Do you think art school was worthwhile?
Last weekend I was invited back to my alma mater to speak about this topic (this is an excerpt).
It is easy to feel discouraged as a newly minted art graduate. Your degree feels worthless and will not help you get a job. The thing no one tells you, is you will have to use your art degree to create your job and your job will be creating. I firmly believe art school is a place to learn a broad range of skills and has helped me in everything I have taken on since. Yes, it was frustrating and demoralizing at times and perhaps brings out the conflict of the best and the worst in people but, it is because most are doing the hard work of figuring out who they are.
During my time in art school, I studied sculpture and photography. Two areas, for me, very intertwined. And two fields I had no idea I would be using the way I do today.
I completed my undergraduate work in 2003 so, I’ve had a decade or so to reflect on this. The art department where I attended school was a pretty bare bones operation. There were no flashy facilities or state of the art equipment. It was the kind of place that relied on people who wanted to make things. People who wanted to learn and build a community and foster a creative practice. It meant, if there was anything you wanted to do, you had to find a way to do it. That drive is present in many places but, many are missing the key element - a support system to help you do it. For me, it was the faculty and community where I did my undergraduate work. While earning my BFA, I was a single parent, working my way through school and trying to find my life’s work. I had experimented with many areas and ideas but, it was not until I found my way back into the art program, that I started to make sense of who I was and where I wanted to go. I was lucky to have ended up in Tom’s sculpture studio and Peggy’s darkrooms. These two places and people formed me into who I would become and who I am today. The space they each gave me to experiment, to fail, to explore, to yell, to cry, to build, to tear down and to grow is like nothing I have ever experienced since.
After graduate school, I had moved with my husband and daughter from Columbus, Ohio to western Massachusetts. A place rich with beauty and history and an amazing landscape but, no jobs. I was left completely on my own to figure out how I was going to make my way in the world, how we were going to pay rent, eat, keep the lights on. During this time I channeled everything I had learned from art school. There were two key things: work makes work and repetition.
Darkroom photography is a process of doing things over and over and over, obsessing about the tiniest of details. Peggy taught me to see details, to see and understand the subtle things that make something great. To obsess over those details to make your own greatness. You are, quite literally, manipulating molecules to make something magical. This was very formative.
When I am feeling frustrated or being lazy, I inevitably hear one of Tom’s many insightful phrases float up into the forefront of my thoughts. One is, work makes work. This is something I never understood until the work I was doing started to produce the work that was paying me. Which made me very self aware that the work that was paying me never would have happened had the work I was doing, not been done. So, I better keep working.
Moop would never have existed had I not learned how to see the magic of molecules, or how to make something twenty times or twenty hundred times. I learned to pay attention to tiny stitches. To pull them out and do them over. To specify 5/32 of an inch. To adjust a proportion half an inch to not just get it right but, to get it perfect. To write about what I had made. To start a conversation about what I do and what you do and how we do it in order to build a community. To care about the reasons why something exists, to love why it is made a certain way. To commit to a lifestyle that will make you a better participant in the world at large. No, I never learned how to do bookkeeping. But, it didn’t matter, because I learned how to do things. And, that translates into everything (including accounting). I might not have known right away how to run a business but, I learned by doing because that was the process I knew. Understanding and learning that everything around you is made will make you better able to make things. anything.
The culture of art school exposed me to those who were living what they taught and empowered me to build what I have.
So, Moop began with, and is informed by, a foundation in art school. And, it is with this acknowledgment and love for the experience that I want to remind you to take a moment to think about the life you have chosen and wish it a Happy Valentine's Day!
To celebrate Valentine's and everything we love, we've created a special bag that will help to fund a new project we're creating. We're accepting pre-orders now to get things underway. Without you, we could not do any of the things we do so, thanks for helping us build this crazy fun hard working life! These will ship soon and will be perfect for your upcoming spring adventures.