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Hello Melissa!


Lovely to meet you, fellow art student! I’m studying Jewelry and Metalsmithing, and feeling as though I’m going through somewhat of an identity crisis. Graduating in a matter of months, I am becoming unsure of my path in this field. So much so that it is hindering my creativity. In a field that seems to be somewhat superficial as the jewelry industry can be, I find myself wanting my path to be more meaningful and impactful. That goes hand in hand with the environmental impacts of precious materials and all the chemicals and gases we need to use in order to make these beautiful things. I feel if I let go of this path after school it will have been a waste of time, money and, most of all, a failure on my part. I am overwhelmed by this thought, along with the projects I am to do this semester, with not an idea of what to make.


I am curious if you dealt with these thoughts as an art student. I also am overwhelmed by the demand for concept-based art, mainly in the jewelry world, because sometimes you just want to make a pretty thing. This is also blocking my creativity — if I make something to make a form I enjoy, I will then later be questioned of why I made this thing. Nine times out of ten, I have no idea why I made this thing, other than I am drawn to the form, which seems to not be enough. Surrounded by creativity, I find myself standing still in my senior year while my peers discover their thesis work and continue to run forward toward success. 


I do not consider myself an anxious person, yet many things in the world today feel greatly overwhelming. As the state of our country is obviously in need of drastic help, I feel as though simply making jewelry is not enough. I do know that just because this is my title in college it does not mean it defines what I can and cannot do with my life. There is more, yet this being my title at this point in my life is hindering my ability to create somehow. 


I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts! 

Thank you for listening,



Dear E,

I can hear your anxiety as you second-guess the path you’ve chosen in jewelry design and metalsmithing. All of the questions swirling around for you are a sign that you’re having doubts and maybe not connecting to the path, or to the fantasy of what this path could be, in the same way that you used to. Then I imagine your impending graduation is only amplifying these anxieties, creating a kind of internal pressure cooker. How alchemical of you!

In its most basic form, alchemy is a cryptic and obscure practice of transforming base metals into gold. With origins in ancient Egypt and eventually spreading throughout the globe up until the development of modern chemistry, alchemy was a mystical craft rooted in philosophy, magic, and metalsmithing! While alchemy did not survive the Enlightenment, we have Carl Jung to thank for reviving it in a new way. Jung’s theory suggested that perhaps alchemy is less about a literal transformation of base metals into

gold, but rather a metaphorical one. Think of the lead as the parts 

of ourselves that we’ve rejected, or even deadened, and the alchemical journey is learning how to redeem the value, or gold, in those discarded places. As a jeweler/metalsmith in an identity crisis, I think you have something very important in common with the alchemical tradition.

The alchemical process can be simplified into three main stages: Nigredo, Albedo, and Rubedo.

Nigredo: Blackness, darkening, chaos, shadow, nonsense, depression, melancholia, death, lead.

Albedo: Whiteness, spirituality, abstract, hope, mania, lightness, purification, moon, silver.

Rubedo: Redness, blood, embodiment, return, wholeness warmth, passion, life, gold.

My advice for you is to reframe your feelings of confusion and stuckness as not a failure on your part, but actually a necessary chapter on a larger journey of transformation. The nigredo stage is about actually darkening the lead. This is like when a hero sets off on an adventure and winds up in a dark wood, lost far from home, literally feeling around in the pitch black. There’s no way to be here without feeling the melancholy of missing home and confused by the nonsense of the place. With this image in mind, I wonder if it would be possible for you to lean into your lostness instead of fight it? The task here is learn to rely on other senses not needed in the light of day, to help you move in the dark. If you give yourself more space here and ease up on the pressure, you might find some glimmer of inspiration that carries you out of the dark and into the albedo phase. I may be biased, but I recommend seeking out a therapist to help contain this journey with you.

The alchemists lived by the Latin proverb Solve et Coagula, meaning to break down and come together. Perhaps your creativity is not measured by the content of what you’re producing, but your capacity to survive the alchemical journey of breaking apart and coming back together.

*DISCLAIMER: Dreamwork is a collaborative process that relies entirely on the associations of the dreamer to create a dream meaning. Without the dreamer’s input, I can only describe my personal associations and amplify the dream images as they exist symbolically on a cultural level.


See original post on the Free People blog here

Illustration by Erica Prince

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