I’ve written a few times about my experience as an art major in college. It only lasted my freshman year, and then I switched to a (highly useful) English degree after that. After changing my major, I often wandered the halls of the art building feeling sad and lost inside. I felt like a starving person with no money standing outside the Bellagio buffet.
Still, I felt like I made the right decision, just like when I dumped my theater scholarships to study art and still to this day feel a twinge of sadness when I hear showtunes.
Why did I leave art?
Lots of reasons, all of which I hope to explore here later because I feel they’re valuable, but one of the biggest reasons is that I felt like art “abandoned” me somehow. Art was like a lifelong friend who turned into a jerk once we got to college. Instead of finding my artistic voice and feeling free and creative, we debated the definition of art and whether beauty has value. The art department praised the new, edgy, shocking, and obscene while scoffing at “decorative objects”, or “pretty” art. Crucifixes in jars of urine were “art”, but a simple drawing with no other purpose than to be pleasing was not. “Hard” art was “good”, while “soft” art was not. Real art was either be sold for thousands or millions of dollars, or not sold at all. Art was for people with money and doctoral degrees, or those who were willing to starve for it.
While I took notes and felt my spirit shrinking, I could only think “Man Art, you used to be cool.”
Don’t get me wrong, I had some good times as an art major. I met some great people and had my moment of zen moments perched on a drawing horse while sketching wads of crumpled paper, but I came into the art program wanting to be an artist, and I left it wanting nothing to do with the art world. The art world was a crooked, elitist place and I wanted nothing to do with it.
Luckily, I’ve come to my senses.
I barely made any art in college. I made art for assignments, but that was about it even though I haunted the local art galleries and put all kinds of good ideas on the back burner until I felt like being an artist again. Last spring, I started painting for fun again and in the fall, Sam suggested that I try selling art. I started learning about the real world rather than the art world, and I realized that it’s not such a scary place after all; at least it doesn’t have to be. I learned about Etsy and met all kinds of artists who are real people and proud of it. (I’m not saying that edgy, post-modern artists aren’t real, it’s just the image that’s not real.)
Most of all, I realized that owning and enjoying art isn’t limited to rich collectors or people with alphabets behind their names. Art can be affordable, approachable, and most of all: fun. It doesn’t have to make a huge statement or be shocking (though it certainly can). Sometimes, art can just be pretty. It can just make someone happy when she looks at it. It belongs in homes, offices, on desks, in wallets, in our jewelry boxes, on our notebook covers, everywhere! Anyone can make it, and anyone can enjoy it. It can say anything or nothing.
Art is for everyone, and that’s one of the messages I hope to send with my own art. I don’t mean that my art is for everyone, because not everyone will like it and that’s fine. I want my art to be approachable, thoughtful, beautiful, and fun. I want it to be accessible and positive. Not everyone has room or money for large art, so I’ve started making small art as well, and I have plans to expand my shop and share my art with as many people as possible.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on this subject. What do you think about the art world, or what art “is”?
I’m sitting in the lobby of the Kimball Art Center right now at one of the café tables where I used to do homework and eat dark Dove chocolate bars during class breaks or sip mandarin orange Tazo tea on cold days. I think of the time I eavesdropped on a group of professors discussing an article on nudity in art and how pompous they sounded. I love eavesdropping.
I remember the ceiling three stories up and how I used to scare myself by looking down from the top floor. Footsteps echo off the concrete walls and no one speaks above a whisper, but somehow this space is as comforting as my own living room. I remember the ache of my tailbone grinding into the floor as I drew crumpled cardboard sculptures and the men in the African totem sculptures, and how amazing I felt when I completed a drawing.
That drawing class. The teacher required a paper pad and clipboard so big I used it as a lean-to to ward off sunburn when we spent the afternoon the sculpture garden drawing the lights. The professor told me I’d produced the best work in the class that day, that my work had “soul”, that mysterious, elusive quality that I didn’t quite understand at the time. He often made us draw the same light switches and doorknobs four times across the page, which I found agonizing. I loved it and hated it at the same time.
Even though I loved being an English major, my art experiences are what I really remember when I think of my college days. My year as an art major awakened me to so much; I’d always been an artist, but I was eighteen and the world of “serious” art was completely foreign to me.
I changed my major because I couldn’t learn art as a science, trading emotion for hard parameters and judgment. I always missed it though. I felt comfortable with English, but for the rest of my college career, I’d visit the building with a sense of longing, feel something ache inside of me as I looked over the student work on the walls or the BFA exhibits. When registration rolled around, I’d flip through the catalog and mourn the classes I’d have no room to take. It’s ironic, because I that first year as an art major, I missed writing so badly, it hurt. I loved English, but something was always missing. I left art behind. I made the mistake of choosing my writer identity over my artist, believing one was more important than the other and not realizing that I need both in large amounts. They’re both me, and I’m not just one or the other. I’m not half and half either, but completely both at the same time. Without them both, I am not me. I wasn’t truly happy, because I let the artist in me starve.
It’s hard to wrap my brain around this; how I am two seemingly different things simultaneously. I tend to think differently in “artist mode” or “writer mode”, but I never produce my best work if I only use one or the other at a time. Lately, I’ve consciously tried to maintain both mindsets, even while painting or writing.
I am simultaneously artist and writer, completely encompassed by both. Though I can’t really comprehend the logic of that, I know that it’s true and it feels right, and I am learning to embody both at all times, in everything I do.
Embody who and what you are, and live authentically.
College graduation wasn’t as delightful as I’d hoped. I didn’t expect much and looking back I probably should have just had them mail my diploma, but I think I wanted some sort of recognition for the four years and thousands of dollars I sunk into this degree that left me with little in the way of actual life skills. Earlier that semester, I got bored in an art history class so I made a list of useful things I knew. I then highlighted the ones I’d learned in school.
Feeling “Ripped off” doesn’t cover it.
Soon after graduation, I discovered the concept of unschooling. It’s hard to define, but basically unschooling is letting our natural learning instincts drive our education. Instead of forcing ourselves through school, we can let interests naturally develop and we will learn what we need in order to accomplish our goals. The heavens open and a ray of sunlight fell across my computer screen and I knew I’d struck gold.
I decided to give this unschooling thing a try and let my intuitive drive to learn lead the way. What did I do?
I read a ton of blogs.
Went for a lot of walks.
Watched a season of Supernatural.
Freaked out because I was supposed to be a learning machine now, but I was just wasting time!
Or was I?
My unschooling resources mentioned “deschooling”, which is basically a recovery period. My brain was taking a much-needed rest, but even though I didn’t seem to be doing much, I later realized that I was learning!
Learning doesn’t always look like it does in a classroom. It doesn’t require textbooks or three-ring binders or hard metal desks. I learned all kinds of things from blogs and I researched topics that interested me. My brain sucked up info from everything around me whether it was books, tv, things I observed on my walks, and things I noticed happening in my mind and body now that I allowed them to run free.
So I urge you to take some time and let your mind loose. See the value in everything you do, even if it feels like you’re wasting time.