I began this year a seventeen year old, freshly graduated and having the art experience of one high school sculpture class under my belt. Art had been a fundamental part of my being since I was young, I’d always loved to draw and paint and spent many summers making pottery with my grandmother. However, it had never been anything I manifested in my educational career. I spent all of high school focused on my math and science classes, meeting with my English teacher to write after school, studying for standardized tests, convinced that I was making preparation for my ideal life. I’d have to maintain a 4.2 gpa in order to get into an academically prestigious school from which I would graduate, move on to work a well-paying job and therefore be satisfied with my life.
I had sent in my application to the dual degree Lang/Parsons program without any expectation of being accepted, given that my art portfolio consisted of one of my U.S. history finals, a flower printed plate I’d made years ago and some paintings I’d done the week before the application was due. When I received the email that the decisions were in, I shakily opened the letter and immediately burst into tears once I realized I’d been accepted. In that moment I saw the possibility for a different kind of life than I had ever imagined for myself. I realized that my view of educational success was one that had been imprinted on me not through my personal desires but through some social paradigm that was not my own. I was terrified to let go of my previous plan for myself and the notion that that was the only way I could be successful. However throughout my first year here I’ve come to see that this was the only option there ever was for me. Manifesting and developing my creative abilities while simultaneously continuing my academic career has been by far the most enriching and growth-provoking journey I’ve yet had the opportunity to experience.
I was aware from the beginning of the year that the drastic shift in my academic and personal surroundings would be unsettling, but I could not have predicted the ways in which this would provoke my most valuable work. I began my classes within the mindset that I had spent all of highschool, which was to complete each of my assignments in such a way that fulfilled the requirements and met my own standard but required the least amount of effort. This is not to say that I didn’t put effort into my work, I have always held myself to a very high standard of quality when it comes to my school work and I found that I was doing surprisingly well in my art classes despite the empty feeling that my work was leaving me with. I didn’t understand why I felt such dissatisfaction when it came to my pieces, I was putting ample time into each project and exercising what felt like proper effort. With the building pressure of being away from home and being separated from my closest friends, I found myself incredibly unhappy in the first few months of this school year.
It wasn’t until I realized that I needed to let go of everything I thought I knew about the right way to do my work that I finally started to see how I could be fulfilled instead of frustrated by my classes. The shedding of my old mindset and routine was an incredibly painful process, I had put so much emphasis on my work ethic as a leading principle in my personal value and I felt almost as though I was hanging onto my old work paradigm as a dangling thread of who I used to be at home.
At a certain point I realized that for the sake of my well being I needed to shift, if not completely reshape the standards I held myself to in terms of my work. I began paying less attention to the specific requirements of projects, and instead started looking at them as a prompt for creative thinking. I started to use my work as a way to physically manifest the ideas and feelings I was experiencing, and pushed myself to explore new ways of doing so. Utilizing the school’s many facilities and learning new mediums like plaster, woodworking, acrylic, and sewing, I found my entire life becoming more enriching as a result of pushing myself to my highest creative potential.
I also found that the work in my classes began to communicate with each other, beginning to weave into a single narrative that was my educational and creative journey. My objects as history class last semester pushed me to think critically about the background and context of my work and others, and allowed me to see how art and culture exist within each other. This made me consider each piece I made much more carefully, as I began to think about what role I wanted to play as an artist and how I wanted my work to translate to and effect the world around me. This semester specifically, I found my seminar work starting to inform my work in other classes. As I researched sustainable consumerism, I became more interested in sustainable materials and utilizing those materials to create as little waste as possible. The readings that I was assigned in this class provoked my thinking for other classes and introduced me to eras of work that helped propel my creativity and break away from what I previously had learned about art throughout history.
I learned over and over again that the more I immersed myself into my art and dug deep into researching the kind of work I wanted to create, the more fulfilling and successful my pieces were. I found that the academic work I had focused on in high school could help me to propel my creative work, as I realized that my writing and sculpture classes had more to do with each other than I had ever imagined. The peak of the lesson that was this year was realizing that what I had loved so much about my academics in high school didn’t take away from my creative side, and that they could actually propel and inform my creativity.
While each project from this year represents a critical lesson learned, there are two works that I feel reflect my best work and epitomize the peaks of my learning.
The first of these projects was my final for my Integrative Studio I class. This project was the first for which I felt I utilized my full creative capacity. I began by creating an audio portrait based on my mother, whom I chose to base the project off of because I feel most connected and inspired by her in my day to day life. I started working on the audio portrait by asking my dad about her favorite songs throughout her life and by looking through old interviews by her when she was young. This process in my project provided me with immense inspiration as I felt deeply connected to my mother’s words and the music that I remembered hearing her play as a child. From there I began to think about translating the portrait into a physical form. I knew that I wanted to create an installation that would take up an entire room, but I didn’t know how I was going to execute this using the small funds that I had for the project. I went to Blick to look at materials, and found thick mirrored paper which I decided I would use to reflect light throughout the whole room. I pasted it on four thick poster boards which I set up in a semi-circle in front of a projector so that the light from the projector would reflect onto the walls and ceiling of the whole room. The final product was a combination of the audio portrait and the reflected projection of an interview of my mom when she was young. Seeing this vision realized in a room was one of the first times I’d ever felt truly proud of a project, and I was excited to have materialized my respect and love for my mother.
The second project that I consider a highlight of this year is my final for the constructive sketching class I took this semester. This class overall has been one where I’ve found myself particularly engaged with the teacher and the curriculum, as I was ecstatic to learn the different types of perspective drawing and how I could use them to create more graphic pieces and accurately represent objects in space. For my final, I created a three point perspective drawing using the techniques that I had learned in class. I then brought this drawing into illustrator and traced the lines I had made using the pen tool. I then brought in different textured images and used them to color the shapes in my drawing. I distorted the images so that they looked accurate in a 3D space, and used a background image of outer space in which I placed the collection of objects. This project is the one that I am visually most excited about over any other I’ve created this year. I feel as though during the process of creating it I left behind any apprehension or attachment to what I wanted the final project to look like and let it formulate on its own through each step of the process. The final project is a representation of my personal style through 3D shapes, and falls in line with the kind of work that I’d like to make in my professional career.
Although my projects this year are a physical manifestation of the lessons I’ve learned, I feel that the value of what I’ve accumulated throughout this year is not in the things I’ve made but rather the shifts I have experienced in my own ways of thinking, my views on life, and my vision for myself in the future. This upcoming fall I’m planning on taking a leave of absence for two semesters to further pursue this kind of personal growth. I’ve received a job opportunity which I have accepted with the aim of finding out who I am when I’m not in school, something I haven’t experienced since I was a very small child. Even though I won’t be in school, I absolutely do not intend to pause my education as I know that I will continue to learn important lessons about myself and who I am as an artist through pushing myself into new and uncomfortable settings. I believe that this next year is an opportunity to see myself in my adult life and to discover what exactly I want to achieve and how I want to affect the world and people around me. I also know that after my two semesters off I will be able to fully appreciate and take hold of the opportunities that this school offers and utilize them to work towards a more focused vision of my future.