To all: here’s an essay I wrote 2 years ago for the Seattle Metals
Guild and my students. It also appeared in SNAG News. Some may find
it of interest. Andy Cooperman
A metalsmith friend of mine once told me that jewelers and
metalsmiths (male jewelers and metalsmiths in particular) compulsively
acquire tools and equipment as a way to procrastinate: holding at bay
the uncertainties and discomfort of creating , substituting the highs
and deeper satisfactions of the making for the short thrill of
acquisition . Now, being a healthily compulsive male tool collecting
jeweler/ metalsmith myself, I at first bristled at her statement .
Upon deeper reflection, however, I saw the validity in what she had
said … w/ the exception, of course, of the word “male”.
To be sure, I’ve certainly sat in my studio staring at the bench
with my head pressed firmly against a brick wall: no where to turn but
dead ends, a tense nail of frustration grinding its way up my spine.
My thoughts rapidly descend into a deep well of negativity. "This
place is so cluttered; the bench is old and shabby; the studio’s a
disgusting mess; my career is a disgusting mess ; etc.; etc; etc."
And then I’ve felt my pulse quicken as an answer becomes clear in a
single word emerging as if from a fog: BENCH. Why… I’ll buy myself a
new bench! , No, better yet, I’ll make myself a new bench; of course
first I’ll need a new jig saw , a better belt sander and a more
accurate drill press. Now we’re getting somewhere! All of a sudden
a valve turns and a small door swings open through which can flow all
that energy that was building up behind the dam of my “metals block”.
The trouble is that when the bench is built and the shiny new
tools–which I’ve hunted down at considerable bargains-- are put away,
more often than not the indecision, along with its attendant
frustration and lack of productivity, is still sitting there. The
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about fear, procrastination and
missed opportunity. The increase in this volume of reflection is in
no doubt due to the recent passage of my fortieth birthday. (Yep, I’m
a walking clich�.) But I’ve been watching students, workshop attendees
and fellow metalsmiths lately and I’ve seen some procrastination
strategies that, while maybe not my preferred methods , are familiar.
With all due respect to the compulsive tool collectors and bench
builders, there are some subtler barriers that can be erected between
the maker and the making. Some people choose to attend workshop after
workshop, accumulating a varied array of , techniques and
procedures along with mountains of beautiful handouts. Their class
tackle boxes are full of beautifully executed samples; their
vocabularies of the various procedures of metalsmithing are
impressive, but for some reason they don’t string these words
together to make sentences. Don’t misunderstand me: most of them
could produce wonderful things. Their ideas, when they share them,
are challenging, their designs compelling. But something stands
between them and the work. Sometimes pieces never leave the safety of
their sketchbooks; other times their workboxes are filled w/ wonderful
objects frozen in various stages of development, from small packets
of components to nearly, but never fully, completed pieces.
I know other jewelers who set the studio itself between them and the
jewelry. One is building the perfect studio, another is perennially
trying to rent the ideal space. Something always seems to interfere
w/ the process though, some glitch in the permitting process or an
unreasonable landlord who refuses to cooperate. Alas, without a
proper space in which to work, their innovative ideas never
materialize. But one day, with the right space…
Perhaps an even more destructive form of procrastination occurs w/
those who make well considered, complete work: truly remarkable pieces
that illicit powerful reactions from most people who see them. The
tragedy here is that despite all of the positive feedback and their
professed desire to pursue a career as a working metalsmith, they
don’t take the leap of faith necessary to make their desires manifest.
They shy away from compliments and discount their work through self
deprecation. Their pieces are given away to friends or sold at
venues and at prices that fall way beneath the caliber of the work.
This is fine if it gives them what they really desire. The making
itself may, in fact, be enough for them (it should be, shouldn’t it?)
But if they really want to make a go of it; if they truly want to
support themselves as jewelers and metalsmiths, is this the road to
their goal? What’s standing in their way? What’s standing in the way
of any of us?
One of the big answers, of course, is obvious: Fear. Fear of
failuRe: What if nobody’s interested in my work? Fear of
embarrassment: What if they find out what kind of an artist I REALLY
am? Fear of the unknown: What if this new direction leads nowhere?
Fear of loss: I’ve had this idea in my mind for so long; dare I risk
losing it by trying to actually make it? Fear of what comes next:
Well, that’s it, no new ideas and I’m all dried up.
It’s tough to leave the relative safety of the sketchpad for the
risky business of 3 dimensions. It’s safe and easier to sit on the
hub of a wheel with decisions and commitments radiating, spoke like,
outwards in all directions . Choose one and all other options are
negated. Choose none and all possibilities remain open. Quite the
Catch-22. I’ve sat on that hub quite few times and, despite the fact
that I know better, I’ll probably be climbing right back on it next
week., fears whirling 'round my head. Maybe in tomorrow’s light one
of the two possible solutions for that all but completed neck piece
will finally stand out. (God forbid I should make the WRONG
decision.) Perhaps if I just had a more pleasant environment in
which to work these decisions would come easier. I’m not really
sure that I want to stick my neck out and enter a particular
competition-- one from which I’ve been rejected several times-- and
subject myself to professional humiliation. And really, it’s much more
pleasant to sit up here in the office, pecking away on my trusty Mac
than being out in the studio beginning the new body of work that’s due
in California two weeks hence. (Suppose it isn’t as good as my last
But on a fundamental level I know that safety can sometimes be
complacency and that the best work often enters through the door
marked DISCOMFORT. If you don’t turn the key in the car’s ignition
your chances of having an accident go way down, but so do your chances
of making it 10 miles to a meeting that could change your life.
Sometime the fluttering wings of those butterflies in your stomach
stir up some wonderful things. You can’t make an omelet without first
breaking a few eggs. Like they say at the gym: "No pain, no gain."
Even clich�s have there roots in truth.