Back to school

Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., 1919 Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Marcel Duchamp, L.H.O.O.Q., 1919
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

September is my favourite month of the year. Yes, the air is crisper, sharper even, as if infused with a sense of purpose that I find invigorating after the lazy days of summer. I have always loved going back to school. For me, the New Year, with all its possibilities, really starts in September, not in January.

This year marks a new beginning as I am starting a new job. Instead of being a travelling instructor working in several schools, I am now “permanently” attached to a college where I teach metal techniques and art history. (Note: I don’t have tenure yet, hence the quotation marks). I have been asked to create a whole new art history curriculum, which is both very exciting and very terrifying. Art history is my first love, but this was a long time ago (in the twentieth century). I have since explored other disciplines: photography, fine arts, and lastly jewellery. So here I am now, on both sides of the desk, so to speak.

Here, in the twenty-first century, art historians are of course asking themselves the same age-old questions, such as: What is art? Why do we make art (or jewellery)? And what does this all mean? But this is also the Digital Age, with the emergence of new technologies, and the ever-present social media. As the making and disseminating of art is transformed dramatically, more questions need to be asked. Should not we take a new look at the art institutions, the museums and the art galleries? Do we still need them? Are they/should they be the only custodians of art? In today’s society, where everything can be turned into a commodity, what it the role of art and artists? And then, there are questions more specific to jewellery-making. With climate change, ethical questions concerning the mining of precious metals and its effects on the environment become even more pressing. So, how does that affect us as makers? And what about new technologies, such as 3-D printing among others, what impact do they have on the production of jewellery? Are traditional metal techniques then still relevant? Will that give designers more freedom to explore, and to push boundaries?

I could go on and on. These are only some of the many questions that any art historian should be pondering and that any art history teacher should be asking her students.

Well, barely two weeks into the school year, I realize that I haven’t done enough of that myself, as a goldsmith – the asking and questioning. I hope I can be forgiven, after maintaining a studio and running a jewellery business for so many years, for becoming maybe a bit complacent and forgetting that increasing your customer base or growing your sales should not be the primary goal of an artist.

So I am full of anticipation as I go back to school and begin a new year. I hope that this new job will give me the freedom to keep exploring and asking questions. Here is a quote from “Ways of Seeing”, a series of essays on art criticism by John Berger, a classic that should be on the reading list of any art history student – or teacher, or artist.

“The relation between what we see and what we know is never settled. Each evening we see the sun set. We know that the earth is turning away from it. Yet the knowledge, the explanation, never quite fits the sight.”

― John Berger, Ways of Seeing, 1972, BBC & Penguin Books

My first school.

My first school.

10 thoughts on “Back to school

  1. danielle renault

    Et voilà l’école de Pas-de-Jeu sur la toile! Commentaire plus approfondis bientôt. Bon courage pour la rentrée.

  2. artdoesmatter

    I really enjoyed your post, Dominique and want to first off, congratulate you on your latest achievement. Teaching at a university that will combine several of your talents and experience into one position sounds like a bold move forward! This is such wonderful news. As far as determining how to create and envision a new art history curriculum, that topic could take several blogs to sort out! Is it only history of fine arts or does the history of craft come into play? Universities in the past only felt compelled to discuss Michelangelo/Botticelli to abstract expressionists or Pollock-Krasner, and leave out all the great craft artists in fiber, metal, clay glass etc.; even photography was pushed back or marginalized in most college art history curriculums. Now in the advent of digital technologies, I can see why you’d want this included; however, I’m finding myself a serious “pushback” or resistance from both the fine arts AND craft communities about 3-D printing, CAD and computers seriously entering the field. Artisans who have trained in the formal arts of clay and metal, in particular, can be somewhat leery of embracing a digitally produced work, let alone calling it “art”. I will be very interested in what you choose to focus on in your classes and do hope this will be followed up by you in many future posts!

    1. metalandmettle Post author

      By the way, this is a technical college, not a university – at least for now – but still a wonderful opportunity for me. About your comment on the traditional art history curriculum, yes I agree with you, Patricia. Sadly, our art history curriculum in art school, when I was a student, was seriously lacking in regards to the history of crafts. As a teacher, I don’t want to perpetuate this “ghettoized” view of art vs. craft. I will do my best to make things right and expose my students to a healthy dose of crafts, especially metal work! As for 3-D printing, I am still quite ignorant of the process itself (would love to try it out sometime) and of the people who work with it. Patricia, your blog is a great resource, inspiring and informative. Thanks to you, I have discovered many outstanding artists and expanded my horizons.

  3. fayegreendesign

    Now it is my turn to congratulate you Dominique! What a fantastic opportunity, and your insights are truly engaging. I have never formally studied art or art history, but still definitely feel that there are many questions to be asked about the commodification of art and design. As someone who whole-heartedly embraces functionality over simple aesthetics, I do find myself a bit sad to see that art for the sake of expression seems to be a wilting concept. The more I delve into the economics of design, the more I seem to be drawn to the beauty of design as a personal challenge and a thing of beauty – even without a price tag or receipt.
    I really look forward to reading more about you own personal discoveries as you tackle the questions you want to ask of yourself and the answers that being in your new environment will surely produce!

  4. metalandmettle Post author

    Yes, this is a great opportunity – and not just as a job. I often lament the fact that I have so little time to make jewellery these days. On the other hand, being exposed to so much art and, most of all, being outside of my comfort zone, really is a chance for me to explore, question and grow. I guess sometimes it helps to step out of the studio and away from the bench.
    Thank you very much for your comments Samantha!

  5. drawandshoot

    Dominique, heartfelt congratulations on your new position! Those are some difficult and important questions. I think asking these sort of questions is very stimulating – I will be pondering these for a good while! I hope you do some followup blogging about how it’s all developing.
    Best wishes,

    1. metalandmettle Post author

      Thank you very much, Karen. Yes, I’d love to follow up on this.
      It is much harder now to post as often as I’d like to, and I miss it. I feel that it is even more important for me to make time for this : sharing ideas and experiences with other artists is even more precious these days. Thank you!


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