The Challenge of Mediocrity

Dilettante (dil-ǝ-‘tante). Noun. A person who cultivates an area of interest, such as the arts, without real commitment or knowledge. (Oxford Dictionaries).

A few years back, after decades of dabbling, I grew fed up with being a mediocre artist. I wanted an art consultant, someone to point out where I went wrong. But consultants are expensive, more than a daily ski pass. So it is fortunate I have an unemployed Inner Critic. She provides regular albeit unsolicited opinion regarding the state of my housekeeping or fit of my jeans. Maybe, given a real job, she could help improve my art.

I had already established myself so-so at a half dozen art disciplines, so I decided to start anew. This time I chose polymer clay jewelry, because polymer clay is cheap and because we live in a very small house. My finished art could fit in a sock drawer.

CrowNecklaceMy plan was to work on art every day over a thirty-project period. Each project would represent a new technique. When finished with each piece, I would journal a description, mention any challenges, and affix a photo. I resolved to complete the experiment before deciding if mediocrity were my permanent condition, or if there were a remote chance of improvement.

After each journal entry, Ms. Critic was unleashed. She got to tell me everything she didn’t like about that piece of jewelry. Some days she went back to previous projects to rant about the awful things she overlooked the first time she saw them. I dutifully recorded her opinion below each project description, as if she were a real and separate person from me. Which she may be.

At first I didn’t trust the overly negative Ms. Critic. So I began to wear my novice jewelry in public to solicit unbiased opinion. It did not escape my notice that no one, no one said, “Nice necklace.” This went on for weeks and then months without once hearing those magic words. The day I wore my 15th project to work, my black-polymer-crow-clutching-a-red-stone necklace, a colleague leaned inward with her eyes fixed on my torso. She said, “Oh, I like that!” Joyously I clutched the crow. “No, no, no,” she hastily corrected, “I mean … I like the neckline of your sweater. I like V-necks. That’s all.”

Later that day, I gassed up my car in a state of discouragement. I went inside to pay up. The convenience store clerk looked up and said, “Nice crow.” It finally happened! I whispered “thank you,” and while our transaction completed, my Inner Critic scrutinized her suspiciously to see if she had any taste whatsoever.

I eventually began to rework pieces my critic didn’t like. Problems of scale, texture, line, and contrast became more apparent, as did strategies to fix them. As art became a larger part of my life, I began to search for an open art studio, somewhere to meet other artists to share ideas, inspiration, and mistakes.

The View From Mars Copper, Sterling, Citrine J. Crawford, Artist

The View From Mars
Copper, Sterling, Citrine
J. Crawford, Artist

The turning point came when Tracey Belt offered a silversmith class at the Four Corners Gem and Mineral Club. I had never heard of or seen the Club before, despite living in Durango for over a dozen years. It is hidden in a City Park in the 2300 block of Main, behind the Brookside Motel. I walked into the Club for the first time and caught my breath. One room was filled with every imaginable tool for stone cutting, shaping, and polishing. The second room was filled with all the tools to cut, melt, fuse, form, and shine metal to make jewelry. And all the people around me were eager, novice, mistake-prone artists too!

Toward the end of my Thirty Day Experiment, I moved away from polymer clay to precious metals, a medium that is always beautiful, and the experiment came to a close. I still add photos to keep an eye on slippage. I enjoy a group of creative, supportive artists at the Club and learn from them. My Inner Critic, now that I respect her, has chilled too.

This Saturday, February 13, from 10-2, I am holding my first jewelry sale with other artists at the Club. For more info about our Valentine’s Sale and the Gem and Mineral Club, please visit

By Jama Crawford, Durango

Keywords: Jewelry, Art, Journal, Critic, Gem and Mineral Club

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