The art of interpretation

After my post last Friday I got back to thinking about interpreting meaning in jewellery and about the point that Mary Clark made when she commented on my last post.

Mary effectively hit the nail on the head when she said … “if the maker commits to honestly creating something imbued with meaning, the wearer will get some sense of the maker’s intent, & transform it with their own” as the act of wearing a piece ultimately will create a different meaning  in context through the associations of the wearer.

In her lecture,  Hazel White  gave an interesting example of this where she and her husband had their wedding rings reworked.  When they first got together they didn’t have much money so both had very simple wedding rings.  Because wedding jewellery is deeply symbolic, they didn’t want the rings replaced so had both rings joined together with a smaller ring to make a new piece.  Their child  always believed the third ring represented all three members of the family being joined together.  To my mind, this is a beautiful example of the associations of the wearer transforming and bringing new life to the intentions of the designers.

But this got me thinking about what happens if the wearer doesn’t know about the intentions of the designer?  It put me in mind of many of the experiences I’ve had in art galleries – I’m sure it’s happened to you too – there’s been no information about a piece and you’ve placed your own interpretation upon it only to discover at some later point that your interpretation with it is completely at odds with that of the maker.

Ultimately, how much does this matter?  How much does the intent of the maker influence your decision to buy a piece of jewellery or to wear a piece?  Do your own associations with your jewellery have much more of an impact than the intent of the maker?  And how do you know the intent of the maker in the first place?

This is something I’m really interested in and would love to hear back from you!



Filed under Inspiration, Random Ramblings

3 responses to “The art of interpretation

  1. I covered this in lecture two with “connotation” and “denotation”, where what’s intended to be understood isn’t.
    It’s a key difference between art (creator’s intention is important) and design (creator’s intention is unimportant) but in craft there’s a middle ground. Some jewellery is high-end and sold with the story attached, and this is communicated by the owner/wearer. Some is “low end” and sold with no story attached, even though the person who made it may have their own personal story about it. What matters is the wearer’s intent. And as Hazel said, when one person passes something on, the interpretation of the story is changed or even lost. (For example, if you buy an antique ring in a flea market – maybe it meant everything to the original owner, now it means “bargain”, “treasure” or whatever).
    Responses to the Victorian brooch that Hazel drilled through show this – some people blogged that they thought it was a crime, but for Hazel it was a tool, there was no value other than the utility value. And again, I described this in lecture 2 with Baudrillard’s economy of the sign – you’re really describing the same process where one object means different things to the maker, the seller, the buyer, the wearer and the “thing” itself…

    So are you, as a jeweller, comfortable with that? Or will you only work in the “high end” stuff where your intent is what matters?
    (As you’ll find out next semester, many people do both – make money making “low end” and make prestige and reputation making “high end”)

    BTW “high end” and “low end” doesn’t mean one is better than the other. There are technical terms but they can wait till next semester…

    Hope that helps! Fascinating, isn’t it?

    • Thanks for this Jonathan. It really is fascinating!

      I’m keen to explore what people outside of an art college / art school environment perceive as the meaning behind the pieces of jewellery they wear and whether or not the intent of the designer/maker has any impact on what they would choose to wear or buy. I know that I certainly have been put off buying pieces where I’ve found the intention of the maker so pretentious / annoying that I quite simply wouldn’t give them my money (I’m stubborn like that) and am interested in hearing about the experiences of others. On the basis of my own experience I believe the designer’s intent can make a difference but would like to hear the views of others 🙂

      Certainly I’ve been inspired to make pieces based on certain events / stories, but I’m not convinced that the inspiration for a piece is necessarily the same as intent – for example a piece I make for a friend will have different associations to a piece I make for a stranger. The intention for one may be to remind the wearer of a positive connection and simply to make money for the other, regardless of the original basis for my design idea.

      • Carol

        As in the art gallery reference, being aware of the background (or intent) could certainly influence my reaction to a piece of jewellery but would be unlikely to influence my decision to buy it – unless of course the intent was evil in some way.

        If given as a gift (as much jewellery is) or inherited from a loved one – as opposed to being purchased directly, then the link with the giver or the occasion might have a greater influence than even the actual design. Again, when we buy an old piece of jewellery I think we are often engaging not just with it’s beauty but with the romantic story we imagine it holds. Clearly I’m a sentimentalist.

        Every creation that leaves the hands of the artist, designer or writer is open to interpretation by others, and it’s meaning will evolve with time…. which is surely as it is meant to be.

        At the end of day I have to say that I have never given a thought to ‘intent’ when I have bought a piece of jewellery….. maybe from now on I will !

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