Art School Is Not A Wank

The other day, there was a discussion about unusual turn-offs on a message board that I frequent. Almost everyone listed “education” as a turn-on, but then someone countered with “but if you met a guy who was really smart and read a lot but hadn’t gone to college, would you date him?” This got me thinking about my two different college experiences and what I’d learned from each of them.

I don’t think I really learned much in Music Business school. I learned a lot about sound recording techniques, analog vs. digital, and compression levels, but (aside from being able to hook up your stereo and emasculate your boyfriend) I don’t find that I use that in my everyday life. The “business” part of that degree taught me little outside of the realm of how to write a paper, and maybe a little something about the importance of showing up on time and meeting a deadline. Seeing as how my high school English teachers were all Nazis and my parents have never been late for anything in their lives, I pretty much already knew that stuff. After college, I wasn’t prepared to do anything but wave my degree around and type, so I took my 64 thousand dollar degree and went into data entry. Maybe I’d have made that money back if I hadn’t abandoned sound engineering, but still.

After a couple years in data entry, I went back to school. My time at Watkins cost me half at much as my time at Belmont, but it was so much more worth it. A lot of people think that design school is just about learning a bunch of software. That IS part of it, but there’s a lot more. Shall we?

1. Sit down, verbalize, and visualize abstract ideas.
You’d be amazed at how many people don’t know how to do this. You start thinking about feelings or abstract concepts and your brain just locks up and you end up with a tidal wave of crazy. In art school, you have to be able to sit down and summarize why you did the piece that you did. In English. You have to be able to defend and explain your work to people.

2. Be OK with you.
So much of one’s art comes from one’s own experiences. If you spend all of your time indicting yourself for things you can’t change, you’re never going to get anywhere. You learn that everything that you do, everything that happens to you, makes you who you are. You learn from your mistakes, and that makes you better and unique. You could be saner, prettier, richer, whatever-er, but then you’d be someone else, producing completely different work. Sometimes the only original thing that you can be is you because everybody else is already doing “not you.”

3. Failure is sometimes the most important thing you can do.
Failure, and learning how and why you failed, is how you learn. Success is great, but success is just the payoff. It’s the reward that makes the trip worth the trouble. Nobody ever evolved as a human from always being told that they’re wonderful.

4. Taking criticism is important (long as it’s valid criticism)
Though one former employer would disagree with me, I’m actually pretty good at taking constructive criticism (note the use of the word “constructive”). My editor at ReGen told me this when he disagreed with one of my reviews. I countered with “well, here’s why I think that…” when he was apparently expecting “fuck you!” We can disagree all day long and that’s fine, but when you don’t listen or try to take away my voice, you truly meet the (evil) side.

5. Pay attention.
A lot of people cruise through life not thinking very hard about anything. While that apparently works for those people (who are usually really happy), you can’t get away with that in art school. In order to have inspiration, you have to pay attention, which may be why artists are always so pissy. As a fortune cookie fortune on my fridge says, “discontent is the first step of a man or a nation.” When I stop being mad, that’s when I’ve truly given up. As long as I’m still pissed, that means I still think the situation can be fixed. Rage is good! (Don’t tell my shrink I said that.)

6. Very few situations have a “right” answer.
In business school it’s all about knowing the question and spewing forth the right answer. People need to believe that right and wrong are black and white because shades of gray are a lot hard to encapsulate into a sound bite. The trouble is that reality IS grayscale. Even Hitler had at least ONE good point. Art school is like boot camp for this kind of thought, and oversimplification usually gets called out pretty quickly.

7. Sometimes an F is the best grade.
If you’ve heard your teacher’s criticism, but you still feel like you’ve made your point the best way, sometimes you have to say “I believe in this…if the ship goes down, I’ll go with it.” It’s not about selling out what you think just to get a better grade. At the end of the day, your portfolio is YOURS and you have to be willing to defend it, and “I did that cause the teacher told me to” isn’t going to cut it.

See? It’s not just about wanking around and drawing pretty pictures. It’s hard. Business school was just about memorizing things and taking notes, but art school was about really thinking. That is not “wanking around.”