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Education and the Bottom Line


#1

Hi folks!

The Crafts Report has approached me about writing an article on
whether having a formal education influences the success of a craft
artist’s business. I know Orchid counts in its ranks classically
trained artists, art school graduates, the self-taught, and a whole
lot of otherwise educated artists, including graduates of the school
of hard knocks. I wondered what you thought about the topic: Does a
formal education help you make more sales, or otherwise better
prepare you for business success? And since not all educations are
the same, what do you think is the best approach: a degree program, a
steady diet of short workshops, attending a craft school offering a
wide variety of subjects, an intensive course at a school dedicated
to your craft, a formal apprenticeship, a mixture of all of the
above, none at all?

I know that education offers many, many benefits beyond the
bottom-line ones. The Craft Report has done articles in the past that
emphasize the opportunities to rise to new creative heights, the
opportunity to network, etc., etc. But the question here is the
bottom line: not just does schooling make you a better artist, but
does it make you a more financially successful one?

I welcome all thoughts, pro and con, and discussion of any issues
that make jewelry different from other crafts, in your experience.
I’d also love to hear from those of you who work in a number of craft
media about your experiences with (or without) a formal education.

Thanks in advance for your input!

Suzanne
Suzanne Wade
Writer/Editor
Phone: (508) 339-7366
Fax: (928) 563-8255
@Suzanne_Wade1
http://www.rswade.net


#2

Suzanne,
my $0.02 worth:

Even though I am the fourth generation of my family to be in the
diamond trade, I started out by going to the

G.I.A. for the resident G.G. course

I think that the education which I got there was fabulous, and a
NECESSARY part of my preparation for the Jewelry business.

This is NOT to say that I completely agree with their teaching
methods or what they teach. Also, when I first started actually
SELLING jewelry, I discovered how much I still had to learn. (I am
still learning, 30 years later.)

I would recommend G.I.A. as the best all-around starting point for
someone looking to join our ‘profession.’

David Barzilay
Lord of the Rings
607 S Hill St Ste 850
Los Angeles, CA 90014-1718
213-488-9157


#3

Hi Suzanne, I can’t call myself a Jeweler, although my stuff is
starting to sell in a local store. I have never had any formal
training in the jewellery making and regret it all the time, because
it has slowed my development as a jewellery maker. I’ve been
"playing" around for ten years and it was only two days ago was I
able to braze my own hand-made pin back onto a brooch. I feel that my
sense of design is extremely awkward, and that anything I do is the
result of a happy accident or so unusual looking that it provokes
interest.

In addition, formal training has the potential to teach good work
habits, and I know this well, that good work habits saves you money
in many ways. Consequently your bottom line is improved.

Two summers ago I had an opportunity it visit the jewellery making
school in the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design (NASCAD). What I
learned was that the curriculum is structured to provide students
with a wide variety of ways of making jewellery. Thus students are
able to sing a song rather than being a one-note player (like yours
truly).

Having said all this, I believe that the “degree” or “diploma” means
squat. It’s what you produce; and if one’s work is good and the
market place believes that it has value, and the only training is
from the school of hard knocks, then one will succeed. I just believe
that the formal training allows one to succeed sooner.

David


#4

suzanne - i gave a lot of thought to all those very questions about 8
or so years ago when, at age 58, i decided to become a jewelry
designer/fabricator. unable to find any instruction even in this
mecca of creativity next to ringling school, self instruction was
the only way to go. that’s when divergent ‘how tos’ of different
’masters’ reared their ugly heads “… since not all educations are
the same, …” amen! and everyone of those who differed wrote one of
the many books i tried to use in teaching myself, which was another
lesson: ‘be pragmatic not dogmatic’ when it comes to processes &
procedures.

designs were, & are, aided by developing an innate sense of
proportion; that’s why some have more problems than others
designing. oxy-acetyl soldering was the worst patch in self teaching
but after i disconnected the smoke detector while working there
wasn’t so much distraction & i learned to ‘never, ever even think
about trying to change the course of a rolling ball of molten silver
solder hell-bent for the table edge’. learning lapidary was easier
with a backlog of Lapidary Journals - also it was more fun to cut
stones for my designs rather than design around what someone else
had cut.

as to your other queries, here goes what is opinion:

Does a formal education help you make more sales,... 

not with an eng lit but the minor in child behavior has come in
handy at times with customers; the training in mechanical design
(aerospace & defense materiel & equipment) did factor into it an
ancillary way.

... or otherwise better prepare you for business success?

the education gained by being mayor & councilmember in a small town
helped more than eng lit did; successfully seeking votes & selling
one’s product are somewhat akin.

what do you think is the best approach: a degree program, ...

if the syllabus includes related but not mandatory subjects to keep
both sides of the brain awake.

... a steady diet of short workshops, ...

where the student is given short term goals that foster success &
encouragement instead of ‘this is how you have to do it, practice
later’.

     ... attending a craft school offering a wide variety of
subjects, 

good instructors, some new & some older, are key here to keep the
processes updated instead of ‘this is the only way to do it’ taught
by didactic ‘mechanics’.

 ... an intensive course at a school dedicated to your craft, ...

see all of the above.

... a formal apprenticeship, ...

most won’t agree but it seems logical that a student who has a
strong grasp of the basics could apprentice out to learn what was
not available in the classroom. unfortunately, it sounds as though a
lot of apprentices wind up learning only what the ‘master’ knows how
to do, & everything is done his/her way or not at all & often as the
one doing the master’s ‘scut work’ that they may never have to do
again, they learn more frustration than creation.

a mixture of all of the above, none at all?

depends entirely on the person seeking to learn. in my case i missed
a lot of the basic classroom instruction but by not having any
dogmatic instructors passing on some quirks i avoided a lot of
mistakes perpetuated through the process to inevitable failure or
frustration. at my age i don’t have time to iron out all my own
mistakes let alone someone else’s. i plan to write a book on it:
‘the hazards to husbands, home, hair and hands of auto-instruction
in lapidary and jewelry design and fabrication’

good luck with the article -
ive


#5

I got into this thread late but I certainly have opinions about
education and the bottom line in a jewelry business. I took GIA
courses in diamonds and colored stones because what better shingle
can you have on your wall than those for client re-assurance?
Business education is the foundation of any business, otherwise you
are on a slow road down, I strongly feel , after “surviving” for so
long that to flourish you need to know where your money came from
and where it is going. I feel your lack of business education will
drag your designing and creativity down with worry and anxiety over
why things are happening to your business that you don’t understand
fully. You may be able to afford proffessional help in bookkeeping
and accounting but, just how far do you trust? and when business
goes south like this past year for me, you may not be able to afford
the proffessionals anymore. Design and crafting education, wow, here
is an area you will never stop learning, At least I hope not, that
is the fun of it. Sam Patania, Tucson


#6

Allow me a contrarian view. I do love education and do regret that I
have never had the opportunity to study classical jewelry techniques.
I do not have the full range of skills.

However, I have been a practicing psychologist for last 3 decades
and during that time have been obsessed with my art work. Thus I have
evolved a rather unique body of work that other friends in the
jewelry bussiness find to be remarkable for it’s rather different
approach and solutions. If I had been in a school setting too young,
I might have followed the tried and true. Or, perhaps my rather
contrarian nature would have still asserted itself in a much more
polished and refined manner. I do seem to reside some where around
400bc (ask my wife).

www.sumnersilverman.com


#7

As a person who was entirely self-trained for the first dozen years
of my goldsmithing career, I can say for certain what a profound
difference it made when I undertook my first formal training (at
Revere) in the mid 1980s. It absolutely enhanced my ability to be
productive and practical and it increased my earnings. Although I was
already performing most fabrication projects with the proper approach
and technique, there was still a lot to be learned about the how’s
and why’s of doing certain things certain ways. Having the guidance
of master goldsmiths definitely beats the alternative of the trial
and error method, and we inevitably end up spending enough time in
that process anyway, when it comes to evolving our understanding of
design and mechanics, etc.

I see a major advantage of taking trade school or professional
classes as being the focus on procedure, technique, and proficiency
with the tools and materials. Secondly, the instructors are generally
artists who are successful in the field and have in the past, or
still do, derive a living from working efficiently at the bench. This
imparts a much clearer understanding of what skills and proficiency
are needed to actually support oneself in this vocation whether as an
independent studio artist or an employed benchworker. The classes I
have taken and the resulting associations with the instructors and my
colleagues have provided me with invaluable insight into business
management, as well as promotional and marketing skills which I
would have been hard pressed to develop unassisted.

Conversely, from my perspective, some of the benefits which come
with pursuing a degree in metals through a fine arts program would
include the access to the tools, equipment, and working facilities
(which take many years and thousands of dollars to acquire on one’s
own), and the availability of good exhibition opportunities while
still in school. Perhaps most significant would be the ability to
focus one’s intent and attention on creating a cohesive body of work
and the development of an artistic style and statement. Having both
the time and the freedom to develop technique and fluency with the
materials, and to cultivate a sense of design without the
implications involved in producing work primarily to earn a living,
could be a very considered advantage.

As to the issue of the degree itself, I can’t comment personally on
whether having a degree would increase an artist’s earnings or not,
but in some instances it might increase their opportunities. The
ability to have one’s work represented and promoted can occasionally
be determined by the academic credential attached to it, rather than
the competency and articulation of the work itself. Regrettably, in
some segments of our field of metals and jewelry, there are
individuals and institutions to whom the degree itself is valued more
than the actual product of the artist. Not always, and not by
everyone, but still too frequently those who become successful
without having attained an MFA are held in a lesser regard. But, in
the long run I think this is just more of a disappointment and mildly
discouraging, than it is actually consequential.

I think most of us have seen work from both sides of the field which
is completely devoid of structural integrity, lacks articulation of
design, and shows little evidence of competent training or
goldsmithing ability. But it still sells some of the time. A person
can certainly be expressive in any medium, even with very little
training, and some can be very successful at it too.

Bottom line…Much of what a person’s business might become is
determined by figuring out what it is they want to produce, how to
create it, and finding out where the market for it lies. Without some
understanding of the business side of art as well as the creative
process, even the most accomplished piece of work can be difficult to
sell.

Michael David Sturlin
https://www.ganoksin.com/orchid/sturlin1.htm


#8

Thought provoking question. My formal education is a bach. degree
in geology, with a specialty in mineralogy and crystallography. Most
of it is long forgotten, at least at the ‘specifics’ level. But, the
general concepts I learned more than 25 years ago still help me with
what I do today. Understanding minerals and crystals helps
understand gems. The other sciences involved in the degree help with
metallurgy as well, so I probably have a reasonable understanding of
how and why metals behave. So, no, my formal education doesn’t
directly relate to making jewelry, but it has helped indirectly.
Also, the determination to finish the degree has helped in other ways
not so tangible.

My parental background of mechanical engineer father and artist
mother also has some bearing, I’m sure. As for what is best, I think
it depends as much on the person as anything else. I hated full time
school, and haven’t taken any long term classes since I graduated in
1977. Don’t plan on it, either. But I have no problem with short
term workshops in specific skills of interest. For those starting
out, perhaps a degree program or the like is a good thing, or for
those who thrive in that atmosphere. I tend to be a loner and do
best with short workshops, learning from coworkers and being self
taught. Necessity has often been my best teacher. Other than that,
I learn best when I have a specific need and go out to seek that
specific answer. How has it related to my success? Not sure. My
first long term business venture was a trade shop when I lived in
northern New England. That ultimately failed as customers failed.
The pickings are pretty slim in that region for new accounts, so
ultimately I was unable to replace some key accounts that fell by the
wayside as they came upon hard times of their own. Where I am now, I
am successful to a point, but not as successful as I would like. I
guess my education might have some bearing eventually, as I am able
to better present myself to my public as being educated. I don’t
come across as a country bumpkin or anything. The education also
allows me to better assess my regional markets, I think, and I hope
it will ultimately allow me to make more intelligent and informed
decisions that will lead me back to the success I desire.

Perhaps another thing to consider in your quest for answers in this
article is a definition of success. Those definitions are often as
varied and individual as the styles of work we do. My own
definition, for instance, has less to do with $ volume than it does
with satisfaction and recognition. I like to sell, of course, but as
long as our family needs are met, I am content. They aren’t right
now, but that is another story entirely. Beyond that, I find more
success in just having my work accepted by my target market, and in
seeing people who are happy with what I make or repair for them
(repairs being my primary source of income right now). Good luck with
the article.

Jim


#9

Dear Michael,

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the subject of
education with me. You make some great points, and I used your
comments about the value of a formal educaiton in the article. (The
editor anticipates publishing the article in the April issue of The
Crafts Report.)

To help illustrate the article, would you be willing to send us a
photo or two of your work, and one of yourself? If so, you can send
them directly to Mary Petzak at the Crafts Report. Digital images
can be e-mailed to her at Mpetzak@craftsreport.com, while slides or
prints can be snail mailed to her attention at The Crafts Report, 100
Rogers Rd, Wilmington, DE 19801

BTW, how did you like Portland? I’m sorry I wasn’t able to get away
to meet you after all when you were here earlier this fall… But
perhaps I’ll get a chance to meet you when you teach at Metalwerx
this spring. Perhaps I can buy you dinner some night?

Thank you again for your great comments!

Suzanne

Suzanne Wade
Writer/Editor
Phone: (508) 339-7366
Fax: (928) 563-8255
@Suzanne_Wade1
http://www.rswade.net


#10

Dear Pat,

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the subject of
education with me. You make some great points, and I used your
comments about how folks who don’t get a formal education can still
produce great work and be very successful in the article. (The editor
anticipates publishing the article in the April issue of The Crafts
Report.)

I would like to identify you by the city and state you live in, if
possible. Would you be willign to share that with me?

Also, to help illustrate the article, would you be willing to send
us a photo or two of your work, and one of yourself? If so, you can
send them directly to Mary Petzak at the Crafts Report. Digital
images can be e-mailed to her at Mpetzak@craftsreport.com, while
slides or prints can be snail mailed to her attention at The Crafts
Report, 100 Rogers Rd, Wilmington, DE 19801

Thank you again for your great comments!

Suzanne Wade
Writer/Editor
Phone: (508) 339-7366
Fax: (928) 563-8255
@Suzanne_Wade1
http://www.rswade.net


#11

Dear Sam, Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts on the subject
of education with me. You make some great points, and I used your
comments about the value of business education in the article. (The
editor anticipates publishing the article in the April issue of The
Crafts Report.)

To help illustrate the article, would you be willing to send us a
photo or two of your work, and one of yourself? If so, you can send
them directly to Mary Petzak at the Crafts Report. Digital images
can be e-mailed to her at Mpetzak@craftsreport.com, while slides or
prints can be snail mailed to her attention at The Crafts Report, 100
Rogers Rd, Wilmington, DE 19801

I guess we’ll be seeing you in about a month, when you arrive in New
England for your time as artist in residence at Metalwerx. I look
forward to meeting you in person then.

Thank you again for your great comments!

Suzanne Wade
Writer/Editor
Phone: (508) 339-7366
Fax: (928) 563-8255
@Suzanne_Wade1
http://www.rswade.net