Art: Functionality And Fashion


Art is one of those words which has a surprising number of meanings.
‘The Arts’: a group of subjects, including English and History.
The Creative Arts: Drama, Literature, aesthetic Art.
“The art of…’: People speak of ‘the art of…’ when describing some skill, for example, ‘the art of fencing’.

Aesthetic Art: ‘Works of Art’ – the word is most likely to be used nowadays in this context. ‘Artwork’ immediately brings to mind paintings but ‘work of Art’ can encompass not only sculpture and textiles, but also literature and music. It is mostly aesthetic art people think of when ‘Art’ is referred to today.

Art for art’s sake?
Historically, art solely for art’s sake was an almost unknown concept. Art had purpose. It had a function, sometimes practical – as in the case of a buckle – or symbolic – such as a Lord Mayor’s chain of office or a crown. One of the commonest forms of practical ‘art’, in the sense most commonly used today, is the portrait. Portraits were the photographs of the day. In a time when many noble and royal marriages were arranged, the prospective spouses (or their parents) would select portrait painters with care. The willingness (and ability) to bring back a faithful likeness was usually one of the most important criteria (though sometimes the opposite!).

Painted portraits have been largely supplanted nowadays by another form of art – photographs. The medium of the portrait has changed, but the functionality remains. Paintings have turned down a new, more modern route, that of art for art’s sake. Though even today, works ostensibly painted for aesthetic merit only commonly fulfil another function, that of investment, or the storage and display of wealth.

One of the commonest forms of art with a symbolic function still thriving today is of course the wedding or engagement ring, and vintage engagement rings are still popular. Rings have always had strong functional significance. Kings’ signet rings were not only valuable in monetary terms, but also represented, and indeed commanded, great power. Kings gave rings as a very personal form of payment to loyal subjects; rings were also used to identify someone as wielding power granted them by their ruler. Rings were such a symbol of the position that by kissing the ring, the subject pledged their loyalty to that authority. Today, Catholics still kiss the Pope’s ring to demonstrate their allegiance to him as Vicar of Christ.

An Enduring Functionality
Jewellery, and the ring in particular, is one of the most enduring forms of art. The popularity of circlets and chains of office may have waned, but one form of functional ring remains indispensable. Modern wedding and engagement rings pass through fashions, like everything else – male wedding rings currently feature many strange metals and not much gold, whilst women’s engagement rings have become huge and heavy. In this climate of fashion, it’s no surprise that vintage engagement rings are still one of the most popular choices. No one wants to go around with a great weight attached to their finger!

Of course, some vintage engagement rings are equally overdone, but the particularly be-studded examples are likely to be out of most people’s price ranges! It’s the simple, tasteful aspect of vintage rings which is what most commonly attracts people. The classic arrangement is a diamond (of course!) – still the most popular stone for an engagement ring set within a ring of:
sapphires (blue)
emeralds (green)
rubies (red)

When compared with some of the monstrous rings on offer today, the simple style of vintage engagement rings is hard to beat!

What’s ‘art’?
It is, after all, a fact that the overdone is rarely considered to be ‘art’. This meaning of the word places high value on the idea of ‘art for art’s sake’ and penalises objects that are too functional. Literature that is too easily readable and too unashamedly entertaining is often penalised as not being ‘art’. Most mainstream cinematic efforts are similarly branded ‘not art’. To be ‘artistic’ in this sense, a certain gravitas is demanded, a certain exclusivity. Rarely are the most accessible books, films, paintings, jewellery etc. granted this label. This sense of ‘art’ can be depressingly elitist, when really those who judge are simply judging by a different set of criteria than the majority of the population.

Fashion and ‘art’ in this last sense are not to be mixed up. There are fashions within ‘art’ yet popular fashion is almost never granted this label. In fact, one of the few things which actually manage to be both fashionable, functional and of artistic merit are vintage engagement rings and vintage wedding rings! And for such an important purchase, that’s really rather nice to know.

This article was written by Misty Angel on behalf of Kalmar Antiques. Kalmar Antiques offers some of the best deals on vintage engagement rings in Sydney.  Misty is an keen writer who also works with disabled children and has a history working in agriculture. She also enjoys reading and cinema, and likes to think about and share ideas of interest.

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