Tuesday, October 10, 2006
New Hampshire Barns, 2006, Oil on Panel, 12x16
Karl Zipser has recently written a number of posts, relating to whether art school is worthless or valuable, so that got me thinking a bit about my art school experience and its value to me.
I grew up in Rochester Minnesota. Most of the art there was wildlife art, something that I was NOT interested in. I don't think I ever visited a museum or a gallery until I went off to college. We had no art books, no paintings on the wall, no exposure to live performances, music or drama. The only art I recall seeing were illustrations in books, magazines and album covers. Despite not having any knowledge about any kind of art, I always felt that I wanted to be an artist. I was always the kid in school who was good at drawing and eventually everyone assumed I would be rich and famous someday as an artist. ha. Even a few friends wrote words to that effect in my yearbooks.
By high school though, I had other things going on. I had lived in several foster homes as a teen and finally after my junior year of high school I moved out on my own. This meant I had to have a job, or two even. One of my favorite jobs was working as a teacher's aide in a special needs classroom. I was good at working with handicapped children and I received a lot of encouragement to pursue that avenue. And I was tempted. A fairly decent steady salary and benefits sounded good to me at that point. But I felt this magnetic pull to go to art school, to work and live as an artist and so when I was accepted to the Minneapolis School of Art and Design, I went. I recall that while the people that knew me well, family and friends and my mom especially, were supportive of this, other adults were not. My guidance counselor suggested that I attend the local community college for a few years and then reevaluate my interests. That sounded like code to me: get the life and ambition sucked out of me, then settle for a job and spend the rest of my life regretting those decisions. Practical, yes and maybe the most he thought a kid with my background could hope for, but that suggestion really spurred me on to get to art school. So perhaps I should thank him.
Anyway, art school was so amazing. I met people that were so different from myself, people who were so strange, quirky and so creative. I had to struggle to keep up and found that just having a good eye wasn't enough. But I finally felt that for the first time I fit in somewhere, a little bit at least, even if it was with a bunch of other misfits. I learned about art history, religion, and creative writing. I learned to express myself, not to just express what I could see. I learned how to work with different mediums, and I especially enjoyed working with the figure, both in drawing and painting as well as 3-dimensionally. I was exposed to a different way of life and boy did I screw up a lot! But I always could see a sliver of a better life ahead so I kept going. Eventually, I decided that I wanted to major in illustration and after seriously considering the Art Center in Pasadena, CA I decided to transfer to the University of the Arts in Philadelphia. There I really found my way, artistically at least (alas, I was still making poor personal decisions). I had much more exposure to seeing art at museums and galleries and my world really expanded. My technical skills improved further and there were many more art related opportunities for me in Philadelphia. I would have liked to have majored in painting all along but I was never very interested in the particular programs offered at that time. So I felt illustration was right for me, I could be expressive and painterly but still keep that realistic aspect of myself in the imagery.
I knew many kids who didn't last to the end off freshman year or for even a month for that matter. I had a roommate in Minneapolis who stopped attending classes after a few weeks, slept and listened to loud music for the rest of the semester then got pregnant and moved back home to Boston. And I also know adults who wish they had resisted advice to not attend art college and have spent their whole lives trying to get back to the art that is so important to their soul. Art school can be valuable or not, based on any number of reasons. For me though, having several years of being almost completely immersed in art was of incredible value to me and I have to say that attending art school is a decision that I have never once regretted.