Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Rose By Any Other Name

There's an interesting thread being discussed on the Orchid Forum over at Ganoksin - again. (to follow the thread keep clicking on the blue "Thread Next") "What Makes a Goldsmith?" It's a question that is repeatedly raised and I'm not sure that there will ever be a definitive answer. What are we? What term is the proper one to define what we do?

Van Eyck, The Goldsmith's Guild

Strictly speaking a smith is one who smites metal with a hammer. A Silversmith is one who uses hammers and stakes to form 3 dimensional objects like sugar bowls, trophies and platters (no matter what kind of metal is being used). A Bench Jeweler is one who is skilled enough in so many aspects of jewelry making that they can set stones and do repairs on just about anything. A Stonesetter is an expert who specializes at setting every kind of stone in every type of setting. A Jewelry Maker is just that. Someone who makes jewelry. An Art Jewelry Maker is one who uses alternative materials or works in an unconventional style. To the best of my understanding an art jeweler and a studio jeweler are the same thing. One who works for themselves in their own studios, creating their own designs.

A Jeweler is one who works with every kind of metal from copper to titanium to silver to gold, sets stones, perhaps casts, fabricates from scratch, does repairs expertly. I think of a Jeweler as one who makes what Maggie Bergman described as red, white and blue jewelry. Ruby, diamond and sapphire. The types of pieces you might find walking down the red carpet or in the cases at Cartier or (gasp) Zales. A Goldsmith is the creme de la creme. A master with years of experience behind them. One who can do all of the above and then some. A Master Goldsmith is skilled beyond even that.

It's a little easier to understand the nomenclature in Europe where they've had guilds that have defined each technical level since the middle ages. In America the terms Apprentice, Journeyman and Master are used in theory only. In Europe they are very highly regarded, much regulated and guarded.

And what about the term Artist? Are you an artist because you think of yourself as one? Because you work with your hands and imagination? Or is it an honorific that others bestow upon you (collectors, customers, fans, so called experts)? Are you an artist because someone else views your work to be exceptional? Or because you do?

I consider myself an artisan. A maker of art jewelry. I do some smithing when I forge wire. I know how to solder, admittedly not very well. I know how to set cabochons so that they stay put. I'm (arguably) an expert with metal clay. I'm not by any stretch of the imagination a Jeweler.

So, what do you call yourself? What do you put on your income tax form where it asks for profession? (my accountant insists I list 'jeweler' and I've acquiesced - but feel it's a fraud) Do you think the entire discussion is much ado about nothing or is it food for thought?


WearableByDesign said...

I absolutely call myself an art jeweler. I've had formal training and have done a lot of self training and I'm by no means done learning and growing. But it's certainly what I love about America -- I can brand myself anything I want to.

WearableByDesign said...

I should add that formally I call myself an Art Jeweler. But privately? I'm a jewelry elf.

TesoriTrovati said...

I like "jewelry elf"!

Interesting topic. I do consider myself an artist...after many years of shirking that title becuase I didn't feel that I deserved it (read Luan Udell's really insightful Myths About Artists... she is on #12).
I am always quick to point out that I am not a jeweler, or a gold or metal smith... but I would love to learn more about such techniques. I classify myself as a jewelry designer because I do more than just make jewelry. I design one of a kind wearable works of art that tell the unique story of the wearer. I don't just "make" jewelry, like putting together a kit or mass producing. I also like the word artisan as it is a broader representation of what that might mean.
Thanks so much for your insight Lora! I think you are most definitely an artisan... one that I admire.
Enjoy the day!

Anonymous said...

As always, a fascinating post! Can't wait to meet the author in person! And see your 'stuff' in person as well!

knitsteel said...

I like to call myself an artist who makes jewelry and other metalwork.

Vickie Hallmark said...

I'm an artist, plain and simple. Media vary -- I can work in many. Why adopt one of those media's specialty labels? I'll just go to the root and pick the basic one, artist.

Tamra said...

Oooooo, good post!!! So hard to come to a definitive "thing" to call myself. On my business cards I just have "jeweler," and on my website, it's Jeweler/Designer/Metalsmith.

Requires more thought...

Phoenix Designs said...

This is interesting . . . a topic I have pondered quite a bit. I name myself an artist when I share what I do :)

Growing up, I was lead to believe that being an artist meant a life of angst and poverty and I would never be "famous" nor would my art have any value, until after I was dead.

How does this fit in this century and with all the medias for creating art today?

As I have formed a new business and begun to take the show on the road as it were - this year has been a challenge to those beliefs . . . and I have pushed myself hard to go past any limit I perceive, including those that might hint at the need for some pedigree.

Good Gawd Gurt if you could only see me struggle over my tongue when people step up to my booth . . . "Are you the artist?" "What? . . . Artist? Well, I . . . I . . ."

So today, 'I am an artist, working in metal clay media and photography' :)

Thanks for your insights Ms. Hart. I am an admirer of your work.

Delia Traister

Laura Crawford said...

Hey Lora - I have spent way too much time thinking about this myself - and I think you made a great point about the difference between Europe and the US, in that we do have the opportunity to pick our own titles, instead of trying to fit into a rigid pre-existing system - which may be why we're all over the map! Personally, I call myself an Art Jewelry Maker, and list Jewelry Designer on my taxes - I think both encompass the fact that I dream up and make my own pieces - and the fact that they're a bit different from "traditional" jewelry.

Serena Trent said...

Food for thought. You are what you are regardless of titles. Yes some might hold a certificate to state that they were "taught" certain skills, it doesn't mean they are good or even exceptional. Then another maybe self taught, took classes here or there...or maybe grandma took them under her wing but they don't have a "certification" and yet very good and oh so exceptional at their craft. So you are what you deem yourself worthy, for you are the only one who truly knows.