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Communicating Through Art, L.Vershbow

State University of New York/Moscow State University
Russian-American University Forum

Moscow State University, Department of Foreign Languages
February 25, 2003

Normally I work in my studio or teach in an art workshop, so Im a little surprised to find myself standing in a lecture hall in one of the worlds most prestigious universities. It is somewhat intimidating. But here I am, and as a designer, I will attempt to explain to you how I perceive art and design as a form of communication.

Most of us think of art as the works that hang in museums and on the walls of our homes. Some if it is more accessible and the message or the image is clear. Whether traditional art is just beautiful to look at or more challenging to understand, we can all agree that it exists to be looked at and to spark our intellect.

But art, design and symbols, whether they are aesthetically pleasing or not, are all around us, and they help to guide us through the complexities of everyday society. When we stop to think about it, and we look outside, for example, we are aware that public spaces, advertising, road signs, architecture, peoples clothing all of these things were designed by someone who had to consider how to make that particular object or space both efficient and attractive.

When Olga Zinovieva first spoke to me about whether I could make a logo design for this forum that would have sessions in both English and in Russian, I had to think. My own artwork is mainly abstract, so I tried to create a design that I thought represented a visual version of the impact of having two languages represented in one organization. My logo design is a very basic visual representation of what I think happens when two languages collide. The square frame is the forum, and the circles and triangles represent the two languages. When they enter the square they collide, they dance around. The result is that together they create a whole new pattern. I hope this illustrates some of the objectives of this forum.

I have always been an artist. Even as a child, I knew that it was what I wanted to do. Today I am a designer and creator of contemporary jewelry. I have also been a teacher of my craft. As a teacher, it is vital to be a good communicator. I have always felt very comfortable communicating with my students and with visual images.

I feel that it is my role, when teaching jewelry-making, to teach the skills of the craft. I believe that having a sense of design comes from within a person. For me the most important aspect of teaching about design is to expose students to the great wealth of design and imagery that is available in todays world. It includes everything from ancient art, architecture and advertising to the natural world. I think that it is the role of the teacher to teach students how to look at the world around them, so that they can internalize what they see and find their own voice in design.

The question I would like to pose today is how can jewelry be seen as a form of language? I think that everyone would agree that jewelry does communicate information about its wearer. Jewelry is one of the oldest art forms on our planet. Right from the very beginning it was used to communicate the status of the wearer. From its earliest origins as the amulets of the Shaman, and on through the ages, jewelry makes a statement about its wearer. Jewelry speaks of wealth, of status in the community and of nationality. Jewelry speaks of religious affiliations, of marital status, and of military achievements. Jewelry is worn by men and women alike, and it is a very personal form of art, as it is worn on the body. In todays world, jewelry worn by most people is commonly thought of as decorative and as an indicator of wealth. But something is changing. I proudly consider myself as part of the new movement of jewelry artists who consider jewelry to be a true art form like sculpture or painting jewelry sculpture to wear. Art jewelry today is desired for its design and craftsmanship and not for the value of its components.

The jewelry I design and make is a reflection of how I see the world around me. I am inspired by shapes, forms and colors in everything I see, from art in a museum to interior design. I want the jewelry that I create to say something about the person who wears it. The person wearing my jewelry does not need to say, I can afford diamonds, but rather, I am an individual.

When I came to live in Moscow over a year ago, I began to walk around the neighborhood where my husband and I live. We had lived here over 20 years earlier, in the late Brezhnev years, and I was struck over and over by how the city had changed since then. Where there had been an absence of color or advertising, I was now almost assaulted by an explosion of color.

I live one block away from the Noviy Arbat. While many Muscovites hate it, I love it! I love seeing the ever-expanding jumble of neon signs over the casinos, bars and restaurants. My favorite is an enormous ship complete with frothy waves. While I have never been inside (I am a very conservative person!) the exterior for me represents a celebration of life. A celebration of individual style and a sense that life is unpredictable and unconstrained.

I named an entire series of jewelry after the Noviy Arbat. I mixed neon plastics with brightly colored anodized aluminum. I made shapes that were unpredictable and then I placed my brooches on tall stands of wavy aluminum rods. This was a way for the pieces to be displayed as art even when they were not being worn. I have always worked with a mixture of materials, and also with a lot of color. But this past year and a half that I have lived here, Moscow has inspired me in more ways than I can explain. I think that the vitality of this city has added a new vitality to my work.

It is an honor for me to submit to this forum of Russian and English languages my own perspective on considering jewelry as art to wear, and how for me, it is a vehicle by which I can communicate some of my impressions of living in this great city. I think that I have used traditional language enough to speak to you and I will finish today with some slides of my work, which will hopefully support my words -- that I can indeed communicate through art.

Thank you.

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