Monday, August 5, 2013

The Wobbly Border Between Jewelry and Art, and Thoughts About BOTB'13

 This is something I have been considering now for quite a while, in the interest of providing an answer to the question, "What makes beadweaving something that belongs at the Minnesota State Fair Fine Arts exhibit?"  I have a creepy feeling that it will come up during my day at the fair.  How in the world to answer??? 

What is art?  Who says?  I have decided it is much too big a question for one little beader to take on.  But some of my work does manage to get into this gallery, so if I will be asked to say why that happens, I think the only reasonable answer is to explain my process and show my results and let people draw their own conclusions.  Art and its appreciation is a very subjective business.  But if I had to put it in simple words that have meaning for me, I think that inspiration and purpose have something to do with it.  And maybe a dash of alchemy.  The idea that art is somehow greater than the sum of its parts.


I want to write briefly about Battle of the Beadsmith, now that my battle is over.  I want to share some of the process photos that I was not allowed to share during battle. I do this partly for readers, who might have an interest in design process, and partly for myself, in the interest of being able to remember what decisions were made and why.  As you may know, I wanted to express in this work the beauty of a clear, crisp late fall (or maybe early winter) day at a marsh near my home.  I collected weeds and seed pods and fuzzy seed heads from that day, and then began collecting beads to use.


 I had a easy time of finding beads to love, and in retrospect wish I had used a wider range of what I found, as I suspect some of my detail was less visible than I might have preferred.  I knew I needed a restrained pallette, as I wanted the ombre of colors I was imagining to be the focus of the piece, the faded green seed heads and coppery leaves, against the clear blue sky and darker water, but I could have used the matte beads I put away to good advantage, in retrospect.


On the other hand, I am glad I put away all the flowers and leaves I collected.  Although my piece is titled "September Song" the time of year was late November, and there was nothing in bloom, all was bare, and the beauty was clean and simple.


It was also easy to put away the sparkly bits I collected in favor of the matte polished cabs in Citron Chrysoprase, Variscite, and Turquoise, (both stabilized and not) because they better portrayed the earthy groundedness, and simple beauty that I wanted the work to convey.  I began as I often like to do, by capturing my treasures in bezels, to give myself time to get to know them and to begin to play with layouts. 

I made a few drawings, and finally had a general idea of the over-all shape I wanted to use to try to express the bare-bones emptiness of the day.  I wanted clean, delicate shapes; almost silhouettes, like leafless trees.  I was influenced by the shapes in a piece of lace, and the embellishment on a gown I was workinng on at the time, and these curves found their way up the stairs to my beading bench.  Sometimes, I do not know whether my costumes influence my beadwork or vice versa.


Then I tried to figure out a means to connect my components into the simple clean shapes I wanted.  I tried several different connections of small sections of the whole and finaly found one that really held its shape but was still supple and flexible with nice drape.


The left side chunk was both wobbly and thick, one of my early efforts.  The right side version was my final one, compact, stable, and drapey, and works on the principle of keystoned arches, with thread paths reaching far into each bezel for structural support.  I assembled this piece in small sections to make it easier to work on, and below you see them all pinned in place on my neck form.


Once I had my primary shapes established, I embellished each individual chunk of the shape with tiny representations of the bronzy leaves, clinging berries, exposed thorns, and seed pods and heads.  This was where I could have used those matte beads, to separate my embellishment from my framework, and make is visible, without being distracting. You can see it all below, especially if you compare it to the un-embellished version above, but it blends in so well that unless you know it is there, I think it is pretty miss-able. 


Finally, it was time to design a neckstrap, or "yoke" as Warren Feld refers to it.  I wanted the yoke to represent the day as well; shapes and lines in sympathy to the focal piece, but in contrast as well, in the interest of the work not being all one idea; a symphony, rather than just melody repeating endlessly.  I looked at fall imagery and found spider webs I loved, and began to work out how that idea might be integrated into the work as a yoke. I also added a web to the center of the work, to further integrate the two separate ideas and to control the relationship between shapes at the bottom of the necklace structurally.
Then, since I do my own photography, I set out to take battle shots, which was a substantial challenge!  Since the piece was about the beauty of maturity, I wanted to use women with a beautiful maturity of their own to model the work.  I am very fortunate to have friends who are willing to generously share their time with me.  I first did a session with Donna, and made an unfortunate choice in clothing.  The color of this dress looked great with the necklace, but it was overwhelming to the delicate color of the work and make my camera sensors go entrely wacko. 


Subtle color?  Where???  So since Donna was traveling, I called Cathy, and she rushed to my rescue.  I was super pleased with the results!

  


I am not a very good photographer, and although I can get camera settings more or less correct, it takes me lots of trying and thinking to get what I am aiming for in terms of imagery.  I do not visualize photographic images well, so I can arrange and shoot them. I just have to open my shutter hundreds of times until what I had in mind magically appears.  But having pretty friends REALLY helps! They never look bad, so all I have to worry about is the camera, location, and jewerly.
I shot with Donna one more time too, and got several things I really liked, and these two, my favorites.


So, there, I have talked about process and preserved the ideas and images I wanted to preserve. 
Is it art?  I have no clue.  Could I have gotten it into the gallery at the fair?  Again, no idea.  I think it depends on who the judges are each year.  Some are sympathetic to beadweaving, and perhaps, some not.  Or perhaps some are moved by certain kinds of work and aesthetics, and some by others.  I choose to believe that any given media or theory of beauty is not an instant disqualification. But it never hurts to try, and in the Battle of the Beadsmith, it is always a growth experinece.  Unless you take rejection personally.  And in that respect, I am thankful for a background in theater.  You go to an audition.  You try out for a role.  You are exactly what the director and producers were looking for, or you are not.  But not being their vision of a role does not stop you from being an actress.

With respect to BotB, first and foremost, I was glad for the opportunity to make something that I might not ordinarily tackle, since it is not really something I will be wearing daily, or likely to sell. I was glad to be invited to submit work to this invitational tournament.  I do not mind falling in battle.  I love having the opportunity to see so much wonderful beadwork, some of which is certainly imbued with the alchemical magic that makes it more than the components it is created from, and full of life.  Maybe even... art.  What do you think?  Do you have a BotB'13 favorite?  What makes it art for you?

30 comments:

  1. There was a radio show on NPR a few months ago that attempted to define "art." The bottom line was that mostly anything that was derived from the natural world and was perceived as "beautiful," was Art. If I find the study or a transcript of the show, I'll send it to you. Marsha, your work is Art, whether it is your beadweaving or your dresses. Humans gravitate toward ocean blues, green fields, meadows... and gemstones. :) I threw that last one in there; gemstones are natural, tho, and imo, should be included. Hugs,
    Chris D

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    1. Chris, I would love to read this NPR transcript and may go hunting for it. I have been reading lots about defining art and find it fascinating. Interesting that in their definition, art is derived from the natural world. I am often inspired by nature, but I also find inspiration in other art... literature, film, dance, and in character. Souls are just so complex and generally lovely. Hugs back!

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  2. What a wonderful post Marsha! I loved reading about your inspiration and seeing your beautiful necklace come together. It's even more impressive when seen being built piece by piece. I especially love your analogy to an audition! :)
    As for beadweaving being art; some of it yes, most definitely. I do not think it is the medium used that defines whether it is art or not, but the imagination and creativity of the person.
    Joanne.

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    1. Joanne, a very good observation! Art is not defined by the medium. I stumbled across a guy who makes matchstick replicas of architecture that are wildly artistic and staggeringly beautiful. But they do not have a matchstick category at the fair, lol. I guess they would call that sculpture. Architecture could certainly be art, but it would be hard to stuff into a gallery, eh?

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  3. First of all, you have pretty and generous friends- now that is a treasure.

    I do not particularly care for the photography end of this process myself and photographing on live models would make it even more difficult. You did a great job. The two I like best are Cathy looking up and Donna in the sleeveless dress.

    As always, thank you for sharing your process; it is always fascinating. As for your embellishments I agree they do not stand out but that is their beauty not a flaw. That is what I would expect of fall foliage.

    I like your thoughts on art. Part of the struggle is that many define art as drawing or painting and never get beyond that media. Those are, I believe, learned distinctions from an early age. I also think we are hampered by the word "craft." I do not doubt that what you create is art.

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    1. You are so right Kathy Jo, my friends are treasures! And, you are right about the embellishments too. Why second guess my choices? It is as I intended at the place in time of creation. If I think something different might be nice, I can make that too! And YES, you are totally right about drawing and painting being what the world learns as art. They are also easy to put in a gallery, where we go to see art. And my visit to the American Craft Council show here in MPLS this spring was CHOCK FULL of fantastic art. Wobbly borders indeed!

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  4. The pieces I see that get into non bead shows and galleries often see, to be very elaborate and either contain an image, or some kind of repeating motive, like flowers and leaves. Essentially a fairly narrow range of beadwork, but then to me, only a fairly narrow selection is art. This piece to me is art, you set out with a goal in mind of representing something and you did, isn't the art? If I set out to see what I can do with a stitch then I think that's a craft, I'm being guided by what the stitch can do, not the result me as an artist wants to achieve.

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    1. INteresting thinking Anne. It makes me think of Betty Stephan's piece in Battle of the Beadsmith. I do not know how Betty's work developed, or whether she intended to represent something with it, but for me, it has tremendous artistry. She has assembled myriad components, shapes, techniques, materials, and colors, and created a whole that is certainly more than the sum of it's parts. It is a symphony in the greatest of ways, more to see each time you look, and the more closely you examine it, the more cohesive and elegant it is. It has repeating motifs, but the repeats are not predictable and the assemblage is inspired. It has both exceptional wearability and astonishing impact, even more so when see in person, as I have had the pleasure to do. I get lots of possible stories from it. But I wonder, if her intention was not to tell me a story, does that make it NOT art? I do not think so. I always look to a title to help me understand a work of art. Her title is enigmatic for me. I am simply fascinated!!! I think she MIGHT have decided to see what she could do with her materials and techniques, many and varied as her ten years of beading experience have given her, but is it craft, if there is no intention to tell a story, just an exploration of technique? Maybe sometimes. For me her case for sure, assuming she was not telling a story. I will have to go and ask her!

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    2. I meant to say, I think her work is absolutely ART, whether she intended to tell a story or not, I don't think I got that idea across.

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  5. All your work is a totally art , and as always you are a infinite source of inspiration. I follow your work from long time ago and each piece of yours is an absolutely perfect example of art so really yo don't have to explain to much way bead weaving is to be included in an art show.

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  6. Thank you for sharing your process, Marsha, as well as opening a useful discussion! This question of what is art and where things such as beadweaving and bead embroidery fall in relation to that category is something I have often thought about, in part because I came to jewelry making through a background in the visual arts and art history. I see beads as similar to paint, or clay, or any other medium - any can be used to make art, or craft, or neither.

    Janson's Art Through The Ages, one of those classic art history texts, opens with this question of "what is art," in part because art historians and philosophers of aesthetics cannot agree on a definition. Janson makes the interesting point that art objects are primarily aesthetic things - "meant to be looked at and appreciated for its intrinsic value." While limited, it is a useful reminder that artistry is in part about making aesthetic decisions, be they beautiful or not in the eye of the beholder. And to my eye, your piece is absolutely gorgeous and definitely a work of art!

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    1. LOL! There is a copy of Janson's book upstairs on the husband's side of the book shelf. I have a couple friends with daughter's recently returned from art school. In both cases, the daughters left painting and drawing, competently and creating beautiful, recognizable imagery. They have returned from school, preferring to make splashes and blobs that make "statements," and also preferring dialog to the actual production of work. I find that an interesting thing. I wonder how those new ideas can be reconciled with Janson's ideas about things "meant to be looked at and appreciated for intrinsic value." I have seen the blobs, and do not find much intrinsic value in there. ***confused*** I wonder how your average contemporary art school faculty member defines art? I agree with you, beads and thread are just a medium for creating. And I appreciate you kind words about my own creation.

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  7. I really love to read your blog post, about your inspiration and how you put everything together so skillfully, so artfully. My word, how can you doubt about the word 'Art' applying to what you do? Art means 'way' or 'manner' of doing something, "technique". The word is derived from latin, ars and artis, which at the very beginning meant "way of being".

    Wikipedia states that "Art is a diverse range of human activities and the products of those activities". In other words, art is present everywhere in our lives. It is the degree of appreciation which makes it enter a gallery, gives it value. Art can be worth nothing but still be Art. The Japanese have a very strong sense of being art, or actually being the instrument of 'IT'... They have developed all kinds of arts, martial arts, or Ikebana, or drinking tea. There is art in every movement of calligraphy.

    Picasso said that "The purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls." I like that. And I guess that it is the amount of daily life dusted off of our souls which makes the piece of Art of a higher value :)

    The way you practice beading and what you make is good at washing daily dust so don't doubt a second anymore.


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  8. Cath, how appropriate that these ideas should be put forward by you. You are someone who I think lives artfully. I can name a handful of friends whose lives are aesthetically pleasing to me. People who rarely come off the rails, who treat everyone with respect, who go about their daily actions and interactions as if they really mattered. As if they were a part of a greater whole. Thank you for your comment. Perhaps you have dusted off my blog a bit.

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  9. "ART is production or expression, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance".

    And yes, Marsha's Necklace is ART!
    ~Ileana

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  10. Thank you for your thoughtful blog. I am a friend of your cousin Dianne and she recently introduced me to your work and blog. I am also a bead artist and a member of a creative bead weaving group we have locally. This group consists of former art teachers and retired artists that worked in the corporate world. We have had the discussion of beadwork being art many times. We have struggled when entering work into galleries and art shows not knowing which category to enter our work, usually entering as mixed media. The pieces that are created by this group are not always wearable art, rather sculptures and framed work to hang. With that said we have decided that the galleries and contests that our work has been in have lead us to believe that bead weaving is an art form. We feel that the beads are similar to paint helping us to create the visions we see in our heads. My personal belief is simple, I see art in so many forms, if it moves something in you and you appreciate to work then its art.

    Jennifer

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    1. Hi Jennifer! Thank you for looking me up and for your thoughtful response. Your beading group sounds wonderful and how lucky you are to have friendly beaders to share your thoughts with. I entered a show this spring where I was told my work would be mixed media. But honestly, there is no mixture generally, just beads and thread, and maybe backing if you are embroidering. I appreciate that galleries need to lump things into catogories. I personally much prefer "textile" or "wearable art" or "fiber" or even "jewelry." But those groups are not always available, adn I count my blessings to be able to exhibit, under whatever banner I am assigned. There are certainly lots of wonderful things being done with beads that are not fiber or wearable, and while I don't do it myself, I love to see it and admire it as art. I like the idea art moving something within a viewer. I will have to see if I can find your blog aas well! Thanks so much for visiting.

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  11. Marsha, as always, you make me think. You make me pause. Of course, to gasp at the exquisite work you always create, but also to stretch myself intellectually and emotionally. I have never been able to define 'Art' (with the capital A, naturally)... I have found myself dismally disappointed in many of the 'new' artists who work with such stark, cold lines, and the ideas prevalent in many Art Galleries of repute, whose new outlook seems to be that if it is dark, disturbing, violent or gut wrenching, it must be Art. To me, Art is simply anything that makes you really feel, and feel good. Something that uplifts and shines, something that brings you to a moment of awe, something that can give you a moment of epiphany, or make you think of things in a new light, from a new perspective. No matter the media, or even lack of media (here I am thinking of shadow art, such a ghostly form of expression), something that has true value, even if only to the artist themselves. The other pieces, the dark and dank and depressing, violent or gruesome, although they may be cathartic or have great therapeutic value, cannot bring light or joy, and I just can't see them as Art.

    Your work, always ALWAYS shows me Art. Brings me to peaceful places and joyous grounds, celebrates and shouts with happiness. You have made a 'dark' necklace - a piece inspired by LOTR, and I'm so sorry I can't recall the name - and even though dark in the sense of colors used and even the character behind the story, it is a joy to behold, and somehow FUN, and gasp-worthy.

    Thank you so much for sharing your process. It is always a wonderful set of insights, and I enjoy reading about how you think of your pieces, every time. I am so grateful to have you as a friend, and to be able to view your work and hear your thoughts. This piece as much as any other, brought me so much happiness, and thank you for that, too.

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  12. Nancy thank you so much for taking the time to think with me and write down you thoughts! I love how very positive you want your Art to be! I am not one for finding much pleasure in the ugly underbelly of life, and one of our local contemporary art museums usually leaves me either unhappy for just cold. I love the idea of Art being uplifting and enlightening. How fun that you reference my Balrog piece. Even powerfully dark, scary ideas can be beautiful I think, in their own way, and I am glad you agree. :) I wrote this post while thinking about how to respond at the state fair for my 12 hour day of chatting with gallery goers, and each one of my respondents have given me things to think about and use! I so appreciate it, and you, my friend!

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  13. Your work is most definitely art Marsha! I loved reading about your creating process - very similar to my own - so I could relate to every phase. The model pictures are gorgeous as is your necklace art!

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    1. Thank you Linda. I thought your work was a perfect combination of elements. Simple, and not terrifically complex, but each and every stitch and bead had a reason and purpose. Sometimes, it is harder to make something delicately splendid than to go for broke with abundance. Your quality shone through and was very artistic indeed!

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  14. Jestem pd ogromnym wrażeniem! Naszyjnik - cudo

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  15. Marsha, your work is definitely ART! I think of art as anything that transforms someone. I imagine your beautiful friends felt even more wonderful when wearing your necklace.

    I also wanted to thank you for showing your process. I never thought of using a dress form to lay out multiple components. Will have to try this method.

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    1. Skylar, I use a tan neckform for layout, since I think it best emulates human skin and makes it easier to see potential results. Although, if you are creating something really big, like Betty Stephan's necklace for example, you would need a whole dress form with shoulders, which I do use on occasion too. I love it when readers get something useful from my blog. Since I do not teach or write tutorials, this is my way to try to give back at least a little. Thank you for reading and commenting. :)

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  16. Thank you for writing such a fascinating insight into your creative process Marsha. I have loved following your work ever since I first met you (EBW) and as soon as I think of your name, many beautiful and meaningful pieces spring into my mind - an explosion of art! I am one of the BOTB judges and I spend much time carefully poring over each entry and trying to put myself in the mind and the fingers of each artist, but the set up of this contest makes this a little different from having your work juried into an exhibition. Keep on creating your stunning and meaningful works of art my friend!

    Kerrie x

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    1. Kerrie, thank you. I can strill remember the moment you introduced yourself to me through EBW and how immensely supportive and kind you were. I try not to look at the list of BotB judges, because I do not want my relationship with anyone to change because of such things, but let me just say that I think you are the perfect person for the job. The fact that you put time and thought into your choices is so very like you. What makes teachers and ambassadors of beadwork valuable is the purpose, faith, and hope they can instill in others, and you have that going on big time! You inspire with your words and kindness, as well as your beautiful and joyfully whimsical work. I love your forest creatures and love the personal style you bring to everything you mkae. What a lovely path you walk! Thank you for visiting!

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    2. Dear Marsha! Thank you so much for your very kind words - you brought a little tear to my eye :-)

      Kerrie x

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