We’re talking about the overuse of the word “vintage,” carried over from my post on Monday.
I once overheard a woman at an art retreat complaining to a friend that she’d taken a class in which the instructor had provided supplies, including bottle caps. The woman grumbled, “And none of them were even vintage!” I was bemused, and I’m still wondering what workshop it was and what they made and how old rusted bottle caps would have made it different from new shiny bottle caps. And if old bottle caps were more in demand, why the instructor didn’t just age them beforehand (I’ve done it; it’s not that hard: toss them in the coals on the grill and leave them overnight, take them out and put them in a bowl of water or wrap them in an old wet towel: burning and rusting aren’t that difficult). Had she advertised that the students would use vintage ingredients in the making of the project? If so, what, exactly, had she meant?
It’s gotten to the point where I just ignore the word “vintage,” assuming it can mean anything from “really groovy old stuff you can’t find anywhere else” to “off-white clothes with lots of lace.” Because it has no definite, concrete meaning, it means nothing. Americana Classic Vintage blog says, “In fashion, we take the term vintage from the culture of wine. Much like you can have a great vintage wine from a few years back, so too can you have a fantastic piece of vintage clothing that is not technically that old.” If that’s not fuzzy enough for you, I don’t know what could be. I think they’re a little confused about the use of the word in the world of wine. But then, many of us are a tiny bit confused about the word no matter where it turns up, so there you go.
Why are we still using word in mixed media? Is it going to become like the word “cool” or “sweet” or “fabulous,” so overused and so fuzzy that it can mean just about anything? Or will it become like “sick,” a word that can mean not something that is sick or ailing, but something wonderful? Perhaps “vintage” will come to mean “new and cutting-edge hip.” As I said in my post last week about “altered” and “embellished,” none of this really matters until you get into descriptions for classes and artwork and things you’re trying to sell. If you describe something as being “vintage,” people are going to have expectations, and because of the fuzziness of the way we use the word, their expectations may differ widely. Some may expect the piece to be at least 25 years old. Others may expect it to look old even if it’s not. Still others may want authentication that it’s from a certain decade or era. If you’re not sure how old the various parts of your assemblage are, are you comfortable saying they’re vintage and handling individual questions as they arise?
My suggestion? Think twice before you use the word, and then go on to be more specific, providing the decade or period of origin. If you don’t know–and, truthfully, who knows the provenance of each piece that goes into what they create?–try being honest and just say: “It looks really, really old.”
If you love all things vintage (no matter how old they are), check out Steampunk Emporium: Creating Fantasitcal Jewelry, Devices and Oddments from Assorted Cogs, Gears and Curios, by Jema Emilly Ladybird Hewitt.
MORE RESOURCES FOR MIXED MEDIA ARTISTS