Art-Student Woes

There is a great article over on theartorder.com about making the most of student work. A must read if you're still in school, or even looking for some sense of ownership working for 'the Man.'

I graduated in 2008 and was the typical naive student of the current education bubble. I optimistically hoped my university degree would magically grant me the skills to be competitive in my dream industry. While I maintain that non of my professors had the chops to exemplify what they were teaching, and am eagerly awaiting the inevitable crash and burn of the current impostor of art-education, I recognize that only much too late did I take ownership of my education to maximize what could have been had from it. It was about a year away from finishing my 8yr stint that I realized I was coming up short, way short.

A lot of students use their education to find out what they want to do, and do a lot of feeling around before coming to a focus on a particular path, usually after they've graduated and asked themselves 'Now what?'. That's fine, and that needs to happen organically. But that wasn't my case, I knew exactly what I wanted. However despite that advantage, I still relied on hoop-jumping to somehow get me there. I took my time and enjoyed myself, but eventually got to the point where I was really pessimistic and felt short-changed by 'the system,' as if it were someone else's fault that I wasn't getting what I wanted out of my education.

The program I was part of put high emphasis on style and expression without laying the groundwork of traditional representational skills. I honed my bullsh!t skills and got A's because that was what the professors wanted, rather than an image that stood by itself without the need of an 'artist statement.' I was disillusioned with the process and frustrated knowing that art-speak wouldn't get me what my portfolio couldn't.

One day I was pondering a quote from Bush II, among other -isms: "C's get degrees." I realized I wasn't running for President, and I would still get my 20K piece of paper even if I forced my own agenda onto the loose parameters of each assignment. I had to engage myself the way I knew I needed to be and force-fed myself industry level expectations far above those of my professors, at the sacrifice of a lousy "A." I didn't have any scholarships to worry about, and "Dean's List Achievement" still hasn't opened doors that my portfolio can't, so what did I have to loose?

Freed from the expectation to please my professors, and invested in the necessity to please myself. I poured into assignments, transforming them into something I enjoyed and was proud of. Not that I just did my own thing regardless of the assignment, I made sure to cover my bases and learned all that was being offered, before foraying deep into what-I-want-to-do-instead land. I abandoned the typical artist-statement of excuses based in medium, technique, style, or esoteric concept, and boiled it down to something like "I wanted to paint a Sasquatch punching a unicorn in the face. Would you believe that I painted this from life?"

To my surprise I didn't get C's. I got A's and a lot praise. And a lot of highly valuable criticism.

I think my professors appreciated the fresh infusion of ownership, I'm sure they get tired of teaching and seeing the same old thing over and over again. I'm not saying that I was good or stand-out, but I learned A LOT. Way more than I had in the previous 7 yrs of hoop-jumping. People started to nit-pick what was on the canvas as I tried to put my ideals there instead of into fluffy rhetoric. I began to learn what I wanted to learn by asking people nail me on what I sucked at. It became a rewarding trial by fire that cleared my head of the clouds put there too many artsy fart-club sessions.

In retrospect I may come across as the disgruntled art student and critical of the real world value of getting an academic education, which I am. But, I wouldn't change my experience. It took me years to come to the conclusions that I did, and while ownership was really the only skill I took away from my program, it was entirely worth it.

1 comment:

Jake Parker said...

Right on! Glad you found your way.

One of my favorite quotes (Never let school interfere with your education) should be tattooed on the forehead of every student during admissions.