PARTICIPATORY SPORT FOR CRAFT ARTISTS
OK, this one seems like a no-brainer, but it's so important. I realized everyone reading this doesn't make wearable objects, but I think the same concept applies (use it, display it, take it, whatever-it), at least for us functional folks.
Here's why. Example:
I walk into a place (any place -- it's insane all the place's I've been asked what I do, and by whom) and at some point strike up a conversation. In there somewhere the topic of what I do, metalsmithing/jewelry design, comes up. At least 90 perfect of the time, I find that the most instant response is for the person to quickly bounce gaze from ears to neck to arm and around again -- looking for jewelry. If I'm wearing any it's always "Oh, you made that?!"
As much as I'd like to pretend there haven't been a few times (Ok, realistically probably closer to a hundred times) that I was wearing cheap, poorly made, poorly designed costume jewelry (probably from China), I'll use my own experience to illustrate how this situation is less than ideal. As soon as I respond that the jewelry is not mine, I wish I was wearing my own. People sometimes look sort of sad that I'm not, or ask why, or sometimes become way less interested in what I do. People like visuals, and I don't get to make up for it by referring everyone to my website every single time. Maybe it seems like a small detail in daily life, but I like to look at every opportunity as just that: an opportunity to share what we do. This brings me to another point: How can I talk about the value in handmade or artist made objects when I want to say "Oh this cheap crap? It was just lying around -- my stuff is different, and better"? And furthermore, I don't want people to assume the badly made stuff like this IS MINE. I want them to be impressed, and for any casual bump into an artist or craftsman to be a memorable one.
I feel like to make a positive impression you've got to be your own biggest fan. This, for me, includes wearing (or using, or whatever) my own work often, so that I can make a confident, visual impact when people get curious about me and work. Like many metalsmiths I know, I noticed sometime a year or so ago that I have gotten to where I rarely wear any jewelry at all, probably because I'm always in the studio. So, my solution has been two fold: One, make myself wear my own work, often. And, two, purge myself of all of the junk/costume jewelry that I own (even a few pieces I really liked). I realize this may seem extreme, but I wanted to commit. Most of these pieces are years old, and I don't see these objects as valuable, far less so than the day I bought them for sure. I will, however, wear the heck out of some fantastic pieces I have bought from or traded with other artists -- it isn't my work, but the same strong message can be seen in this work, and I'm happy to share anyone's over the stuff I let go. I'd love to know your thoughts on the topic. What are some other ways you share the function of your work?
Such an important point: thanks for raising it.
I make it a rule to ONLY wear my own work and encourage my students to wear their own too. To my mind, if you are not going to wear it, how can you expect anyone else to do so? Additionally, most people are interested to see something unusual and are immediately entranced to learn that I made it myself. Sometimes this leads to commissions - as happened on the plane to Pittsburgh over the summer - and once in the street in London even led to me selling the piece I was wearing off my neck!
I, too, have a decent collection of work by other artists but never wear them, which is stupid now that I think about it. Your idea of the pieces sending "the same strong message" is a good one and not one I had thought about before. Obviously pieces by other artists can still initiate contact/discussion leading to a discussion of one's own work but the advantage is that it opens the field, possibly even making people more aware of the wealth of makers out there.
As a member of the board of the Association for Contemporary Jewellery (ACJ) in the UK, I have the privelege of working with a couple of dedicated collectors and it is wonderful to be able to see what they wear at the meetings: Jacqueline Mina this month, Ute Decker next... All they expect from me is "another one of his own pieces"!
Junk jewellery is a difficult one, especially now that yesterday's costume jewellery is today's auction house speciality, and good costume jewellery is still being made (for example, that of Tatty Devine). Your "cheap, poorly made, poorly designed costume jewelry (probably from China)" will never become that and while I can understand the appeal of some of that work, it would seem odd to me for a maker to wear something that s/he knows to be sub-standard. It is understandable that people seemed a little dispirited to learn that you were wearing that in preference to your own.
Part of the problem is that we are human too. Makers, designers, but human. The things which appeal to the rest of the masses, often also appeal to us. That is why they exist. It is, I suppose, almost superhuman to be able to resist that temptation and to be strict in our approach to our own adornment. I would suggest that we must.
We completely agree with the spirit and practice of this topic. We have found that wearing our own jewelry is the best sales tool we have. Our experiences mirror Dauvit's in that we have sold items right off our person many, many times. And gained commissions. And gained wholesale orders. Its even led to invitations for exhibition and speaking, not to mention requests for workshops.
Wearing your own work is the perfect conversation starter, and almost always draws a comment. We also collect and wear other makers work too, but always in conjunction with one or more of our own pieces. We have learned the same lesson as Katie, that when you tell people what you do, they expect to see you wearing your own work, and will be disappointed when you are not.
We almost always roll around town with a small case of work too, which we will whip out at the slightest provocation or request. This has resulted in more sales than we can count - at the dentist's office, the grocery store parking lot, the gym, restaurants, hair salon. From our perspective, we're in business to make and sell jewelry.
I've come to a similar conclusion over the years myself! So it's become 'no jewelry or mine' most of the time. The only part I get sad about is that I have a small collection of antique tribal/ethnic jewelry that I love. After a little hiatus, I've started wearing them along with my own and will point out my 'inspiration pieces' if asked!!
I got in on this discussion late, and now I have only a minute to make a comment, (have to go to a day job). I am always regretful when I don't wear my own work also. The entire second paragraph I could say. But, I love jewelry, and have piles of costume jewelry I could never part with. It takes up a lot of room. But, someday I may make a wall collage, so I can look at it.
I also love to wear other artists work.