Friday, January 27, 2012

What I screwed up in art school

Okay, so I never actually went to "art school", but I did go to a small liberal arts college for Studio Art. Close enough. I graduated with my B.A. in Studio Art in 2009, after the typical 4-year program of study.

College was fun! I made friends, met my boyfriend of 5 years, got relatively good grades, and graduated. But looking back on my 4 years, I was stupid about a lot of things and messed up some things I can now see were pretty important.


photo of a black & white still life setup in the studio

1. Doing the bare minimum.
2. Skipping class.
3. Procrastinating.
+ Advice for current art students to read

1. Doing the bare minimum. In my art program, I remember working on a lot of art projects. Drawing, design, sculpture, bookmaking, etc. But I don't remember creating a whole lot of extra. My professors would say how important it is to keep a sketchbook. Okay, sounds great. Actually, the idea of keeping a sketchbook is a good one. But you have to do it. I kept a sketchbook because it was assigned. I finished drawings because they were assigned. I made books because they were assigned. But rarely did I experiment. Rarely did I create something that WASN'T assigned. I did what I had to do to get a good grade and that's it.

Doing projects and focusing on school work is important, I know. Plus, college students are busy. Would I really have had time to spend drawing in my sketchbook for NON-school work? I don't know, because I never tried it.

my final white-on-black egg still life drawing

The problem with spending 4 years working only on assigned projects is that your artistic and creative output is somewhat limited. You're confined to the assignment, and you probably won't deviate from it. There's no experimentation. You won't "waste time" trying something new when you can just finish and be done with it. I've found that now, I have a creative block: I think that everything I make should be perfect. It's like my brain thinks I'm still working against the clock and trying to get a good grade. No time to waste on a new technique! You can't afford to do that over again! No ugly things - somebody's going to see that! Art school meant that classmates and professors always saw everything I handed in, and everything I worked on in class. Now it's like I am filtering my creative process because "someone might see it!"


the problem with student loans is you never see the cash

2. Skipping class. I get why people skip class once in awhile: you stayed up too late studying and now you're super tired, you know you won't be doing anything important in class today, etc. But here's a thought for you: CLASS COSTS MONEY. It's easy to forget that when you pay tuition you're paying for each class session, too. You're paying your teacher to show up and lecture. You are paying to sit in that classroom for the 2 hours or whatever, even if you don't show up.

Lemme break it down with some math.

My very first semester of college (fall 2005), my cost for tuition for 13 credits was $3,555. That's $273 per credit. So a 4-credit class (like College Writing) cost $1,094. College Writing class happened 3 times per week, so each class session cost me about $23. This doesn't include student fees, course materials, etc. If I factor in my TOTAL bill (tuition + fees) for fall semester - what college ACTUALLY cost me - each session of College Writing cost about $50. Don't even get me started with factoring in paying my bill with a student loan. Actually, I paid with a private, high-interest loan, so school (and College Writing) ended up costing me a heck of a lot more.

I don't remember how often I skipped College Writing in particular, but you get the point. Pay $50 per class period. Still okay to skip? Is sleeping in worth $50? Is sleeping in but missing class material and making it up worth $50? Yikes.

I wish I would have learned this in high school. Or I wish I could have taken a class about "Welcome to College!" that broke it down for me. But now I know.


don't skip class!

3. Procrastinating. I'm really bad about procrastinating, and there have been times when I've paid for it. In my art program, there were a lot of projects that were half-assed and half-finished. There were projects, drawings, assignments that I never got to. It's not that I didn't have time; I procrastinated getting started or felt overwhelmed and didn't seek help.

My absolute worst and most embarrassing, shameful story of how my procrastination kicked me in the ass: I was taking Modern Art History. I hated the teacher, but went to class and kept up with assignments throughout the semester. Our final project was this big research paper that I kept putting off because it sounded hard and like a ton of work. It was due on the last day of class. The NIGHT BEFORE our final class period, I planned on staying up all night and finishing it. But I hadn't read the requirements close enough, and it was way too much work to do in one night. I panicked. I couldn't do it. For once, I couldn't beat my procrastination. Instead of "working better under pressure," this time I was going to fail.

I couldn't afford to fail this project, else I would fail the class. So I dropped the class. I dropped a course on the night before the final class because I procrastinated finishing my final project. I paid for this class, got up early every morning to go to it, and sat through an entire semester of a teacher that I hated. To get what in return? Absolutely nothing. I had to retake my art history credit. I felt so ashamed. I let myself down big time.

Overall, these were the worst screw-ups I made while going to school for art.

In January 2011, I was asked by my former art professor to answer some questions about college. Here are my answers and advice:

In hindsight given your own experience, what advice do you think is critical for the students to hear?
It's so important to never stop working while you're in school. You'll get so much more out of your Art education if you commit to working as hard as you can for your 4 years in college. Of course you always need to take time for yourself so you don't get burned out, but if you start to feel exhausted or overwhelmed, seek advice and guidance from your peers and professors instead of retreating into yourself and into solitude.

Professors are smart people, and they have lots more experience than you. Utilize their knowledge while you are there! (But always ask for a second opinion :)

Also, I firmly believe in the importance of keeping a sketchbook journal. It will do nothing but help you.

What should they do, what should they avoid?
Go to class, don't skip class. Make time to learn about other types of art, learn art's history, be in touch with what's happening right now. Get outside your college bubble whenever you can and expose your mind and your eyes to current exhibits in museums, art in galleries, and just other places in general.

Don't procrastinate! Don't ever think you've learned it all or that you've become an expert at something. Keep trying, keep pushing to your limits.

What was one of the most valuable things you've done for yourself since graduating (that has fueled your work)--how has it helped you make the right connections, stay on track in the studio, allowed you the means to make work, or to continue your education?
Right now I'm working in a graphic design-type position, but I do get to contribute sketches, drawings, and art for t-shirt designs and catalog graphic designs. In my case, it helped me immensely to get a job in graphic design as soon as I moved to a bigger city before my senior year of college. Because I've continually been employed, I've had the means to continue my education in the arts (I took another printmaking class, a bookbinding class, and a pottery class).

Are there resources you feel they need to know about?
If you're interested in more classes or continuing your education either after graduating or during the summer, check out local work shops, studios, or centers for art. Almost every community of a specific practice of art offers classes!

Is there something you know now that you wish you had known before graduating?
Student loans are the worst. Live like a student while you're a student, and do everything you can to avoid debt.

Also, not everything you make for your art classes is going to be a masterpiece. So don't get too attached to anything. Every project you make is just a stepping stone. So keep creating projects and more stepping stones for yourself so you continually progress. The mediums you focus on in your undergraduate career don't have to be the ones you stick with for the rest of your life.

1 comment:

  1. Hello! I graduated from art school and I can relate to EVERYTHING you wrote about. I skipped class, and didn't create any art outside of class, and dropped a subject because I procrastinated. I wish I had read this before graduating though.

    ReplyDelete

Comments are delightful - thanks for taking the time to write!