What my Fine Arts degree taught me

Viv (2013), performance

Since I've started my degree in history, I have been asked: "Why?" Because "it's just so different." When I presented my practice to a sculpture class at Concordia earlier this year, someone asked me if I saw any links between my past studies in studio arts and my current ones in history. I said yes, but I couldn't exactly describe why. All I could remember was an anecdote from a reading in my methodology course: historians were asked what should be saved and put in the archives, to which one responded "EVERYTHING!" I feel that artists and historians are similar in that way. At least I am, and I always have been. But it's been coming up again and again recently. So I've realized that my previous degree left me with a lot of useful tools besides my collection of paintbrushes, pencils and knick-knacks (because, SAVE EVERYTHING).

1. HOW TO TALK ABOUT AND DEFEND MY WORK. Yes, studying art was fun. But no, it wasn't just fun. It was a lot of hard work, and we didn't spend class time fooling around (although we did sometimes). Studio classes weren't only about filling up your sketchbook or portfolio. We had to share this work. In other words, you took this thing that you had been working on for weeks or months, tried to display as well as possible in our sometimes awkward facilities, and talked about it. What was it? Where did it come from? Why was it presented in that way? You spoke about your process, your reasoning, your desire to explore certain mediums or techniques. And why, in the end, does it even matter.

2. HOW TO ACCEPT CRITICISM, AND PUT IT TO GOOD USE. These presentations, so lovingly known as crits (critiques), were a little rough sometimes. As you can imagine, they often involved criticism. As you can also imagine, when you have worked on something for so long and it's finally complete, the last thing you want to hear is: "You should maybe revisit your choice of [colour/technique/material/display/everything in general because it makes no sense]." These moments could be emotionally draining. When I think back, I can still feel the sense of anxiety and doubt as I would set up my pieces before class started. But I handled it, and a lot of times these crits went very well because I learned how to talk about my work and how to understand criticism as advice. Advice, as you know, is just a suggestion and you decide how to put it to good use. Which brings me to point 3...

3. NOT EVERYONE WILL GET YOU. Not everyone likes Taylor Swift. Some people hate her music, some love it. Some love two or three songs and think the rest are garbage. Some used to love her and now they don't. Some people say they hate Taylor Swift but secretly belt out her songs in their car on the way to school. Your work won't be everyone's cup of tea, and that's fine. As long as you keep an open mind, I think it's alright to not be on everyone's list of favourite things.

4.COLLABORATION IS GOOD, AND ASKING FOR HELP IS OK. My dad always used to joke that his name should be on my degree because of all the times he helped me turn my crazy ideas into reality. About 100% of my projects would not have been possible without collaboration. Sometimes this meant that people physically helped me do something, but a lot of the times it meant that someone was there to discuss with me. Professors, friends, classmates... we bounced ideas off each other throughout the entire creation process. When I look back at my least successful crit, it was for a piece that I hardly thought or spoke about: it remained as an idea, never blossoming into anything beyond that even when it was done. I've realized that I am someone who likes to do things myself, but I learned that sometimes I have to ask for help. Doing that doesn't make you any less successful. In fact, doing that means you have a strong support system.

5. FAILING: IT'S ALSO OK. "If at first you don't succeed, try, try, try again." And again. And again. And it won't be the end of you in any way whatsoever. I once used one canvas for three paintings. I would finish one, hate it, gesso it and start again. It didn't ruin my life or anything. Did you hear that? Failing did not ruin my life. It won't ruin yours either.

6. MISTAKES CAN BE MIRACLES. I have proof of this. My first semester in studio arts, I had to take an entry-level drawing class. Although I enjoy drawing, I really don't enjoy drawing classes. At all. They stress me out. Of course, I enrolled for the class with the most critical prof. She was obsessed with "mark-making." So she hated smudging/blending. Instead, she wanted to see marks (lines, crosshatching, dots, even scribbles). Although I disliked it at the time, this class really taught me to let loose. The same goes for writing essays: you need to accept that you won't always follow the outline you had planned. Sometimes your greatest ideas will come while writing, and you will have to change your direction a little. And sometimes, letting loose ends up being the difference between average work and above-average work.

7. HOW TO LET GO. Art taught me to accept when it's time to move on - to other ideas, to new bodies of work, new themes, new pieces. It also taught me how to let go of old ideas and old work. This can mean making changes to my work, even something as simple as erasing part of a drawing. It can be just as hard as finishing an essay and realizing that half of it is not strong enough. The last thing you want to do is erase and start over. The last thing you want to do after researching for months is realize that you don't have enough information to start and finish a convincing, well-argued essay before the deadline. But sometimes you have to. So cry and then get back to work. Or cry while doing your work, as I've done many times.

#art #thoughts #school #university #finearts #artistorian

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