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