beading, beadweaving, beadwork, craft, glass beads, jewelry

Art Jewelry vs. Craft Jewelry

OR, is Art really superior to Craft? About a decade ago, I recall reading something in one of my beading or jewelry magazines, about the differences between Art, Craft, Fine, and Fashion Jewelry. At this point, I would add in Body Jewelry to the mix — it was likely still fringe, at the time.

Exactly which magazine title it was, and which issue, is something that will take manual lookup — though I may have xeroxed the relevant pages out of a Library copy. I should really go through my archives. (Well — “archives” — they aren’t really incredibly organized or cataloged, just notes, records, and other things that I’ve considered worth saving over the years, as regards beadwork.)

I’ve started looking through my backlog, but I know it was in a magazine, and I have over ten pounds’ worth of magazines here (actually, about 13 lbs., if my scale is correct). I’m not entirely up to looking for it, right now.

What I do with beads, beadweaving, wire, and micro-macramé with seed beads, would be considered “craft jewelry”. Although it can range into “art jewelry”, which is generally more about one-of-a-kind pieces, stones (often including individual unique stones), and metalwork (for example: Designing From the Stone by Lisa Barth), I haven’t reached the point in my development where I can yet bezel a cabochon using a beaded method, and have the cabochon still show through to my satisfaction.

I do have some (as yet unimplemented) help in making beaded bezels, though. Jamie Cloud Eakin has a really nice book out called Dimensional Bead Embroidery, which clearly shows a number of methods of making beaded bezels. She also has another book out (Bead Embroidery Techniques: Bezels) which goes a little more deeply into bezels in specific, though it isn’t the only one of hers to mention the topic. Because of the nature of her type of work, which uses unique stones and unique designs, I’d say it does range into art jewelry.

I don’t know where I got this idea, but somehow there is this thought in my mind about art being “better than” craft. This was challenged, however, by a recent episode of A Craftsman’s Legacy, where the host (Eric Gorges) was interviewing an armorer (James Arlen) who said that armor made as “art” was generally less functional than armor made as “craft”. It’s not often that I hear someone defend craft in its own right (usually it is assumed that “art” is superior — I don’t fully know why, though I suspect it has to do with historically gendered practices and gender politics), so I do remember it. I also know that “Art Jewelry” is sometimes considered as “wearable art,” though not all of it is something one would want to wear.

As I’m writing this, I recall hearing about the Arts & Crafts Movement in my Art classes. I don’t remember all the information, but I know that those in this movement aspired to high-quality workmanship. This was in contrast, and likely in protest to, the advent of mass production after the Industrial Revolution. I wouldn’t be surprised if art jewelry is a continuation of this idea, though at present it is difficult to avoid working with mass-produced sheet and wire, unless you’re on the level of a traditionally-trained goldsmith and cast your own ingots.

I’m not entirely sure where the idea of, “art being better than craft,” came from…though I wouldn’t be surprised if it had to do with certain large craft stores stocking predominantly inexpensive (“cheap”) products. Charles Lewton-Brain has an article up on Ganoksin about the difference between art and craft. Lewton-Brain is a well-regarded authority where it comes to jeweling, and Ganoksin is a standard jeweling resource.

In any case, making jewelry out of pre-made components — like beads, and thread or cord — generally qualifies as craft (although, right now, I am coming to the realization that most if not all jewelry-making is craft, even if qualified by also being art). When I was in my silversmithing class, the work I was doing in this vein (a Dutch Spiral chain) wasn’t taken seriously by my instructor, even though it ended up being an integral part of my final design.

She didn’t say why — whether it was because she had no reference for it, whether it was because she couldn’t grade it, whether it was a safety hazard (broken beads on a concrete floor are crushed glass), or whether it was straight-out elitism. (I did, however, get people asking how I made it, and I could respond that it was a well-known technique, not a proprietary one.)

After all, it’s not like beaded jewelry, isn’t jewelry (regardless of the fact that the term, “jewelry,” used in the Jewelry field, typically refers to the products of metalwork). It performs the same function: to decorate someone’s body. I’m not sure the method of that decoration’s construction (in beadwork, at least) is really negatively judged by the people I would sell to.

It’s also a bit hypocritical to state that beaders or handcrafters rely on pre-made components (and that they thus are not as creative as jewelers), when I doubt that most jewelers find and hand-cut their own stones, or refine and process their own metals (normally into sheet, wire, or casting grain). I can’t pretend that there isn’t a lot of work put into finishing and polishing a metal piece, or that there isn’t more creative freedom in metalwork. However: it’s false to state that beaders are uncreative relative to jewelers, because of the materials or processes they work with.

There are also major differences in aesthetic relative to the different branches.

For instance, a lot of Fine Jewelry uses glittery cut gemstones that are not likely to show up in Art Jewelry to such a degree. The value of Fine Jewelry also in part rests in the perceived value of its materials (often gold or silver and gems, which allow a higher profit margin). As a Craft Jeweler, I can’t say the same to the latter; though I know at the same time that I am not a Fashion Jeweler. Fashion Jewelry is mostly inexpensive, mass-produced, on-trend jewelry which — like a lot of on-trend fashion clothing marketed to women — is not made to last. This is likely why so many cabochons (“cabs”) are glued into their settings, instead of actually set by rolling and smoothing the edge of the bezel over the cab. When something is just held in by glue, it tends to fall out.

In my own work, I’ve needed to look for more durable materials — given that threads are the most vulnerable part of any beadwoven work. For years, I used Nymo, which used to be industry-standard — until I saw one of my pieces fuzz out after two years of heavy wear — wear which I never expected and could not have predicted. Right now I’m using K.O./Miyuki thread for beadwoven items, and C-Lon for micro-macramé. We’ll see if they last.

A key reason I am as interested in beadwork as I am, are the colors and shapes available in beads, particularly glass seed beads. This is not something that I can easily attain in metalwork unless I 1) use reactive metals, 2) heavily use colored stones, or 3) use enamels. The use of colored stones is fairly self-evident, so I’ll move on to the other two.

Reactive metals are metals like titanium and niobium, which change color when subjected to certain processes like anodization. Although other metals can also change color when exposed to certain processes (like what results in a “fire patina” on copper), it’s fairly certain that color is not a central component of metalsmithing. Enameling is something I’ve considered, but there are two hazards I know of: 1) radiation from the kiln, and 2) harmful vapors from molten colored glass.

One of my friends works near a stained-glass supply, and has noted that people working with stained glass tend to get sick. I’m thinking that this has to do not only with glass dust, but also with glass colorants. Vapor of colored glass is likely another level of potential harm — and I say that having seen some of the potential of enamel. It can really be gorgeous. However, enameling requires the use of either a torch or a kiln…and as you may recognize from my past posts, I’m not too eager to use fire.

There is also the danger of burning out one’s retinas from staring into a hot kiln (this is the “radiation” problem)…if I’m correct and that is a risk with enamel, as well as with lampwork. There are protective goggles one can get; but that still won’t protect one’s lungs (I would suspect a danger of silicosis); and kilns are expensive, so I should be sure I want to enamel, before I invest in one.

Though I do like working with glass beads, we do still have a long way to go, where it comes to glass colorants. There are some colors, that is, that are just difficult (or prohibitively expensive) to create. Colorants can extend all the way through the glass, be added on to the outside of a bead as a coating (these have various levels of quality and durability, and range from what looks like paint, to metallics, to some gorgeous specialty coatings), be applied as a dye, or be applied to the inside of a bead hole, allowing color to show through to the outside (these are called “color-lined” beads).

Unfortunately, for example, it’s difficult to create a base color of violet for glass, so many violet beads are actually dyed or color-lined. (Both of these methods have problems with longevity.) However, with the new coatings that are being developed for use with glass, it’s possible to have a bead with a base color of blue or brown, and have an iridescent sheen on the surface which causes the bead to appear as violet, even a reddish violet. (I’m not entirely sure of the optical explanation for this; I just know it happens.)

There are also glass colors which are apparently really easy to make, and very common and beautiful. Teal is one of these colors, as is (yellow) topaz. Cobalt Blue is another representative color, which is close to an uncoated blue-violet. Reds and pinks contain gold as part of their formulation and so are relatively expensive, but are an interesting example in how glass colors are made. Though I can speculate, I don’t know the chemistry of glass formulations yet. Maybe if I got into lampwork, I could; though I don’t use many lampwork beads.

The fact also remains that those who are making jewelry out of beads, are depending on the prior work of crafters and manufacturers, and it would be arrogant to ignore that. The problem, I see, is that “craft” connotes low quality, whereas “art” implies something valuable and refined. There is also the issue of interdependence with others, and creation as a collective task, as versus the American myth of total and complete individualism.

At this point, having written, seen, and read all this (and in addition what I reference below), I do feel better about calling what I do, “craft work,” especially considering that I’ve realized that on a level — at least in handmade jewelry, as a decorative art — all art work is also craft work.

There is also the fact that, in Japanese society (I’ve been studying this and have Japanese influence in my cultural background), there is value and pride placed in being (and excelling as) a craftsperson; and as I read at Britannica.com, the distinction between fine art, and, “decorative art,” is a recent one. See the second paragraph of, “High and low art,” which may shed some initial light on the history (if, that is, it is accurate). This is the first time I’ve actually seen someone speak to the source of this, as occurring in the 18th century.

It would be interesting to research the history of this categorization of fine art as versus craft, and compare it with the timing of the Industrial Revolution and the Arts and Crafts Movement, which according to Wikipedia (accessed July 31st, 2019), flourished in the late 19th and early 20th century.

The question for me at this point, though possibly a misled and irrelevant one, is what differentiates craft which is also art, from craft which is simply craft: a deeper message? an emotional response? liberated (or ineffectual) design? For that matter: I never really considered myself a decorative artist. I don’t think it would help, though maybe if I subtracted my feelings on the mildly pejorative “decorative” (as though jewelry is only for aesthetic pleasure; not identity, or message, or the enhancement of beauty; and then what is the aesthetic, why does it have value, and are beauty, identity, communications, and aesthetics frivolous; and if so, on what grounds) from the title and kept the definition, it might.

At this point, it seems that the distinction between high art and decorative art is academic and irrelevant — to a crafter. It’s more relevant if I’m trying to distinguish myself from being a crafter, though the major gains from that would be monetary.

The fact remains that in my own work, I’ve chosen to deal with creating things, regardless of whether that leads me to work with fiber, or beads, or paint, or pens and graphite, or digital media, or the written word.

Of course, there are still some media I prefer over others, for reasons I’m not entirely aware of (other than my knowledge that I value precision). I’m just going to have to let these reasons show themselves, as I continue working…

beading, beadwork, craft, jewelry design

After all that…

It’s been a long time, and I’m feeling the need to get back to my jewelry and lace work.

I still haven’t gotten around to making that goldtone and freshwater pearl necklace, though I have all the materials. It’s something to think about, at least — if not work on. (Why not work on them? I have to decide whether to use brass or gold-fill wire…this is 26 or 28 gauge, not plated very thoroughly, in the case of the gold; and I can’t expect the working properties between the metals to be the same.)

The major issues are the possibility of running out of the gold-fill wire and of forgetting which type I got last time; and of finding that my pearls aren’t all drilled (or shaped) correctly. The latter would mean I might have to thin them out. It doesn’t help that, because of the fineness of the chain I purchased, I have to attach the drops integrally, in the process of making them. Standard jump rings just won’t fit inside the links.

Right now I also have a strand of button pearls, with which I’m not sure what to do. I was thinking of interspersing them with the woven drops. It would be easier if they drilled them lengthwise, like maybe with two horizontal piercings, instead of drilling them vertically from top to bottom. Button pearls, basically, are shaped like little mounds, with one flat side. They’re a relative design challenge because of it, although if they were drilled like “Candy” beads (two parallel holes along the base, cabochon-shaped), it would be fine.

Well, most anything could be a design challenge, if one thought hard enough, I suppose…(“Let’s make something that doesn’t look like anything that came before!”)

The bright side of having them, though, is that they’re relatively inexpensive, so I could afford a good luster — even if they are cream as versus white. (I get happy with a good rainbow sheen…which was a reason I often went to my local bead store to pick out individual strands of pearls. [That particular store, however, no longer exists.])

I still have to go through and cull the dull ones out, though. To be honest, I’m not sure how many of the ones on the strand I have, are usable. Just…natural things happen to them, which sometimes makes them not look so good. If you’ve seen the various insides of shells, like from mussels or clams…you probably know what I mean. Sometimes they just look marred, for reasons I can’t imagine.

I also have to keep myself from buying these, at bead conventions. There are often a lot of pearls, and the good ones — like the iridescent ones (along with some of the not-so-good ones) — often cost a decent amount, per-strand. Pearls are also some of the hardest things I could work with…they’re not as regular as seed beads or calibrated beads, and they kind of demand that whatever goes with them, not be so humble as to allow the pearls to outshine them. This means that pearl jewelry…it can get expensive, quickly.

I guess from a sales perspective, that means you get back your investment. But pearls are basically gems, just organic ones. Gemstone jewelry isn’t cheap, in most cases (unless you’re working with very small quantities, as with earrings, or you’re using an abundant or inexpensive material, like hematite).

It’s been a really long time since I did any macramé, as well. It’s not that I don’t want to do it; it’s that my materials are hidden, stashed away in drawers, so I don’t think about working with them, so much. The hard part is when they become hidden in plain sight, so you see their container every day, and just don’t think to look inside. (Now that I mention that, I remember the tatting shuttle on my nightstand…I’m concerned that it will become like my knitting and crochet, and be too repetitive for me to avoid feeling like I’m wasting my life. But I’ll give it a shot.)

Along with all this, I’ve continued experimenting with the Tri Stitch chains. Apparently, I can fit a 4mm fire-polished (FP) bead into each gap on either side of the chain, and it will lay flat…though I haven’t measured the exact length of those “4mm” beads. My major issue at this point is the fact that those 4mm FP beads are too wide to fit in between a Tri Stitch lattice (also that the lattice looks cheap next to them, depending on the beads I use).

However…what I did before with a 3mm Magatama drop, between two 15° Toho spacers? That…might work! Of course, it would turn the Magatama vertical, so that it would stand out of the fabric instead of dropping to one side, but that may be enough leeway to allow the bracelet some motion. It would also add texture.

And, of course, as I saw before…not all of those drop beads are the same size. So I also have some leeway, there. It would…just be kind of nice, though, to know who made those beads…not every supplier divulges their sources (sometimes, intentionally).

And…yeah, it’s…now 2 AM here. I…should go to bed…

beading, beadweaving, beadwork, glass beads, seed beads

Colors.

Last night — or yesterday, rather — M and I made a run to the quilt store. We went there instead of the big box fabric store, as (given an easy choice) I would rather give my money to support local small business, than to grow a large corporation. There’s that, and the quality of the fabrics at the quilt store is really nice (even if they mostly have cottons and silks). It may just be me being a color nut, but also; just looking at all the different shades of fabric is awesome.

It can, however, be a bit intimidating when you’re choosing just what color scheme to use in a project! I was able to help M out with color selection, and pick up a nice batik to use in the side slits in the Nepali Blouse. The way it’s turning out, I may have a minor skirt at the bottom of this blouse! (If, that is, it becomes necessary to raise the side slits back to their original position, and insert a panel to cover my skin.)

Because I would only be going to a certain convention this time around to pick up C-Lon cording, we decided against it. I was able to find a different supplier, which is a good thing!

The other thing interesting, yesterday, was breaking back into my beadwork. There’s a friend who gave me a couple of bracelets to mend, although I said at the outset that I doubted I could fix them.

A while ago (2011), I tried fixing one, requiring some disassembly, and realized the thing had been made with a double-needle netting technique (which I still don’t know, though I could probably figure it out). That in itself was only part of the problem; the larger part is that the beads are so faded and tiny that I can’t tell which color is which, unless they’re pre-grouped.

M suggested that I return this attempt and make this friend a new bracelet (basically an apology bracelet, like the apology earrings I’ve now realized I have no record of on WordPress, as versus in my archives). The below is the swatch I produced by toying around with stuff last night. I brought together a set of colors which is obviously intended both to be beautiful, creative, and relatively gender-neutral.

blue and topaz beadweaving sample.

To the left, here, is a photo of that trial swatch. I basically knew I wanted to try something with SuperDuos…and I had these cream SuperDuos and blue MiniDuos. I really didn’t know if they would work together, but it was worth a shot; and it seems they do!

SuperDuos — or maybe I should say, beads that I’ve seen sold as SuperDuos — can vary in shape, from bean-looking things, to almost DiamonDuo or GemDuo shape (that is, rhombuses). SuperDuos are a bit more curvy in their edges, than either DiamonDuos or GemDuos, though; at least if I’m correct. Of course, though, I have SuperDuos from the early days, meaning I may have some very old-model beads!

I’m going to have to remove the “root beer” bead in between the two amber 3mm Magatama drops, in order for this to turn out flat. Right now, the fringes are overlapping a bit, as the three-bead fringe (two 3mm Magatamas and one matte Fringe bead, possibly Czech in origin) is slightly wider than one full-size SuperDuo. If I repeated the three-bead blue fringe every time I could, the overlap would be noticeable.

Tonight, D and I went out to an Asian discount store which is closing its doors; I found two “Quilting Totebags” for about $2.50 each, and brought home three smaller chirimen bags which are still big enough to contain tubes of beads, and projects. I’ve been wanting to take this stuff to work, and this seems like a good way in which to do so.

One thing I’ve learned over the course of years is that the method of storage affects the use of what is stored: if two things are stored far apart or segregated by size or shape, for example, it is less likely they’ll find it into combination, unless measures are taken to counter this.

I also realized that right now, with my design, I have a tendency to start with color and color combinations, and combine everything I can find into a desired color scheme, then take what shapes I have in those colors, and attempt to assemble them into a form. (It’s kind of a creative exercise.)

In the future, I may attempt to get all the shapes I can in some neutral shade, and work at the form first, before choosing the colors.

I feel the need to note some things about design, for myself in the future:

  • Beadweaving is kind of like using Legos. Structurally (aside from cabochons and bead embroidery, the latter of which can range into sewing), you generally have two main design elements: piercings, and lines.
  • Any line must go through or around a bead, which has one or more piercings through which a line may pass.
  • That line must then either wrap around another line (as with Brick Stitch), or pass through a piercing.
  • In bead weaving, we generally attempt to cover exposed threads with beads, in order to avoid damage to those threads.
  • In beaded micromacramé, not all cords must be covered, as the cords themselves are a visual as well as structural design element (with the possibility of becoming a dominant design element). These cords are also generally strong enough to withstand exposure.

Right now, I absolutely know I need a shower before tomorrow, so I’m going to end this, here. I will note, however, that I have a lot of new reading material from the bookstore…it would be nice to get around to it!

beading, beadweaving, beadwork, craft, jewelry, jewelry design

Returning to this blog. Intellectual Property re: beadwork.

I’m not entirely sure how to start this entry. It’s been well over two years since I used this blog. I’m nearing the end of a graduate program and having an extended period of “free time” for the first time in a while. It’s been a long route to getting back to doing what I’ve actually wanted to do.

I can’t at this point remember why it was that I migrated away from beadwork, though I am thinking that it was concerns over inadvertently violating intellectual property. I’ve gone over this elsewhere, and maybe I’ll eventually link it here, but I’ve gotten additional information (and experience) between my last post and now. It makes me feel better about beading.

Techniques can’t be copyrighted. I don’t think it matters if you learn the technique from a book or online or in-person. I believe the copyright is on the media in which the information is transferred (so, for example, the form of a paper pattern is copyrighted: what you learn from it — the information — isn’t, necessarily). There are community norms in place which help manage what information is used and how…but whether something violates copyright or not, is a grey legal area that takes a number of factors into account.

Technically, the form of intellectual property protection that it seems would even apply, where it comes to using knowledge of technique, is patent. So far as I know, patents are only granted to unique and innovative designs that would be hard to come to on one’s own.

It gets more complex than this; I am certain I can’t communicate all the intricacies of my current understanding, at this time. While there is some truth to the idea that a person wants to be relatively fluent in technique before beginning to sell — just for the sake of their own development (client pressure for more and more of the same can deter growth) — it’s not necessary to know everything, either. I don’t see the sense in prohibiting sales for reasonably unique — no — common work (not specific individual designs that others have taught you how to do), that would otherwise happen — which is what I felt was being promoted to me, which caused me to try and get out of the field.

By, “common work,” I mean work which doesn’t take a great deal of innovation to achieve; which those who know the technique could easily reproduce. And I mean work that isn’t a precise design that someone else taught you how to do.

I don’t mean that the work isn’t unique. There are a lot of unique ways to use common techniques. Most of the possible ways to use them, are. It’s the few ways through which people teach you how to do the technique, which I feel are questionable to duplicate for money; if not off-limits. That is a courtesy that I try to hold to.

Once you have enough practice at constructing basic pieces of jewelry, the techniques you know become a knowledge base you can draw off of when designing things that are your own. But if you don’t practice because you don’t want to follow a pattern, it’s learning the hard way. As you progress, though, there is a natural movement away from instructions and into simply playing and seeing what you can come up with.

At every step there are multiple directions one can take. Making one decision differently from the one in the instructions, or more than one…there’s no crime in that. It’s just that there are many more ways to make things that don’t work, than things that do. :) Experimenting is the only way to find original ways to put things together, though. And research is important to learn more techniques.

Aside from this, beadwork is a relatively expensive hobby. However…doing other things that share traits in common with beadwork (for me this has been painting and sewing) also aren’t the same. Painting requires some thought as to subject matter, even though it has heavy use of color in common with beadwork. Sewing is generally the manipulation of two-dimensional surfaces through the use of needle and thread, and can powerfully integrate color. Bead weaving also uses needle and thread, but in a different way.

In a class where I got to experience making 3-D computer models, I learned that a three-dimensional form with one pierced hole is called a, “torus.” In bead weaving and micromacrame, you’re working with threads, cord, and pierced shapes (though there are beads out now with up to four piercings; I don’t know what shapes with two, three, or four piercings, are called!). The threads (or lines, as I like to think of them) go through the holes of beads or around other threads which are already established in the pattern. There is a certain aspect of what feels like engineering (I use the term “engineering” loosely), in fitting beads together to make a design (whether that’s shaped or flat).

Also, there’s the possibility of using metals with beads and fiber, though these days that generally means wire and sheet. Casting is something else, which I have never carried through all the way. (I’ve made wax models, and I think I’ve poured the plaster, but I don’t think I went through burnout of the model, or the actual casting, let alone finishing.) Casting, though, is a way to make forms in metal which would be very difficult to fabricate, otherwise.

Still, though, silversmithing is not the same thing as beading, even though both can result in the production of jewelry.

I’ve also gotta put in a disclaimer, here. Those who know me from my personal blog, would know that I am planning to go into an Information profession. The preceding post is not legal advice. Even if I were a professional at this point, I would not be able to give legal advice as a member of my profession (as versus, as a person). I am not a lawyer or in any way a specialist in any legal system, so keep that in mind. All risk as to your own decisions lies with you.

What I’m describing here is part of my trying to figure out how to navigate intellectual property territory as a craft jeweler/handcrafter (my decision to adopt or own these term[s], are another post). Writing things out, in most cases, helps me get my thoughts together. The Intellectual Property aside is something I feel the need to record, as it’s been so prominent in my own decisions as to where to exercise my creative abilities. It also evolves as I age, and as I gain more knowledge and experience.

In that sense, these records are valuable to me, as I can see what I used to believe, and how that led to what I think, now. But I can’t predict what I will think, in the future. And I can’t say it won’t be better. So on that note, let me just leave you with the note that I know I’m fallible, and I know that my own understanding is a process, not a product.