…A Guide For The Aspiring Bead Artist
by Warren S. Feld

Excerpts From This Ever-Evolving Tale.....

I don’t mean to drag a poor Elephant by its tail, kicking and screaming, into our bead world against its wishes. Nor do I perceive the elephant to be a threat, like you might see an Elephant in the boudoir, or the fine china store. And I don’t want you to shut your eyes and pretend not to notice that this Elephant is here, standing shoulder to shoulder with every beader and jewelry maker around.

The Elephant is not a joke. And the fact that it is “Rogue” makes it more important than ever to figure out why it’s here, among size #10 English beading needles, and Czech size 11/0 seed beads, and Austrian crystal beads. It seems so worldly, yet other-worldly, our Elephant. It’s not our muse. It’s not our Cassandra. It has no secret plan or strategy. It does not depend on its size to make its point. It does not hesitate to stomp and chomp and clomp because the beads before it are raku or glass or gemstone or crystal or metal or plastic. But a Rogue Elephant in the middle of our craft room forces upon us a completely different logic, so that we can make sense of it all.|


More Goings On At CBJA
Part Two

Our Center for Beadwork & Jewelry Arts was a product-driven idea, rather than a market-driven one. We had ideas in search of students, not students in search of our ideas. Perhaps this doomed it from the beginning. I teach, therefore I conquer. So, we were at the point where we had delineated a very elaborate program of skills-based classes and the fee-structure and administrative structure to support it. Our plan looked
great on paper. We were off in our search for Rogue Elephants.

The Planning Advisory Group Melted Down Over Implementation.

As the Advisory Group role changed from planning to implementation, however, things broke down. This surprised me. I had thought that everyone would value and want a more professional training program, and want to see it get off the ground. I thought everyone wanted to search for their Rogue Elephant. That was not the case, however. People were very rooted in the Craft Approach to teaching. They made their reputations that way – in Craft. They made their money that way – in Craft. They identified their power, rank and status in reference to how various bead stores implemented the Craft Approach – yes, in Craft. Our approach would rip all this away from them.

One teacher and member of the committee suddenly informed everyone that she was not going to write up instructions or provide samples in the classes she taught. She had never done this, and didn’t see the need for it. Where did that come from? Another member said she wouldn’t teach any classes unless other bead store owners were added to our advisory group. Yet another member – another teacher – said she only wanted to teach a couple of courses she personally liked. She did not want to teach a whole curricular track. She wasn’t interested in working with anyone through the whole skills-based progression.

As an intellectual exercise, planning a Bead School was fun. Everyone got a chance to think aloud how things aught to be. They got to see how all the pieces of a broad curriculum would fit together – like solving a giant puzzle. They gained a lot of personal insight into their own strengths and weaknesses as beaders or jewelry makers. They talked out loud with the group how various instructors, workshop leaders and books along the way, not only influenced them artistically, but affected both their strengths and weaknesses with skills and techniques.

But implementation meant re-defining who in the community might end up competing with whom, and who might step on whose toes, and all these political considerations and changes were too much to overcome.

I think our new style of teaching would also have exposed these people to a public test of what they really knew and could do, or didn’t know or could not do. They didn’t want to end up in this situation. The Craft Approach would never put them in this type of situation, to begin with. Nor did these instructors want to learn another approach -- how to teach in a different way than they were already doing.

It was difficult to attract teachers.

At first, our new group of teachers seemed very willing to meet our high “teacher standards,” including creating written instructions and physical samples. We began with about 12 teachers, and this number of instructors has been very consistent, even today. We saw the teacher as an Artist-Teacher of Art and Design – thus, teaching insights and a “vocabulary and grammar” of beading and jewelry making. We did not see the teacher as Artist-Artist. Nor did we see the teacher as Artist-Teacher of Crafts – that is, we did not want the teacher merely to teach a pattern or set of steps. All our new teachers seemed to understand and agree with our general approach.

However, in reality, most of the teachers had a shallow commitment to this big endeavor. Most of them refused to teach with fewer than 2 students. There was a lot of attitude and short-sightedness here. Several felt that they were too good, too experienced, too established as a bead artist, to settle for fewer than 2 students. I explained to them that all this is new. The program did not have a history in the community. “Word-of-mouth” was the best marketing, I kept telling them, and there would be no word-of-mouth if teachers kept canceling their classes because of under-enrollment.

This was definitely stating the obvious. For those teachers willing to work with one student at a time, they began building up a following. Within a year, they filled most of their classes with 2-3 students and more. For those teachers unwilling to teach one student at a time, people stopped asking about their classes, because the reputation was that these classes were always cancelled. But this situation made the program seem like a program with missing teeth.

I tried to explain to our teachers that they needed to recognize the difference between workshops and classes. In workshops, they could command a higher rate, but there were fewer guarantees that they would be able to schedule more workshops. In classes, while the going instructional rate was less, these were more likely to be regular, and easier to fill on a continuing basis. It’s the same as the difference between consultants and full-time employees – consultants make a lot more, but it’s harder to keep the cash flow going year-in and year-out. Full-time employees get paid on a regular basis.

I required each teacher to organize their classes into a hierarchy. That meant that they had to define the classes they wanted to teach as teaching “skill sets”. Then they had to rank which skill-sets should be taught before the others. And then they had to evaluate whether the Project they wanted to teach, actually was the best way to teach a particular skill set. They had to set learning objectives. They had to specify what skills the student should have at the beginning of the class, and what additional skills the student would have, after taking the class. They had to have a written set of instructions, and a class description. They had to provide a detailed supplies list.

Several teachers balked. Those who did not ended up with a much stronger, more coherent, and more attractive set of classes.

Many teachers refused to write instructions. Some felt it was giving too much information away to the students. Others felt that “artists” should not have to write instructions. I conveyed to each teacher that I would help them write and edit these instructions, but this offer often fell on deaf ears.

A few teachers would let me know a few days before a scheduled class that they decided to raise their minimum enrollment, even for the class about to happen. One teacher that had 2 enrolled in a class on a Saturday told me on the previous Wednesday that she required a 3 student minimum. On that Wednesday afternoon, I found a 3rd student, and informed the instructor. On Thursday, she emailed me that she really meant a minimum of 4 students. She wouldn’t be coming; I had to cancel the class. So typical.

There were too few students to teach.

Almost everyone who inquired about classes wanted to make particular projects NOW. They didn’t want to have to wait to take 1-2 other courses before they could make the project they wanted to make. Since they could always go around the corner to another bead or craft store and take that project at will – no matter what the skill level or the specific skills involved, or their previous experience, or lack thereof. They did not understand our “professional model”, and were too busy and uninterested to want to think about it. Let alone read about it. Let alone start pursuing classes about it.

A lot of potential students want to make one piece of jewelry in their lives, and that’s it. They just want to have fun. They are generally uninterested in taking the time to pursue more in-depth study. They assume that it’s easy to bead or make jewelry, and that there is nothing to learn beyond putting beads on threads or string or cable wire. Nothing more to learn beyond that first project. Nothing more to learn beyond that first class. One class will do.



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