Why Are We as Humans Compelled to Adorn Out Bodies?

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Emma Ames. Design Crafts Year 3. APPL 3301 Jan 2010

Why are we as humans compelled to adorn our bodies?

I have found myself being drawn towards metals and jewellery with my designs. But throughout the design process, I couldn’t help wonder why I kept gravitating in this direction. If I could work out what the appeal is with jewellery, why we choose certain styles and why we are influenced would this information help with my designs and justify my desire to create? Whilst wondering what the inspiration for me to make jewellery was, it dawned on me that I love the Indian jewellery and body art. When I was a young child I lived for a period of about six years, next to, and very communally alongside a family of Indians. I realise now that I had been influenced by them and their decorative style. The saris and masses of bangles, nose rings and bindis became associated in my mind with family, happiness and security. I think this has played a part in my decision to make decoration for the body because it is what I grew up with and it became my sub culture. Culture and your surroundings obviously influence you subconsciously. In Western cultures, decoration and fashion are sometimes dismissed as unimportant, even feminine activities, but decorating the body has taken place over human history. It can be looked upon as silly and frivolous, but it is an important part of our ever changing culture. It is part of design and evolving styles. It is like a visual timeline. We are all actively taking part in this. In some cultures men, women, children and even animals are decorated. It seems widespread that in one form or another, we want to change or enhance what we have been given naturally. There are a wide range of reasons why we use adornment, it separates groups and individuals, shows allegiance to a cause, can be symbolic of your standing within a group, what you have achieved, whether you are single, of child bearing age or whether you are a good hunter. It seems totally different cultures without any influence from others carry out similar rituals of decorating their bodies often for different reasons and these reasons are to do with how we are viewed within our communities and are not intrinsic to our survival the same way food and shelter would be. However, ‘culture’ can be viewed as an essential element of human existence, enabling us to live harmoniously in groups. I want to explore this idea, not only jewellery, but the wider concept of body adornment. What has driven humans across the world, different cultures, and over the centuries to use body art? Is there a common denominator? The tribe we grow up in has a big impact on us. We are comforted by the styles we see around us in a community we feel safe in. We are generally compelled to follow the patterns of our elders, with a certain amount of change to allow for changing fashions and culture. Most of us want harmony within our social group. We yearn to fit in. Even those who think they don’t want to fit in are actually trying to fit in with a subgroup of the one they are born into, which has it’s own pecking order, and it is usually a “rite of passage” in which the person returns to the original group in time. Our will to conform is what makes tribes and society function. Labels have been a recurring theme in my projects. I have observed the way that a lot of the things that we surround ourselves with are used subconsciously to give off a message about ourselves. This includes what we wear, the car we drive, even the house we live in. Semiotics is the study of the role of signs as part of social life. It includes words, sounds and body language. “Essentially all of the ways in which information can be communicated as a message by any sentient reasoning mind to another.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sign_(semiotics) 1.01.10) It is recognized that we do give off signals in all areas of our lives...It has been suggested that “every cultural phenomenon can be...
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