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 I’m
a little surprised to find myself standing in a lecture hall in
one of the world’s 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, people’s 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 today’s 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 today’s 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.