Transcending Technique


Cynthia Toops, Constant Comment, 1997
micro mosaic -polymer, sterling silver
1 1/2″ h x  3 1/4″w x  1 1/4″d

Since the first Terra Nova symposium in Racine, WI in Oct. 2011, there has been persistent chat about the future of polymer art.  The last 25 -30 years have been exciting as artists focused on exploring the properties of the medium.  What could polymer do and how did one do it?  While expertise in these areas will continue to evolve as artists resolve problems, technical innovation is no longer the driving objective.  So what now? 

One of the wonderful things about the arts is their innate reflection of their maker’s culture.  Politics, daily life, religion, history, nature and human emotions have all been the fodder of art for thousands of years.  These categories extend into areas of craft as well.  The decorated pottery of ancient Greece tell stories of the Gods, heroic feats and depict scenes of everyday life.  A Greek observer of that time would have readily comprehended the images and patterns that appear highly stylized to our eyes.

Herakles and the Nemean Lion Amphora
c. 540 BC, terracotta, 10 9/16″ h
Metropolitan Museum of Artno. 40.11.20

Elaborate furniture from the 18th century reflects the refined designs of the Rococo period shortly before a series of revolutions will overturn old regimes throughout Europe.  Although Rococo was a lighter, more playful interpretation of the preceding heavy Baroque style, it still came to be seen as a style of excess and frivolity. The gilded surfaces, sinuous curves and flowery motifs of Rococo art gave way to more austere Neo-Classical forms as European cultures changed.

Gilles Joubert, Writing Table, c.1759
lacquered oak, gilt bronze, leather
31 3/4″d x 69 1/4″w x 36″ h
Metropolitan Museum of Art, no. 1973.315.1

More recently, the increasing diversity of materials in contemporary American jewelry such as rubber, Lego bricks, and salvaged circuit boards might be interpreted as signs of our challenging economy, an increasing willingness to push past traditional expectations of adornment and a fascination with contemporary technology.

Emiko Oye, The Queen Margherita, 2007
Lego blocks, coated copper wire, rubber cord,
sterling silver, steel pin back, 34″ l (open)
Museum of Contemporary Craft Teaching Collection
photo: artist and Christine Dhein

Polymer is an incredibly versatile material that can adapt to many artistic approaches.  Although there are already many polymer artists who create from a conceptual basis, perhaps it is time for more artists working in polymer to focus on the communication of ideas through their work.