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, Business, career, craft, creativity, jewelry design

Showing up.

Well, I was able to restart my beading. I’m working on a project from (what at least feels like) years ago. The dominant colors are bronze, brown, and green, though I’m also working a little deep red into it, with some success. (Luckily, it doesn’t matter if anyone can recognize it as red, or not! It’s very subtle.) I am having a couple of problems, though:

  1. Just like trying to restart painting from zero, or restart writing from zero, trying to restart beading from zero comes with its own difficulties. I wouldn’t say I’m, “stymied,” just yet, but there’s definitely some practice that will have to come before I can get back into my stride.
  2. I’ve realized how core to my personality my creativity is, so it’s kind of…hard, after having been forced away from it (timewise), for so long.
    And, well, then there’s this one:
  3. I find myself more interested in this than I realized; part of the reason I did continue on with the Library training was to gain entrepreneurial skills. Actually, part of the reason to start the Library training at all, was to support my beadwork and jeweling. It’s not obvious, but being a handcrafter is not a lucrative position to be in; most handcrafters make poverty wages. Nor is being a jeweler, even though the items produced are essentially luxury items.

For the last two or three days, I’ve been moving things around. I’ve freed up a lot of space in my storage, more than I could have ever imagined. The major thing is having to depend on my own documentation to be able to tell what everything is and the cost of each little thing (which isn’t even possible to exactly know, without the initial quantities of each item).

Estimations are kind of crucial, here, when dealing with backstock which is not labeled as to its cost or value. With new stock it’s easier, but that data has to be recorded pretty much as soon as possible and in as much detail as possible, before memory fades (a lot of places don’t give itemized receipts). That is something I learned from an early Library Science class.

Particularly…working in a bead store or helping an established jeweler/beadworker/fiber artist is kind of a dream job, sad as that is. (I would also take fabric store or art-supply store.)

The illuminating part is that I’m more interested in doing informational interviews with small-business owners where it comes to jewelers, beaders, fiber artists, and suppliers, than I am interested in doing informational interviews with Librarians.

Essentially, I’m setting up to run a small business (which I know I can do now) at the same time as I’m dealing with trying to find a job as a Librarian. I’m not sure what liberties I can take in describing my current frustrations with my job, so I won’t. Given the last day or so of being sick (I’ll spare you the details), I didn’t opt to go in, today — which is good, because I was exhausted as it was. The weird thing is that cooperating with people at my job and knowing that I’m providing a helpful service to a community, is most of what’s keeping me there. And that’s bizarre for me to say, because before I started that job, I was basically a loner. However, I was a loner for a reason, which is not valid in adult society.

So I’m kind of dealing with this split but overlapping vision.

I’m realizing the need for cataloging where I got things from, the names of things, the locations of things, the prices and quantities of things, and finding quality vendors. That’s before getting to actually using the things. But it is typical in a small business (in this case, a micro-business) that most of one’s time is spent running the business, not producing the goods.

I’m actually glad that I have taken Business classes, in that way, because now I know that. If I don’t get a job soon, I’m now thinking about taking more Business classes to stave off loan repayment and sharpen my business acumen…though obviously, that’s a last-resort type of thing. From what I’ve heard, I should be able to make the loan repayments and cover them with my current job…we’ll see. I have Summer semester to work it out.

I also have heard that it takes an enormous personal commitment to establish a small business (and can take upwards of 60 hours of work per week [do I say, “hey, that’s just 10 hours per day”?]), but in this case it would be doing something I love (even if I’m not all that confident in my own creativity, all the time).

There are also the upshots that I have a good idea of the kind of work I want to do, where my niche market might lie, the tools I would need, the suppliers I would employ, the people skills involved (networking! How often can I be excited about that???), the community, places to learn, and ideas of places to start to sell (fairs, farmers’ markets, boutiques, flea markets, online). I also have experience, skill, stock, and tools. Which, particularly in silversmithing, aren’t really…things one would think of?

In silversmithing, it’s basically extremely helpful to take classes or apprentice to know what you’re doing, with which tools, in a safe manner…though it’s kind of a back-pocket thing for me, right now. I don’t want to do it, but I may need to, at some point: for instance, if I start getting gouged where it comes to buying pre-made components.

My main bead store for years consistently had overpriced metals, which I didn’t fully realize until I started making my own earwires. It’s also not difficult to hard-solder jump rings, but you need to know how to pick-solder, which I didn’t, for years. You also need to know how to quickly clean up and polish that stuff after it’s made, because time is money, and trust me, it looks horrible after having been blasted with fire.

(And yes, I did eventually look up how to do granulation, online: it isn’t looking easy. But I wonder if one could get a granulated-look from macramé plus bead embroidery?)

I think the major issues I would have, would be financial; like which web host to use, or which payment processor to employ.

So I know that I’m not going to be a goldsmith, and I’m looking at being a beadworker with the enhancements of fiber work and minor silversmithing. Basically, a major reason to go into Public Library work is that I’d be able to use my experience here to help other people, and thus have a reason to continue pouring resources and time into this current, “hobby.”

And yet, I’m spending so little time actually beading. I realized today that I couldn’t even remember yesterday (my computer told me I’d been off of it for two days, today), and then I realized that I had been sorting loads of beads into tiny containers for most of the amount of time I had been up.

Well — sorting and labeling. Probably like most crafters, I feel like I do more stashing than actually using what I have. In Art, we hear that most of the work is just showing up to the bench, every day. That gives the possibility of making, “good art,” but not the guarantee. The thing is, not showing up at all means there is no possibility.

Of course, “good art,” is subjective; “good design,” not to such a degree. But still…at least I engaged with my materials, and I can see pairings of beads jumping out at me, now (from colors I never thought I’d use)! Right now I have the forward side section of this necklace worked out; I’m not sure if I should be thinking of it like music with different verses…I just am. I don’t know if it will help, though.

craft, organization, storage

Disorganized, despite it all

Yes, I spent at least 20 or 30 minutes tonight looking around for a vial of Crystal Celsian MiniDuos that were right in front of me, on the table. DIS-ORGANIZED. Or maybe just absent-minded. (Google “Crystal Celsian” to see photos of this surface treatment; it’s basically a light transparent gold.)

I’ve recently been dealing with the use of specialized bead shapes — SuperDuos, MiniDuos, 3mm Magatamas, 3x4mm Drops, O-beads, and Miyuki Spacer Beads (as versus Toho Demi Rounds, which is what I thought I had, last time I wrote).

I believe that I’m becoming interested, now, in more and different things, than the main design I worked out last. I suppose I did make two samples, one trial and two final versions…though I need to replace the clasp on one (the blue one), and I have identified at least one more colorway I could work through. Well, two: one in rose and green (like the second sample I made), and one in magenta and teal.

Yeah, that sounds kind of close, but in one, the pink dominates; in the second, the teal does. Right now, I’m interested more in the dusty rose one, as it looks less like a daisy chain than I believe the teal one may work out to appear. It has to do with color placement.

I should note the C-Lon colors I used in the previous three; the first two (Capri Blue 6/0s plus 4mm Green Iris fire-polished rounds) were “Eggplant”; the third was “Persian Indigo”. That’s in case I need to replace these spools, if the colors are still being made. The color was on a sticky band on the outside of the spool — designed for identification among many similar spools — not designed to be kept.

I’m trying to figure out a scalable method of reliably storing these things, and figuring out a way to keep notes on what I would otherwise keep together in a kit for future use. The disadvantage of kits is the fact that when something’s stashed in a kit (like a vial of SuperDuos I was looking for tonight), it’s not findable — unless there is a designated place for that kit. Like a special, labeled drawer.

Right now I have a toolbox with — well, tools — but it is not large enough or organized enough to reasonably take my beads.

I’m thinking of putting what I can, into my flat storage. There’s not much point to my keeping my flat archives in that space and losing the use of it, when I could be putting actively used materials in there. There is the fact that if I did get a job in an Academic Library, and did go into making art at the graduate level, I might want some of this stuff as portfolio material (if I tried to get into an MFA program). But — not everything is portfolio-quality material.

At this point, I know that it would be best to store beads of the same shape and size, together. When I was younger, I mostly collected size 11/0 beads; they’re about 2mm long (smaller sizes have higher numbers; thus, 15/0 is smaller than 11/0, and 8/0 is smaller than 6/0). This is…very small to me, now. As an 11-18 year old, 2mm is fine. As someone whose eyes are aging, it’s not the size I want to work at, unless there actually is a reason for it.

That makes me sound kind of old. Not that there’s anything wrong with old (I prefer myself at this age to myself with less experience and understanding), but still. I’m watching everyone around me aging, and I’m physically aging, as well. What I mean, partially, is that when you’re small and your vision is better (like when you don’t routinely get eye strain and unclear vision from not wearing your glasses), tiny beads don’t seem so tiny.

Mostly, when I’m working with micro-macramé, I’m not going down to 11/0 size beads, even though it is possible with standard C-Lon cord. A lot of that is just a convenience factor. When being threaded, 11/0 beads tend to flex the C-Lon and then launch onto the floor, where they bounce and roll and get underfoot: that’s a risk of broken glass, if they’re lost. Beadweaving with 11/0s is a different matter, mostly because it’s a very different process; needles don’t spring the beads away. (I draw the line at sizes smaller than 15/0. [I wonder what it would be like to be nearsighted–!])

I’ve done a lot towards the end of organizing vials and hanks of beads, moving through storage solution after storage solution. First it was plastic shoeboxes; then milky plastic stacking organizers; then tubs from IKEA; then free-standing vial holders (which are still useful); now clear drawers and sampling vials (also useful). The major issues are the fact that most of these storage solutions are temporary, in that they stop being available; and that the level of use of each of these sizes and colors and shapes of bead really should have a say in how I store them.

I’m just not sure how to implement that — especially as mixing the beads up encourages “happy accidents” which would not otherwise occur. There’s the possibility of building a database…which I’m probably more prepared to do than most people, but that’s — seriously! — a lot of thought and a lot of work.

I also don’t know if I can reasonably reformat a database that I create and then can’t properly delete (this has to do with table dependency…not to bore you with the details, but tables [think spreadsheets, but fragmented according to purpose, and more organized] must be created and deleted in proper order to make sure things will function or be deleted properly, or that a table can be created without error, in the first place. This is part of relational database design and implementation, one of the only classes to recently frighten me).

The possibility of using a purchased database system (right now, I’m thinking of Access, because it likely natively integrates Excel tables; but Access likely doesn’t look as good as, say, MariaDB, in a tech environment) has occurred to me, but the cost there is even more prohibitive. There are likely one or more free and/or open-source solutions that don’t involve cloud storage (I’m looking at some, now), but I’d have to be on top of my programming and querying skills to actually make that work.

I could do it. I just don’t want to (right now), because I’m not confident enough. It would be something that would make me a good candidate for certain jobs, though…

Then there is the question of what to do with the nine left-over beads from the 1990’s (fashion faux pas?) which I just used in a bracelet, or the eight rondelles that are taking up space in their own vial which is way too big for them, but the tiniest I have. I’m heavily considering moving back to tiny baggies; the environmental impulse in me just hates it because I know all plastic eventually disintegrates, and there’s no saving tiny baggies that shred from age. They have a lifespan — after which, they’re useless and basically just choke sea life.

Of course, there’s also the question of what to do with your vials, once the lids begin to crack and smell and decay. It’s not much better. At least the baggies don’t give off volatile compounds when they get old…

Right now I have six sets of clear plastic drawers (one here is empty; the third, I just began to use; the other two — I don’t recall what’s happening with them. Oh, right. One of those has hanks of Czech seed beads; the other has unique-to-the-collection beads, like multi-hole beads that wouldn’t fit with the other Czech glass). There are also at least four sets of small vials in transparent cases. I mostly use the latter as a way of visualizing color combinations, and have been using the beads from the vials. I have not had to refill one yet. I’ve also been reusing older, now-empty clear vials that came with purchases, which are still functional.

I guess in this age, mitigating waste is a better option than mindlessly throwing things away. It would just be nice if there were a convenient, inexpensive, transparent, and scalable design solution that involved something that wouldn’t outlive me.

But yeah, I just described plastic…and the main drawback to using it. I’m confident something will eventually be developed, but it’s not here, right now.

Well, tomorrow I have three main things to look for at the bead store, and one optional:

  1. brass toggle clasp
  2. clearly green drop beads (3x4mm)
  3. green SuperDuos or MiniDuos.
  4. (optional) brown fire-polished beads

I think I can get the rest of it through other sources. I’m seriously considering selling, again, if not looking forward to, or planning on it…

…and none of this is going to help the fact that making designs that are actually creative and unexpected, comes only from getting a bunch of stuff out so I can see it all at once. (“Yes, a bracelet came from this disaster zone. Why?”)