Sunday, June 1, 2008

Artists, training, education and the importance of continued learning

A few months ago, on the Orchid forum a debate regarding "trained" jewelers and metal smiths and "self-taught" got pretty intense. Goldsmiths were one of the first groups of artisans that organized into Guilds during the Middle Ages. To protect their trades these groups organized the precursors to the modern unions with set regulations on training, apprenticeship, journeymen and masters. The groups became so powerful that they began to have major political impact during the Renaissance and could determine who could practice their trade. I mention this because if you go back and look up this debate, that started with a request from a woman in the U.K. for some ideas on learning design techniques, you can almost still hear the faint rumblings of the old Guild system in some of the responses. There were a few gold and silver smiths who felt the only way to truly be an artisan in this field was to go through a formal program of training at university or a recognized jewelers school. Any one else was just a "crafter" or "hobbyist". I wrote about this discussion in my post of March 10, where I listed Karen Christian's great response and wonderful design exercises.

While I had formal art training as a part of my undergraduate degree, I do not agree that it is the only way to becoming an artist. In fact I do very little of the art I was trained in - oils, pastels, pen and ink, etc. and have spent the last several years working in more tactile mediums like collage art, beading, wire work and now silver smithing and precious metal clay. The only time I studied anything remotely related to these mediums was in high school art. That said, I did not just pick up a few books and wing it. While I definitely bought books to learn from, I enrolled in classes - adult education, single class offerings at craft and bead stores, and PMC classes at Metalwerx. I hope to take some more classes in glass slumping and more metal smithing soon. Why? To improve my skills, expand my knowledge and enhance my business. I may even take some business courses to help directly with marketing and managing my business.

In discovering a wonderful jewelry artist (Michael David Sturlin), I found this great article in The Crafts Report April 2004 where he was one of the artists quoted. It is called "What Does Arts Training Have To Do With Selling Your Work" by Suzanne Wade Sturlin started off self-taught and after several years started reaching out for formal training. He said it had a profound effect on his work, his productivity and his earnings. I have no idea what his earlier work was like but his work now . . . amazing! Here are his two sites: and (my advice - sit through the intro on the second site). He taught at Metalwerx a few years ago - before I knew about them - and I hope he comes back some time soon.

Well happy June every one! Gardening to finish tomorrow!


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