting my job as a bench jeweler in a jewelry store. The sister of our landlord's wife wanted a wedding ring built in gold, set w/ two small diamonds and a square cut pink sapphire. We met several times, in Seattle and in her suburban town, to discuss drawings-- I produced over 20 carefully rendered color sketches-- examine stones and approve wax carvings. The ring completed (a process which also entailed the making of a rubber mold) I cheerfully drove my 1979 V8 GMC gas lovin' pickup somewhere into the back=country and delivered it to my client. She loved it and then invited me to the wedding reception where-- if I wouldn't mind-- she'd really appreciate me tending bar, since I probably wouldn't know that many people any way. Price tag? $250.00
This afternoon I revisited a brooch that I'd made in 1996. The piece came back to me from a gallery that was having trouble selling it. The interesting element of this brooch is a large seal tooth that, it seems, customers have an aversion to. There is a hairline fracture that runs from the tip of the fang to its base. I'd found this "flaw' to my liking in 1996, but another gallery owner pointed out that this feature might, in fact, be the reason that the piece hadn't sold: collectors would consider the fracture a defect and so would dismiss the brooch entirely. Perhaps the line could be covered by an additional element that would complement the piece itself. Mmmmm. I decided to go ahead and fabricate an element that would solve this problem. As it turned out, the solution worked quite well and indeed may have enhanced the brooch considerably. But I was left w/ a sour and fishy (seal pun) taste in my mouth.
It's not that I consider finished pieces inviolable. At a recent lecture, hollow ware artist Greg Wilbur stated that he never considered his pieces to be finished; to his mind the door was always open to further tinkering, consideration and fine tuning . While I don't often rework a piece-- unless I'm recycling it--I don't consider it wrong to do so and I like the technical and conceptual challenges inherent in altering a "finished" piece. No, what disturbed me was my motive. Where was my decision coming from?
Certainly I was allowing the market place into my work in a way that I wouldn't have just a few years ago. Then, I would have shuffled the piece around some more, perhaps even tinkered w/ the price, donated it to an auction or simply added it to my personal collection. At the very least, I would, have felt really bad about changing it. But the thought of another piece gathering dust was just too unpleasant, especially when the sting of my last show -- in which NONE of the newest body of work sold-- was so fresh.
This line between personal vision and commercial viability, once so sharp, has been growing wider and fuzzier to me lately. Used to be that custom, special orders and limited production were over here in this pile and "one of a kind" pieces were over there in that one. In pile "A" the marketplace was welcome but in pile "B" it was considered persona non grata. When gallery people would tell me that what collectors are looking for are smaller, more intimate pieces, suggesting that I might want to consider scaling down my brooches, I'd smile, nod enthusiastically, tell them I'd certainly think about it and basically continue doing whatever I felt like. But I began to find that my hand hesitated when reaching for a green garnet, moving instead to pick up a diamond--green is a tough sell, diamond says "value"---- and I began to use more gold than perhaps I normally would.
Choices of material, conceptual and aesthetic concerns, and questions of wearability are decisions that confront jewelers at every turn. For some it is simple: production jewelers may make most of their choices w/ the buying public firmly in mind. The custom jeweler helps their client to establish their parameters and then makes his or her decisions based on those client driven guidelines. So called academic metalsmiths are seemingly unconcerned w/ the market place per se but, I'll wager, may be hearing the quiet murmur of other voices . Their decisions may be affected by the perceived need to produce work that would be considered socially significant, artistically referential or conceptually driven. The voices that they hear are those of their colleagues, critics and of the pundits in the field. So we'll give the "marketplace" a broader interpretation and include external influences that can change the direction of a jeweler's work or cause them to second guess themselves and opt for a path that is less than innate. Publications such as Metalsmith, Exhibition In Print, American Craft and Ornament, trips to galleries or even studio visits can deeply affect the direction that an artist's work can take. Some simply choose not to open Metalsmith or show their work before it is completed to anyone, be they galleries, friends or other metalsmiths. I certainly never show my work to anyone before it is finished and in the bag. But, as with most things, this presents it's own set of problems.
Choosing, for instance, to abandon a piece because you've discovered that another artist has, unbeknown to you, taken a nearly identical path is self-defeating. You simply don't know down what road a piece may lead or what unanticipated ideas might be shaken loose in the process. Discounting an idea because you feel that the finished piece may not ring the proper critical bells is dangerous. Even in the world of the custom jeweler, where the line seems so clear, it's unwise to abdicate control and cater to whatever whim the client may express. After all, they came to you because of who you are and the pieces that you've produced; if you don't truly speak your mind, step in and gently steer them away from, say, cramming seventeen disparate design elements into a 10 millimeter space, neither of you will be happy in the end. And, sure, there's a segment of the buying public that's only comfortable with medium sized, shiny hammered hoops or hearts or small silver teddy bears but "dumbing down"--look at the film industry-- will eventually catch up with you. You must never lose respect for your audience.
Perhaps the hardest place to be is right after a body of work has been particularly well received.. It's tough to move in another direction when the applause for the last work are still ringing in your ears. If the work has sold particularly well the infusion of money-- maybe real money-- feels sooooo good. The stakes have suddenly jumped. It's common in the music world: w/ a debut album garnering critical praise or commercial success, the pressure to follow up is enormous, and expectations -- especially one's own-- are just too high. This is the freezing point. The point where you'd like to start something new, but you're reluctant to come down from the high of your recent success . If you could just do it again, only maybe with a few subtle differences.... And what's wrong with that? After all you've worked hard to get to this place, it's your work, and if you want to repeat it for a while then so what: hey, if you can't steal from yourself, yadda, yadda, yadda.
Well, maybe nothing is wrong with that. If you pause there for a while that's probably fine. In reality, the world of the market place is going to have some kind of effect. Compromises will always be made. But the compromises that you choose to make and for how long you stay in the safe zone is up to you. Sooner or later, it's time to move on. The chattering voices inside your head won't let you stay in one place long--they know what keeps you fresh and your work vital: risk. And if you pay too much attention to the chorus outside your head, you'll stop taking risks. And that can be the kiss of death.
Here’s a final thought, not sure where I heard it… The riskiest thing that you can do is to be safe.
CUSTOM © 2006 Andy Cooperman
I think a lot of us begin our metalsmithing careers w/ the hope or goal of making a living from the one of a kind work that we produce. At some point we realize that this goal may be unrealistic, especially if our work is visually challenging, too political, too politically incorrect, too confrontative or suggestive, too large, too small, too sharp, too expensive, too dark, too whimsical, too serious, or just too different. Some abandon the field altogether and some persevere, building what they believe in when they can, and putting food on the table by some other economic means. This may take the form of some outside job: like CEO of an international conglomerate, Boeing engineer, or barrista at some well-known coffee chain. Or it may just be the pursuit of some other facet of metalsmithing. Teaching jobs that generate any reliable or tangible income are tough to come by; employment in a trade shop can offer invaluable experience but after time can leave the person w/ a decided distaste for jewelry (hardly the aim here); subcontracting from another artist can be good experience and generate an income. But sooner or later most feel the need to strike out on their own. This leaves two popular choices: production and custom.
It seems that most people choose production. This is a fine choice and offers a lot of advantages and some decided disadvantages. While your design decisions are circumscribed and dictated largely by the marketplace, the work is still your own and bears your name and sensibility. More importantly, what the customer sees is what the customer gets. No speculation, no anticipation, no disappointment. On the other hand someone has to make these things over and over (you often make your money through volume sales)-- or manage the people who do, someone has to represent you --or you have to deal w/ the public yourself, and some one has to keep the line fresh and design new pieces -- the fun work in the first place. Some people thrive in this environment. I've tried this route and found it to be unenjoyable. To be sure, I could certainly have done it smarter and I do, on a very limited basis offer a small production run today. But by and large I've chosen to fill that economic gap with custom work (and some repair). To my mind, there's a lot to recommend it.
To begin with, each piece is different from the last. Techniques and approaches vary w/ each new client. Secondly, the basis for this business is not necessarily volume. Each piece usually generates more income, so you need to sell less. Custom design offers a refreshing respite from the stagnant breezes of the Art Doldrums. This is the place where you feel that you have nothing important to say, no new ideas to talk about and no area in which you feel competent to contribute. Custom design isn't necessarily concerned with personal dialogues or issues of self-expression. The aim of the custom process is clear: please the client. Your job is to communicate; to listen to the information that the client has to offer, distill what's important to them from it and to offer them options based on it. You have to function w/in the clearly defined parameters of the client's needs. In exchange for the pursuit of purely personal concerns and statements you are free to pursue the mechanics of your craft, to hone your technical and design skills and to approach the creative process from a different side. This can be liberating! With clear parameters established your task becomes obvious: Build it.
There's not necessarily an abdication of thought or imagination here. Indeed, I've often viewed a custom job as a study for future one of a kind work. By presenting the client with a concept that I've been interested in within the framework of their needs, I've had a chance to try out some things that I couldn't justify doing otherwise-- with the carrot of a paycheck at the end. Surely, you must begin to think in a different way; but you're exercising a different part of the same muscle. And this, you can carry back to your personal work.
Now that I've made my bid for the custom process, they're are a number of things to keep in mind:
Above all, be HONEST. Don't be afraid to let the client know of the limitations of the medium. Some materials may be structurally or contextually inappropriate. They may love the look of copper but should know that it is very soft and may react violently with certain people's chemistry. (Rose gold may be a more appropriate material.) Inform them as to what your strengths are and what they can expect from you. If they have their heart set on something that's not in your bag of tricks--platinum, for instance-- feel free to refer them elsewhere. Find a tactful way to suggest changes in designs that they may have brought. By informing the client of techniques with which you are conversant you may steer them down a path that they may have not at first considered. They leave with a product that they love and one which you've been comfortable building.
Keep the client in the loop. The custom process takes time. Don't let too much time lapse between communications. Remember that one reason many people choose to have a custom ring built is because they want to be part of the process. If you can’t make appointments or deadlines let the client know!
Get it done FAST. The longer it stews and sits w/ the client, the less your chance for reality to match the virtual object that they've fantasized in their minds. For potential clients a word of advice: avoid the phrase "take your time", or even worse, "No Rush". This is the kiss 'o death friends. Let me tell you what the custom person hears when you say "No Rush": he immediately pictures a shelf or bin, or maybe just a desktop on which sits a stack of job envelopes. Your job, now labeled "take your time", has moved from the front of this pile, off the desk itself and deep into the recess of a dim, dusty, possibly septic bottom drawer.
From the jeweler's point of view, I want to get the job out, while I'm excited by it.
A reasonable length of time, depending on the season, is two to three weeks from final okay of the sketch, design or model to completion of the piece. (As I write this I'm painfully aware of the existence of those of you whose custom work I may not have produced in concordance w/ this tidy timeline ... or what may have seemed like no timeline at all. To you patient and saintly folk I apologize. ) This time frame, of course, is subject to the cooperation of the maker AND the client. The client must fulfill their end of the bargain: show up for scheduled appointments and accept responsibility for their decisions.
Charge what you're worth. Under bidding leads to resentment. The art of bidding can be daunting in that you're dealing with an intangible. It's acceptable to give a "ball park" estimate at first and then a solid bid further along in the process. Give yourself some wiggle room, a cushion to cover the unexpected. By compensating yourself correctly you can keep the custom process enjoyable for everyone.
Don't obsess about dissapointing. At some point you will let a client down. But remember, they came to you because they've seen an example of your work, have been referred to you or are interested in something out of the ordinary. Remember, as with all things, you learn as you go. The first few jobs will make you nervous, but it gets easier. Perhaps the key here is to lose the fear of failure.
Don't be afraid to walk 'em. Some people have something to prove, an axe to grind or have come to you in the hopes that you'll build what they saw in the mall --much cheaper. You'll be working with these people closely and meeting with them on several occasions. You should enjoy these interactions. Do you really want an unpleasant person in your face and in your space? Is the chemistry right? After time, most people develop a sense of who "feels right". On the positive side, custom work can and often does lead to friendships.
These are just a few caveats regarding the custom process. There's much more that could be addressed. My intent here is not that successful production folk should abandon their booths or gallery affiliations. If you're happy with what you're doing why change? But it surprises me that more people don't consider custom work an option, seeing it at best as a necessary evil-- a gallery customer wants a new piece based on an existing piece of yours-- or dreading it out right. I simply submit this for consideration as an option: another element that you can add to your overall economic picture.
ARCHIVAL RESPONSIBILITY © 2011 Andy Cooperman
I have a good friend, an artist, whose creative flame was stoked--if not lit--by the work of Robert Rauschenberg. He (my friend, not Rauschenberg) and I have had this running discussion: Where does archival responsibility lie? I have argued that it is the responsibility of the maker to fully consider and fulfill their archival obligations. If you are selling work, my argument goes, then you are entering into a contract with the buyer to provide work that is well made, stable and durable. The client or collector is shelling out a lot of scratch for an object that is corporeal and the implication is that with proper care and use it will grow old gracefully, perhaps acquiring the patina of age, but remaining intact and much the same as when it was purchased.
My friend argues that we are artists and as such we should not limit ourselves. That the people buying our art understand the inherent realities and that they buy it less as an object and more as the product of an artist. What lasts anyway? Computers fail or become obsolete, cars have a definite lifespan, even our mates aren’t the same at 60 as they were at 25. Everyone accepts this. Why should art be any different?
I still maintain my position, more or less, although it has softened. I’m not sure that I can hold any other maker to high standards of craft and durability, of material compatibility and stability--the archival mandate as I see it. But it has been difficult for me to dial that back in my own studio. I feel that it is my responsibility to choose my materials soberly and apply them well. It’s one thing for a collector to return with a brooch that has been obviously butchered by a shoulder seat belt or savaged by a three your old (how’d the slobber and cheerios get in there?). That’s on them. But it’s quite another thing to have one of my pieces disintegrate in its display or on the wall. That’s my responsibility. Unless… the client or collector understands the mutable nature of the work. I have another friend who has worked extensively in gut and this artist makes sure that the collector understands that the piece will change, perhaps dramatically. This maker has explored the ideas of impermanence, decay and entropy throughout their career. Like a family member, a gut piece will age: it’s designed to and the collector understands this as part of the work.
I had the opportunity to listen to a presentation by a museum curator (who understands jewelry and craft) about this topic a little while ago. I asked about archival responsibility, since the museum had several pieces in its permanent collection that included organic elements--fur, leaves, seedpods, etc. How does the museum deal with this? Does the nature of this work impact it’s collectability? He answered “no” to the latter and explained that they considered all this before acquiring each piece and understood that there would be a maintenance cost associated with the work as long as they owned it. Furthermore, the museum has an agreement with the artist that the artist will periodically maintain the work and replace failed elements with “spare parts” that they have stockpiled. Good answer.
But I still feel compelled to cleave to my standard of archivability; sometimes to my disadvantage. Too slavish a devotion --my friend was right-- limits you. Maybe a sense of archival responsibility is a difference between art and craft….and the “trades” too. My Rauschenberg buddy had his house extensively remodeled by a really wonderful design/build team. Great work, sweet and edgy design. In the kitchen the designer chose to use stamped steel (“tin”) vintage type ceiling tiles as a backsplash behind the sink. Throughout the first floor run nice oak floors that my friend and his lovely wife opted to continued in front of that sink. Wood and steel: two materials pretty incompatible with areas that are constantly wet (maratime associated stuff not withstanding). The floor is trashed and the steel is rusted through where it meets the countertop. The other day my friend shook his head, bemoaning the decision to use wood in a wet area; they’ll have to replace it. “What about the tin tiles?” I asked. That too, he admitted. I wondered out loud if the designer shouldn’t pay that cost since it was such a dicey choice to begin with. The designer didn’t see it that way, and neither did my friend. But it was straightforward to me.
Belt buckles are funny things. Almost all of us wear them or at least encounter them on a daily basis. Yet belt buckles may be the most overlooked and frequently dismissed creative vehicle in the metals field.
- for a special occasion or to commemorate an event.
- to dress up an outfit.
- to communicate a specific idea, opinion or narrative.
Belt buckles fall into several categories. Among them:
- the utility or functional buckle that contains a tool or device.
- container or hidden compartment buckle
- the communication or “billboard buckle” that conveys a message or logo.
the commemorative or membership buckle.
the formal or dress buckle.
the everyday or casual bucklle.
Consider approaching the design through:
- personal logos, icons or symbols—how about developing an icon.
- the zen of designing a buckle that will serve the basic function but in an unexpected way.
- deconstructing a buckle or paring it down to the basics.the exploration of a concept: What do buckles mean, signify or imply?
- the history/historical importance of the buckle.
JURIES: PUTTING YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD © 2006 Andy Cooperman
Rejection is always an unpleasant experience. Unfortunately it is a fact of life, especially so for those artists and craftspeople who wish to sell their work or gain exposure and perhaps notoriety by showing their work in a competitive environment. Juried venues such as exhibitions, craft shows and publications attract fresh talent and can raise the competitive bar regarding quality and innovation. And, because it is exclusionary by definition, adding the word “Juried” before any listing on your resume gives it professional weight. So there are many sound reasons that we take the emotional risk of submitting work to a jury. But who gets in and who doesn’t in the end boils down to the opinion(s) of that jury. And while nothing can or should change that, things can certainly be done to improve a person’s chances.
There is nothing that will block the path towards “acceptance” more quickly than a poor quality or unintelligible image, be it digital or slide. The goal is to convey as much information about the piece pictured as possible WITHOUT AMBIGUITY OR CONFUSION. Relying on the jurors’ having any time or desire to puzzle out what is going on in an image will result in an irritated jury indisposed to accepting the entry. The odds are that they will simply move along. It should be clear in the slide what the object is, and the character of the surfaces and materials. (Some materials may be nontraditional, experimental or used in a new way. This is, of course, fine but how the material appears to the eye—its character-- is crucial.)
If you don’t take your work seriously enough to document it well, then there’s a good chance that jurors will equate your lack of proper documentation with a lack of professionalism or commitment and in turn may not give it serious consideration. But obtaining quality images of your work does not of necessity mean parting with large amounts of hard earned cash. It is certainly within the grasp of most of us to learn how to shoot images (film or digital) that, while perhaps not quite up to publishing standards, are suitable for jurying.
Lighting is perhaps the single most important thing to consider. If the piece is under lit or too heavily shadowed it will create confusion. Drama is fine and can actually help to create a powerful impression. That being said, too much of a good thing can get in the way. Avoid slick, Madison Avenue types of composition. Also, too much backlighting can create a silhouetted appearance in the slide that flattens the image and draws the eye towards the periphery.
Consider your background. Is it:
-too busy or cluttered?
-too dark or light?
-does it bleach out the piece?
-does it isolate the piece?
-Does the object need to be recorded in context—that is, does it need to be sited on the body, on a wall or somehow installed?
As stated above, be sure that the materials are clearly depicted. Yellow gold should appear yellow. Sterling should be silvery white if not patinated but not the glaring white of an overly “hot” image. These hot spots draw the eye and create misleading or distracting focal points. Highly polished reflective surfaces are tough to record with accuracy and clarity. They should never include a fun house mirror reflection of the camera, photographer, light stand or studio wall.
Label the slide clearly. At the absolute minimum indicate the orientation of the slide with an arrow (or whatever is required in an exhibition prospectus) the artist’s name, title of the piece and the type of object. Ideally information detailing materials, techniques, dimensions and year of completion should appear on the slide mount. When the competition is tough and the jury needs to make a cut, this information can make a real difference. If you are including a slide list to accompany the submission, then a clear number corresponding to that list should appear.
Even with the best possible images work submitted should be appropriate to the theme or character of the venue. Production work conceived and designed to be worn at the office may not be the best choice to submit to an academic exhibition. And edgy, one of a kind pieces featuring controversial subject matter may not be suitable for submission to a church based craft fair. I am not assigning relative validity to any type of work but, if the goal is to be juried in, then doesn’t it make sense to focus your efforts towards appropriate scenarios?
Some work comes alive only when held in the hand. It may have some tactile quality or a specific function that is interactive. Think hard about choosing these pieces for submission. Ask yourself whether any functionality will be apparent from within the static confines of a sealed display case, a slide (or digital image) or a 2 dimensional published image. If you do choose to submit such a piece, be sure to illustrate anything that is special about its character in detail images.
Jurying anything is a difficult task and carries with it serious responsibility. Anyone asked to provide their services as a juror or on a panel of jurors should well consider whether they are prepared to make difficult, objective and perhaps even harsh decisions before accepting. That’s the juror’s side of the equation. The artist or craftsperson must fulfill their side of the bargain by submitting the best possible visuals they can of their strongest work, thoroughly labeled and documented. Do your homework and select an exhibition that you feel suits your work. Assemble a group of images that works well together compositionally and perhaps thematically. And understand that even though rejection is part of the game, you can maximize your chances of making the cut. In a competitive world it’s always smart to put your best foot forward.