I have come to the conclusion that all artists, regardless of medium, are by nature insecure people. It's not a judgement, nor a dig, on the contrary; in my opinion, artists have insecurities borne of self awareness. I haven't met a writer, a poet, a painter, a craftsman yet who isn't constantly questioning themselves. Am I good enough? Is my work worth doing? Why is everyone else is so much better than I am? I have never known an artist who doesn't face these issues from time to time, if not often. I, of course, am no exception. But I've never really encountered the degree of insecurity that I have been grappling with of late.
I've grown a small following on my Facebook page, most of them personal friends, many of them fellow jewelry artists. I visit their Etsy shops, their blogs, and their photobucket and flickr accounts. And every time I come across their pages, I'm amazed and humbled by the talent I see there. One after another, the work they exhibit eclipses my own in every way possible.
When I express this sense of inferiority to others, I'm usually greeted with similar answers: Your work has value of its own, apart from the rest; no one style ever appeals to everyone, so your style will appeal to someone; once you find your niche, you'll feel more secure; you have to be comfortable in the little corner you carve out for yourself. But It's difficult to be comfortable in your niche when you feel that the little corner you belong in is so far below the salt. It's as though I'm a kid who's been relegated to the children's table, and I long to sit with the adults and participate in the discussions from which I feel excluded--the ones they seem to understand far better than I.
It's not that I've had trouble discovering my niche. It would be fairer to say that I've had trouble accepting it. The sense that my work is inferior has plagued me for a long time. I remember a few years ago when I presented, as a gift, one of my most prized pieces--a filigree and vintage glass bracelet--to a friend and fellow beader whose specialty was beadweaving. Upon seeing her gift she thanked me rather unenthusiastically, after which she remarked with a condescending chuckle, "you know, there's more to jewelry than just putting beads on a string." Ignoring for a moment that there were neither beads nor string involved in the piece she had been given, that comment served only to make me feel even less like an artist and more like a kid playing with crafts. As if that weren't enough, I visited her again a year later and found my prized bracelet, in several pieces, in a pile of unsorted beads and components that she was offering to me to take home, since she wasn't going to be needing any of it--"it's all junk", she said. I suspect she didn't realise that my broken bracelet had found its way into the pile; when I pulled one of the pieces out of the box and looked at her questioningly, she smiled ruefully and began back-pedalling quickly, telling me that it must have accidentally got put in with the junk. (At least she had the courtesy to backpedal, I suppose.) Nonetheless, that experience left me with a bitter aftertaste that has yet to disappear; the seed of doubt she planted in my mind has now grown to a good-sized tree. And with every photo I look at of yet another gorgeous piece of jewelry, another ring forms in the bark.
|The Gifted Bracelet: I took it out of the pile of junk and put it back together. Dammit.|
If nothing else, the seed of doubt this woman inadvertently planted has given me plenty of opportunity to ruminate on my work and its place in the world. There's a point at which every artist is forced to accept certain facts about themselves and their art. We focus so often on our limitations and weaknesses that we lose sight of our abilities and strengths. It's one thing to accept those limitations and quite another to allow them to govern how you feel about your own work. I've reached the point where I no longer want the image of that broken bracelet in the pile of junk to symbolize how I feel about what I do.
In other words, I've come to the conclusion that it's time to plant a different seed and see what grows from it.
|Vintage Ivory & Milk Glass Brass Filigree Necklace, Earrings & Bracelet Set, $100|
Defining my niche, at least in terms of jewelry design, is (appropriately) pretty simple: I primarily think of jewelry as decorative functional art (this is actually the description of my shop). The key word here is "functional", a term that encompasses a very specific meaning. To me, "functional" means "practical". I want the jewelry I make to be practical--versatile, simple, able to be dressed up or down, and easy to wear. I like pieces that flatter without being flashy. And most importantly, it has to be classy, both aesthetically and objectively: elegant designs made with quality materials, no cheap or flimsy components, something that can serve as an heirloom or be passed on through generations if desired.
|Vintage Blue Givre Crystal Stones in Brass Settings Necklace & Earrings, $45|
When I used to buy jewelry (I haven't in years, since I can make it myself), I always did so with that same eye. The pieces I bought were ones that I could wear every day, that were becoming without being overwhelming, and were easy to wear. Earrings that are too heavy, bracelets that are too bulky, or necklaces that are too cumbersome, never made it into my jewelry box; if by chance something impractical did manage to find its way into my collection, it became clear very quickly that it wasn't going to stay long.
My handmade collection works much in the same way. The jewelry I make is the same kind that I wear. In fact, there isn't a piece in my handmade collection that I wouldn't be thrilled to keep, and I never make something that I wouldn't wear myself. I don't want to say that I wouldn't wear an ornate wire woven pendant or earrings with cascades of beads. I love to look at those pieces, to admire them from afar. But I know myself well enough to understand that when it comes to my own personal preference, simplicity is the key. When I have a beautiful stone, I want to showcase that stone. But to my eye, the best way to do that isn't to add more--it's to add less. Allowing the piece to speak for itself, to say its piece quietly and simply, with as few words as possible but all that are necessary to get the point across. Subtraction is the key. As a result, my jewelry isn't particularly showy; even my vintage work isn't nearly as ostentatious as much of the work I see being sold.
That is why my work is never going to grab the attention that the detailed wire weaving or gem waterfalls will. My pieces are never going to stand out in the crowd the way those do, the way the pieces that I see being shared and linked on Facebook are swooned over. Nothing I make is going to be endorsed by a celebrity or fawned over by jewelry lovers. I'm never going to attract that kind of attention, because my work doesn't command attention in that way. For the same reasons that I, personally, don't stand out in the crowd, neither will my jewelry. Because the way I make jewelry is much the way I live my life: I try to keep things as simple and uncluttered as possible.
The way I figure it, life is complicated enough. Perhaps what the world needs is a little more simplicity. So, in the midst of the most amazing waterfall of gems, between the gorgeously elaborate sterling rings, somewhere within the exquisitely ornate wire-woven pendants, if you look hard enough, you just might find something beautiful there.
|Vintage Pink Givre Diamond-Shaped Art Glass & Brass Filigree Necklace & Earrings, $45|
Until next time,