Monday, August 18, 2008
On August 15, noted metalsmith James Binnion (famous for his mokume gane) posted an extremely critical review of the 2008 Metalsmith Exhibition in Print (above 1st) on Ganoskin's Orchid forum. Here is the link: http://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/archive/200808/msg00715.htm. The result of which was 59 respondent posts at last count. I wouldn't say it is quite like the Imogene posts after SNAG 2008, but it has been an extremely interesting conversation that has highlighted the plight of Joe Jeweler caught in the rip tide of SNAG's schizophrenic mission and membership.
The following is my post on the Orchid forum, which I felt compelled to share as part of this dialogue:
58 Posts in this thread. Respectable indeed.
I found my way here through a link that someone had posted to by blog, www.conceptualmetalsmithing.com. Though it may or may not hold sway here, on my blog I employ cold rational critical thinking to wade through issues relating to the field of metalsmithing. I have frequently bashed academia for their short comings (as in this performance http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mB4AHZ8iAV4). And I have also written on the difficulty in limiting the scope of metalsmithing to exclusive definitions (http://www.conceptualmetalsmithing.com/2008/06/on-thematic-metalsmithing.html).
There are a few things that I wanted to say after faithfully reading all 58 posts. So here we go:
1. Get involved
As a general rule, it is much easier to throw mud, than it is to clean up. There has been, what I feel, is an inordinate amount of mud thrown at SNAG and at Metalsmith. It is very easy to post here about what SNAG is doing wrong, but very few people posting here seem to be interested in changing those things that they don't like. SNAG is a member run organization, so if you think it misrepresents you or you would like to see change, then you have the option run for office and legislate those changes yourself, or to contact the officers of the organization to express your dissatisfaction. For your convenience I have included a few of them here:
President: Kris Patzloff - email@example.com
Presdident Elect: Harlan Butt - firstname.lastname@example.org
Executive Director: Dana Singer - email@example.com
(note:both president and president elect are academics by their .edu addresses)
It is truly the mark of a lazy and apathetic person to criticize without participating. It is this mentality that has brought our country to its current political state of affairs, one in which the government can act with impunity, and without the fear of accountability to its citizens. Don't be that guy.
Further, Metalsmith frequently publishes letters from readers. If you are dissatisfied with the content of the magazine you should email the editor, Suzanne Ramljak - firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also an editorial advisory board which is composed of Sharon Church (Professor at University of the Arts - Philadelphia), Kim Cridler (Assistant Professor at University of Wisconsin - Madison), Ursula Neuman (curator at the Museum of Arts and Design), Mija Riedel (writer and photographer), and Sandra Zilke (SNAG Board Member/ Liaison). These people, the editor, and the contributors are responsible for the content of the magazine, not SNAG as an organization. If you have a problem address it to the proper place. All of their names are on page 3 of every issue.
FYI a one year subscription to Jewelry Artist is $30, one year of Metalsmith is $34. How do you figure you are getting ripped off? American Craft is $40! For $45 more dollars you become a member of SNAG at $79, which pays for itself in a reduced conference fee, that is if you go to the conference.
Additionally, Metalsmith will shortly be undergoing a facelift, courtesy of Pentagram, a New York graphic design firm which specializes in print design. After talking directly with Suzanne Ramljak this past week I have confirmed that they are doing the work at a substantial loss to their business because they like the project. They are able to do this because of the cooperative structure of the company, in which each designer selects their own projects, and is responsible for their own earnings. That means that Pentagram, of one of the most prestigious print design firms, not in the country, but in the world, believes enough in Metalsmith to have less money in their pockets at the end of the day. I have to say...when it comes to print, it will be Pentagram's and not Ganoskin Forum, whose word I will be trusting as to what constitutes a good magazine. But you decide for yourself.
2. Exhibition in Print itself
EiP is an Exhibition in Print. Hold on now... That means that it is first an foremost an exhibition. Each year it is either juried or curated according to the vision of the juror/ curator. This year's guest curators were Rachelle Thiewes (Professor at the University of Texas - El Paso) and Kate Bonansinga (former art historian and current Gallery Director at the University of Texas - El Paso). How could you possibly be upset with Metalsmith for the vision of a curator? Would you go to a painting exhibit at a museum and expect technical content about how to paint? That is preposterous! You go to a class to learn how to paint, you go to an exhibition to view work. Please, I implore you, take the time to understand what it is you don't like and why, before you decide you hate it. Personally, I was not enthralled with this year's EiP. I felt it was very short. The curatorial theme of the 5 senses was interesting, but the work did not always coincide with the lofty intent of the theme. Ms. Bonansinga's introductory essay referenced metaphysics (philosophy) extensively, which probably alienated many readers needlessly. Also, there were a couple typos. Ooops! There were several pieces that I found outstanding (Damian O'Sullivan's Eye Patch (above 2nd), and Lin Cheung's Optimist and Pessimist (above 3rd)) while some other pieces really didn't do anything for me (Reka Lorincz's Ear Piece (above 4th) especially). But that is like almost any exhibition I have ever been to. If I saw this show in a gallery I would probably would have said it was good, even better than most jewelry shows I have seen. As someone who demands good titles, I found Equilibrium to be unhelpful in so far as it gave the reader very little insight into the work, though it was informative in an indirect, tongue and cheek sort of way.
3. A name change for SNAG?
I have advocated a name change for SNAG since the idea first reached my ears. SNAG Board member Sandra Zilke had a forum on the SNAG website for several months allowing people to express their opinion about a name change. Most posts reflected the membership's desire to hold onto tradition and to our association with goldsmithing, though it is clear the scope of the organization has made our name painfully inaccurate. Most SNAG members have their identity as makers invested in the traditions, materials, and skill sets of the goldsmith, the metalsmith, and the jeweler. However, I believe a new name for SNAG that would include the word metalsmith (not the limited definition expressed on this forum, but an inclusive and open ended definition) would serve the organization well. I look forward to seeing if in the future, artists, sculptors, jewelers, vessel makers, academics, gallerists, writers, curators, collectors, hobbyists, etc. could unite under such a controversial label as "metalsmith."
4. Academic Jewelers and Art School Skills Sets
If I can explain the reason for such extensive academic involvement in SNAG in a word it would be tenure. As the foremost professional organization for Contemporary Studio Jewelry and Metalsmithing academics are obliged to get involved to advance their academic careers. There are three "pillars" of academia, those being teaching, scholarship, and service. Most often service beyond the institution, to the professor's field of expertise, is an implicit expectation by their promotion and tenure committee. When an Assistant Professor applies for tenure, they better have some professional service on their record to bolster their application if they hope to get tenure. Therefore, SNAG is teaming with academics. There it is plain and simple. SNAG has roughly 3,000 members, and studio Jewelers make up the largest percentage. I don't have the numbers unfortunately. While this arrangement does not serve the membership exceedingly well, it explains why academics run the organization; they are compelled to volunteer so they can survive professionally.
In regards to academics, not needing to be commercially responsible or viable, I would add that most academics do take some income from their work. There are many galleries that make boat loads of money from both studio jewelers and academics. Have you ever been to SOFA? (Sculptural Objects and Functional Art)
Speaking to the claim that art schools do not prepare students for the commercial environment, I was educated at a University Art School. After school I went on to work at a boutique jewelry store where custom work and repairs often accounted for 50% or more of gross sales. In four years, I worked my way from the sales floor to the bench, and eventually to assistant manager. My college education gave me adequate fabrication and bench skills to perform my job doing all manner of basic and advanced repairs. My major weakness was stone setting, which in 3 months time was remedied under the tutelage of the goldsmith/owner. He was extremely happy with my skill level and design ability. One major advantage that my art school education brought to the store was my forming experience. My ability to work with hollowware and fabricate large silver pieces brought in many commissions during my tenure at the store, as we were the only jewelry store in town who that could execute complex or large scale silver repairs and commissions.
To say that an Art School metals education will not serve a student in the commercial jewelry sector is a fallacy. Before undertaking any course of study one should research the program, the faculty, and the curriculum. Certainly some schools prepare students better than others. I value the liberal arts education that was required with my BFA, but that may not be relevant or even advisable for every potential jewelry student.
5. SNAG Asking for Money
I also feel compelled to elaborate on the comments made about SNAG asking for money. The truth is that SNAG did send letters to all of its members asking for donations to help keep the organization afloat. The reason SNAG is in financial trouble is because they hired a 3rd party consulting company to manage their subscriptions of Metalsmith earlier this decade. The company did a horrible job, which resulted in many years of free Metalsmith for many members, and the loss of 10's of thousands of dollars. This is certainly not the fault of the members of SNAG, but it necessitated the appeal for donations. To their credit, SNAG has since consolidated their offices, cut its annual budget dramatically, and brought subscription management in house. They are using membership fees wisely fo' sho'. The SNAG board now pays for all of its expenses including travel to their own meetings cross country. I proudly donated $30, about the price of a 1 year subscription.
6. Dear Mr. James Binnion:
Thank you for your thoughtful post that has sparked this lively conversation. As a member of SNAG it is important that you express your opinions, because without decent, I honestly believe that academics would over run SNAG. Perhaps we are on the verge of that. Perhaps it is you that should be leading the charge for reform. I am not sure if limiting our organization to a specific and traditional definitions of metalsmithing is the correct course, but a cacophony of forceful opinions that diverge from our current trajectory is surely the way forward. In the future, this type of open criticism would be most effective when coupled with direct contact to the people most suited to correct your complaints.
To all I say keep an open mind and think for yourself. For a while there it sounded like lemmings. lol. If you weren't smart and independent, you probably wouldn't be in business still, perhaps many of you aren't or never were. I am posting this letter and a link to the orchid thread on my blog. Stop by anytime, and comment. www.conceptualmetalsmithing.com
End Orchid post.
If you are at all interested, I encourage more posting on Orchid, or in my comments, or both!
So it goes without saying (even though I am saying it), as always comments are welcome.