I have both a BFA and an MFA and have been in the jewelry business
for about 20 years. I really value my college education. BUT I am not
sure how useful it has been in direct use for my profession.
I think that my education has given me a certain direction and
viewpoint for life which is often at odds with the world in which we
now live. I know that the art history classes and the design classes
[that I took and sometime skipped for more studio time] have been a
great source of knowledge for me.
I made jewelry independently of the business world for about 10
years before I decided to get into the retail, and now R and D, part
of jewelry. I loved being self-employed, we lived the mountains, I
had a great studio, but it was damn hard work. I had a really good
seasonal job, that paid all of our living expenses for the year in
about 8 months work. It was a great way to live for a while.
I am telling you all of this because I guess that what I am wanting
to say is that I wouldn’t waste the money on college jewelry
training. I would most definitely still take art history classes and
basic drawing and design classes. you can get these at Junior
colleges and even online. But I would shy away from studio art
classes, I would take technical training classes somewhere. Almost
all students end up creating jewelry that looks like everyone else’s
of their specific generation or even their teachers.
When I look at jewelry now that is in the AM Craft or other such
publications I see my old jewelry over and over. NOT that anyone is
copying any thing I did or that I copied anyone either. [I didn’t
even look at magazines up on the mountain then], it is just the
aesthetic we learned in school 20+ years ago. Either that or there is
a really strong argument for Jung’s theory on the world’s collective
subconscious. Perhaps it is both.
Now look in the trade magazines, JCK, MJSA, etc. you see a totally
different type of jewelry that is based on market driven forces.
Pave, pave and more pave, white gold white gold and more, it is the
same old same old. Yes there are bits and pieces that are different
in both types of magazine but for the most part there isn’t a big
If you want to be an ‘artist’ who only makes your own stuff, then
take lots of technical training classes, don’t look in the magazines,
find an independent source of income and work on finding your own
muse for about 15 years. Then find some honest gallery owners who get
you and go for it.
I know this latter part sounds sarcastic but it is not meant to be.
The US is over run with jewelry artist who are trying to make a
living. Many are making a living but it isn’t easy. Our economy is
set up against you. Self-employment taxes, retailers who really make
most of the profit off your work, and so many other jewelers who must
work for dirt wages just to get by, make it really difficult to go it
You have seen the threads about looking for work in the field as a
bench jeweler, and how region to region is so different. Just having
the same skills as everyone else at the bench won’t get you too far.
I live in a tourist town and it is full of galleries, artist are
knee deep here. The ones who appear successful have either been at it
for 20 years and worked there butts off, [Hats off to you folks!]or
they made a bundle in real estate, inherited money or have some other
means of income. they can afford to spend their time making art. This
is NOT a criticism it is just the reality here as I see it. Been
there done that.
If you want to have a career in the jewelry industry you need to
have a strong grasp of the techniques used today, computer Cad, CNC
milling, drafting, stone setting etc. These skills along with an
understanding of design and color should give you a good base from
where you can get a good job that can be exciting and rewarding.
I think that the jewelry industry needs new blood and imagination,
this is where someone could make a real difference in what the market
offers. So, my advice is join the industry, it is exciting and can be
creative and it will expand your horizons.
I know that I will probably get a lot of dissent on my comments, I
hope so. It will be good to have some discussion on the industry and
art view points. I really sort of fall between the two worlds with my
present job. I loved it when I was just making my art, but I got
tired of the gallery routine and I do not have the personality to do
craft shows. So what I have now is great. I am learning about the
industry all of the time and it is really challenging and engaging…
I know that I am very lucky.