I'm curious what advice you would give to college students
interested in going into business for themselves in jewelry?
There was an interesting discussion recently with a group of
participants in a design and writing project I have underway.
We started with introductions and have been discussing the routes
taken to get to the point each is at right now, and we talked about
where they intend to go from here.
The participants in this particular project are determined to be
makers of jewelry and after leaving their formal programs or field of
study, are now engaged in finding their place in the market and
looking for opportunities to earn a living with their education and
One member of this group said her experience since leaving school
has been challenging and disappointing. Her professor continually
emphasized the narrative voice as the most important aspect of
becoming an artist during her fine art metals program. She was
constantly reminded that a thematic story is the essential and
critical part of the work. She related that she and her classmates
in school were deeply invested in creating clever story lines and
tried to make work that had something important or humorous or lofty
or insightful to say. They spent countless hours trying to figure out
how to express ideas that would be considered intelligent and
intellectual and 'smart', in the hopes that doing so might please the
professor into awarding an excellent grade and bestowing glowing
words of praise upon their brilliant artwork.
They were obsessed with conceiving clever constructions and unique
and creative displays that would augment the important message in
their art and would help them stand out and get noticed in the
gallery world. She said they collectively liked to think of
themselves as the future darlings of the metal art world.
Another student was trained in a traditional professional
environment where the desired end result is producing a highly
skilled practitioner, ready to be a professional maker of precious
metal objects. Her focus was on refined technical skill, the essence
of good design, productive methods of studio organization, and how to
begin to develop a business model. Most of the emphasis was directed
towards abilities that would be necessary to be successful as a maker
of high quality jewelry.
Her instruction included conversations about what the students would
like to pursue after their training, and how they would fit into the
working world in any number of possible career paths. Her instructor
encouraged dedication to mastery of tool and material and developing
technical diversity. The instructor groomed the participants in the
program to be well spoken and professional in their presentations and
to converse articulately about their work and their process. She also
demanded they be objective in assessing the quality of their own work
and to always endeavor to see where improvement could be made, and to
follow through accordingly. Striving for excellence in craftsmanship,
design, and communication were of the highest priority in her
The first student found that after school she was not able to make
work that carried actual value commensurate with her idea of the
worth of her thematic narrative and story oriented artwork. She
discovered that her very intelligent objects were not exceptionally
appealing to the venues who exhibit visual art. Her reception in the
gallery world was one of disappointment as she learned there wasn't a
strong market for what she had been taught and encouraged to make.
There apparently weren't so many people standing in line to buy her
cleverly constructed and artfully displayed work as she had hoped,
and the reality of earning a living was far from becoming the art
darling she and her school mates had envisioned during their exciting
time in the university metals studio.
She has worked at non art related jobs since leaving school and has
not yet been able to secure employment involving metalsmithing or
jewelry making. The ateliers and studios where she has applied for
bench work have told her she has not enough developed skill to
provide what they need, and they have insufficient time to train her
to meet their needs in making the quality of jewelry they produce.
Still determined to make jewelry and desirous to have a viable
career, she explained that this is why she is starting over now with
a new goal; to build upwards from pretty well near the bottom, on a
new path focused on developing critical skill and refining technical
ability, along with studying design and marketing.
The second student is already an emerging young professional maker
of jewelry able to support herself in her chosen field. She is
admittedly new in the marketplace, but she is designing and creating
interesting work that is finding an audience and is building a
relationship with a clientele where her jewelry is viable and
saleable. People buy her work and are delighted to wear it. She also
has marketable professional skills and occasionally takes on part
time contract work using those skills to help fund the continued
development of her design oriented and well received body of work.
The point of this story touches on the original question of what to
tell a college student, or any student for that matter;
Choices made in education should be well paired with the desired
direction one wishes to follow afterwards. Decisions should be
informed and well reasoned and should support and enable the
practitioner to be poised for success at whatever they wish to do
once their course of study is completed.
It warrants a thorough investigation of the available programs and
predicting the results to make good choices, extract the most value
from investment in education, and put the best foot forward on the
path to one's career goal.