Some Pearls of Wisdom From One Who Knows; Robert Lee Morris's remarks at designerDAY 2000

The following is a transcript of comments made by longtime designer Robert Lee Morris at the close of Designer Day 2000. If you've ever wondered what you are really doing -- or want to do -- with this career of making metal adornments for the body, his words will, we feel, provide your spirit with some direction. We begin with an introduction by Pam Levine, owner of Levine Design Group, Inc., a visual merchandising and design firm, who moderated the panel he appeared on:

Pam Levine: Since bursting onto the art scene nearly two decades ago, Robert has made a lasting impression on nearly every aspect of jewelry design, from how it looks and how it is looked at, marketed, sold and even displayed. As founder of the gallery Artwear, he has fostered an entire generation of artisans, and his collaborations with fashion designers like Donna Karan, Calvin Klein, Geoffrey Beene, Karl Lagerfeld and Anne Klein, to name a few, have elevated jewelry and accessories to new prominence within the world of fashion. His jewelry can now be found at his signature gallery in SoHo as well as a wide variety of the world's most prestigious stores. I'd like to introduce Robert Lee Morris who is going to speak about creating your own identity in the marketplace.

Robert Lee Morris: Seems like I heard that before. Thank you, Pam.

Well I've got to wrap it up, everybody, and I'd like to send you home with some very spell-binding images of yourselves. You are a very special group, every single one of you, whether you are a creator or a maker or a seller or a facilitator, you are all making and getting jewelry out to the people. And this is a very, very special thing because the human being craves jewelry and has always had it. From the very beginning of its emergence onto two feet, mankind has carried somehow the bones of animals or special rocks that they found and tied them onto themselves in some fashion as a symbol of their totem animal or some kind of spirit of nature that they truly believed ran their lives.

Now back in ancient Celtic times, the metalsmith, goldsmith, whatever they called themselves, were equivalent to the priests and the Druids. They were as holy to the people as were the priests. And that is because they were magicians and as you are continuing this tradition. They were able to take ore from the earth and blend it with fire and water and air and transform through this alchemic action, ore became jewelry, it became swords, it became shields and helmets, it became the most remarkable, glittering wonderful thing. What it also held was the spirit of the Celtic race. Every Celtic metalsmith would merge into, meld into, all of their metalwork the spiritual belief of the culture. From all the incredible shapes and forms and knotting and whatever their mythology was, they put it into that work which survived through all of the millennium and lives today. And we know the Celtic people, we know their spirituality because of the metalwork that is left today.

Now those people were magicians as you are magicians, and you may not think of yourselves so much as magicians but you know what, maybe you don't think of yourself enough yet. But I am going to charge every one of you with a major duty and that is that you are artists and there's a scale in the definition of art. You can have on one hand the visionary prophet like a Picasso or a Da Vinci or a Rothko and on the other extreme you can have your industrial design genius like Raymond Lowey designing logos for IBM and Studebaker Avantis. Somewhere in between these extremes is where you fit. It's all up to you.

But if you have a design talent, if you have any kind of gift, you owe it to the people who don't have that gift because the artist has a duty and a role in society. You are the conduit to the spirit world. You are the tube. It is through you that the rest of the people can find expression to the ineffable universe, the mystery. The chaos of nature is out there and most people are terribly frightened by it and do not know who they are or what is their role. But the artist has always been able to help that painful process along, and the metalsmith, the jeweler is as much of that process as the poet, the dancer, the musician. And if you can't have that responsibility, if you don't own up to it, then get out of this business. You may want to be a designer but maybe you're not really a designer. Only you know that for sure.

Now in this process of discovering yourself and creating an identity, don't look around you, don't look at your field, don't look at what other people are making to create your identity. Like Michael Good said earlier, the truth lies only within yourself. And in order to create an identity, you've got to stop trying to create an identity -- just look at the identity that you already have. Each one of us is -- we are -- an identity but it all gets covered over by what people tell us that we are. We have so many layers that we have to shed. Are you a fine jeweler? Are you a costume jeweler? Are you a jeweler? It doesn't matter what you are. What matters is that you are able to leave all that behind and go inside yourself and look at the identity that is already there, and once you've get a sense of that, let it flow out. That is your job.

As a metaphor goes, imagine that all the creative people since the beginning of time were snowflakes in one blizzard. Every snowflake kind of looks the same but is in fact entirely different and there's no way that you can be another David Yurman or whoever you think you should be because you are an individual snowflake just like anyone else out there, just like I'm an individual snowflake. And I'm only a snowflake just like you're only a snowflake, you know. In the eyes of God, we're just all little specks. But we're creative specks and you have a real duty to the people who are watching you to bring them information from the other world, and the more you do this, the more you will find your style developing, your identity unfolding.

Now this may sound very esoteric and mystical, but that's how I am. And, the good news is that the cycle has shifted. We are now poised for an amazing new growth. We have come through almost six or seven years of Dark Ages and where we are is kind of like in this parallel universe of the mid-seventies. There is whatever was happening in the mid-seventies, in the early eighties starting to happen again and the time is ripe for you all, in every capacity that you have, whether you are a maker, or creator or seller or an accountant who is working with jewelers, get ready because the only people who are really going to make it right now are those who put the pedal to the metal.

Used with permission.

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