Think Art Loud

Inspiring, Encouraging, and Promoting the Handmade Arts and Artists

Posts Tagged ‘continuing education’

Ok, so since we’re at the ‘back to school’ time of year, I thought I’d post about the arts and art training, etc. Working in the arts business is difficult for many reasons: not just that it’s a luxury business with high competition and takes much longer to establish than other business, but also from the stand point of education beyond just highschool. Do you go for that BFA or MFA degree from an expensive college? Do you take workshops? Teach yourself? This is a question that I found myself struggling with for quite some time.

After graduating highschool, I went to the local community college to get my Associates of Fine Arts degree. I had it all planned, I was going to get my AFA and then transfer somewhere to get my BFA in Jewelry and Metalsmithing and then go on for my MFA. Where, I hadn’t quite figured out, but that was the plan. By the time I finished my AFA, I had tentatively decided on Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo, MI. I went to visit them, see how my credits would transfer, and so on and so forth. Well, it didn’t quite turn out as I had planned. Sure my credits would transfer just fine and they were very impressed with my transcript, but the more I saw, the less I liked them. I was not at all impressed with the BFA level work that I saw (I’d seen much better work at Delta!), and even less impressed with the work coming out of their jewelry program (which could hardly be called a program or even a concentration when they only offered about 3 classes in jewelry work). Talking with the representative from the art department is what sealed my decision as a resounding ‘no.’ I found him utterly stuck-up, and condescending. It was not his attitude towards WMU (trying to make it sound more impressive than it is) that really bothered me; it was his obvious condescension towards my having gone to a community college that turned me off from the school (especially since said community college has a ranking as the 6th best 2-year college in Michigan, and WMU doesn’t even rank in the top 25 for 4-year colleges). [Note to college reps.: insulting potential students because of what school they last attended is a really, really bad way to make an impression.] But this threw a huge monkey wrench in my plans. Where would I go now? Did I really need to get a BFA to work in this field?

While pondering my conundrum (and praying, praying, praying for an answer to it) I made this discovery: there were way to many options for how to go about getting a career in the jewelry industry. I could go for my BFA/MFA, or go to a technical school, or try to find an apprenticeship, or take workshops, or just teach myself. None of these were going to be easy. Degree programs are expensive, and, as I’d learned, for my focus I’d have to go to an actual fine arts college making it even more expensive. But there was another problem with degree programs: sometimes (with jewelry anyway), they put too much emphasis on all that weird art concepts and having your art ‘mean something’ than in the technical aspect, with results that were utterly impractical….. and jewelry was a practical art, it is, literally, half-way between a skilled trade and the fine arts so neither aspect was to be neglected. Unfortunately, with the trade schools (of which there truly are some excellent schools out there!), it swung the other direction. The emphasis is almost all on technique and often very little on design. Why? Because traditionally, you are either a jewelry maker or a jewelry designer, but seldom both unless working independently. Apprenticeships, while still available, are unfortunately dying out, or at least they are in the States, so is an unreliable option. Now, for myself, after much prayer, discussion with my family, and seeking the advice of others in my trade, I chose a route that is not for everyone: teaching myself and taking workshops as needed for specific techniques. This is the slowest route out there, but for me was the best option.

Now, I am not writing all this to tell people to give up on the idea of a college AFA/BFA/MFA degree and go solo with your art education/training. On the contrary, there are some great art schools out there, and, for some, focuses, art school is pretty much the only option. The thing is this: not all forms of art require a degree, and you can always go back for it later if you decide you still want that degree.

Now, especially for those that have gone the same route I have, if (after whatever training route you chose) you find yourself a little stuck in your field and not really getting anywhere career-wise, don’t be afraid to go back to school to increase your skills. I have, in fact I’m doing so right now. After being out of college for 7 years, in February of this year I started school again. This time (via distance learning) with the Gemological Institute of America for my Graduate Gemologist Diploma. I may also go back for a few of their other programs once this one is finished. The point is, just because you chose not go for that degree earlier, or even if you did, does not mean your education needs to end their. If things are going slowly (or perhaps not at all), then maybe it’s time to consider more courses. Not to retrain entirely and abandon your field, but to enhance what you already know and maybe even consider an aspect of that field you hadn’t looked at before. Getting more training or refocusing, is not the same as giving up; it gives you more options to help you better pursue doing what you love.

Advice? Well, if you’re just starting out, some college is never a bad thing. If you know you want to pursue some form of art but not sure what aspect yet, then I’d recommend starting with you local community college. It’s a gentle way to get your feet wet, sample a variety of art classes to see which form you like best, but doesn’t have the ultra-high cost of a 4-year college. Also, should you decide to go further with college training, it gets some of your generic requirements out of the way so you spend less time/money at a more expensive school. Also, do your research. Find out what options you have and all the information about them that you can get. I’d also recommend looking at how others currently working in that field got their training, maybe even join an online community for that artfield and ask around their for advice. I know that helped me. Not every option is suited for everyone, so do your research and find out which training option is best suited to you. Remember, you can always go back for more training later!

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