Updated: Apr 20
Today’s article is all about experimentation in school and why it’s the best thing you could ever do. So to start off, I’ll give a little background about why I feel so strongly about this subject. If you look my art now and my art in high school you’d never imagine it was done by the same person, and I don’t just mean the typical cliche of, “oh I’ve gotten so much better, it’s like night and day.” I was a good artist in high school, good at what I did at least, but I went through a total change of subject matter, intent, and material and that can all be credited to the experimentation I did while in school. When I was younger I had an idea of what I wanted to create but I always struggled to materialize it, I couldn’t effortlessly draw cartoons like some kids I knew, I couldn’t just imagine something and put it on the page, I needed some sort of reference. So, since I needed to see something to do it, I got really into doing portraits and that was cool but how much can a portrait really do? This isn’t medieval Europe, we have cameras for one and I certainly wasn’t the best portrait artist out there so my art wasn’t really doing any good. Looking back on it now though I think a lot of the reason I did those portraits, or just drew from what I saw was because it was easy for me, I didn’t have to experiment so the fear of failing wasn’t there. That’s one of the biggest changes that I experienced in art school, I remember declaring my major as fine art and being told I had to take ceramics, sculpture, photo, and so on and I just dreaded it all aside from drawing. That’s what I was good at, why change it, right? No. Wrong.
I remember it clear as day, a drawing 2 critique, and we had a self portrait project due. I remember thinking, “Hell yes! A portrait, time to shine!” I think we all have that selfish notion in our head that we hope everyone else’s piece in crit is worse than ours, so we can be number one. This was my time to be number one. Now, I’m not cynical enough to say that my piece was the best in the class but it was good, and some people struggled with portraits, it’s a hard thing to do but the professor saw right through me. “This comes easy to you, doesn’t it?” she said. I was floored. She didn’t want to just praise me for doing a good portrait she wanted to tell me awesome, you’re good at this one thing, now why not challenge yourself? So that’s what I did, I shut up that stupid voice in my head that groaned at the idea of doing things other than drawing and challenged myself to new experiences. From there I found a passion in large scale sculpture, diving into materials, remodelling and repurposing. I fell in love with the process of printmaking, most notably etching. I started gaining an appreciation and love for all these different processes and styles and suddenly I was unlocking new chambers of my creativity. I didn’t need to look at something in attempts to recreate it anymore, I could do my own things and I credit all that to just saying fuck it and experimenting with different crafts.
So that brings us to the guts of my subject today, I know a lot of artists who didn’t experiment in school, they stuck with what was safe because they were good at it and didn’t go far from it and it’s noticeable. So that’s why I want to challenge all of you to experiment, do something different, don’t just stick with what’s safe. In school we have a lot that we take for granted in facilities, our professors, and the community of artists all experimenting as well and I want to go through and break down why that’s the time to do it and help you reflect on whether or not you’re getting or got the most out of your school experience.
First things first is the facilities that school gives us. Few, if any of us are going to have fully equipped ceramic, sculpture, print, and drawing studios in our lives outside of school so take advantage of them while you can. I would love to be throwing together a massive steel sculpture like I did in school but when you replace a flat studio cost and material with the price of a safe space, material, welder, gas, ventilation, tools, and so on it’s not financially viable anymore. We all have that one place in the studio buildings that we’re afraid to go to or don’t want to work in but we need to break that cycle. Go in there, try it out, what’s the worst that could happen? You may love it if you try it but you may also never have an opportunity to try out that process again if you don’t give it a shot. Failure in school is ok but sometimes people get so terrified of failure they give up on something they have promise in.
That leads me to my next point, which is the professors. Some processes in art are hard, really hard, and trying them out on your own could be really fulfilling but also really frustrating. That’s why those people who teach the class and can give you a ton of technical insight are super awesome, what are they called again? Oh, yeah, professors. In the professional world there isn’t a lot of technical help in nailing down new processes and the criticism of poor craft is all the harsher so take advantage of that help while it’s there. I’ve seen a lot of people get super into a process but give up when it becomes too frustrating or poorly execute a good idea because they didn’t seek technical help and it sucks. There’s not many people willing to help artists figure shit out in the real world so take advantage of the people who do while they’re there.
That brings me to my final point, and that’s the fact that you’re in school surrounded by students who are just as inexperienced as you, trying to figure out where they fit in the art world. It’s easy to get discouraged in school, especially when it’s crit day and you’re feeling confident but then someone rolls in with this bad ass piece and everyone’s jaw hits the floor and that’s all anyone can talk about. But you’ve got to think, that person may have really found themselves in this piece, they may not have known this process, they might have just taken full advantage of the time to experiment, they found their niche. So, keep going and you’ll find yours. We’re all going to fail in school, some things just won’t work out, but that’s the time to fail right? Our livelihood doesn’t depend on a piece in school. It’s all just a collection of artists falling down and getting back up in hopes of finding something they can balance on. Some find that really early on and excel, some it takes a little more time but it will come, so talk to that person who’s killing it about what changed for them, talk to that person who’s struggling about what’s going wrong in your works and how you could strive to improve together. We’re gifted with a network of people who are on the exact same level as us in school and sometimes I think we forget to use that.
In conclusion, I’m not trying to say scrap what you’re good at but I am trying to say go give what you might not be good at a shot, or if you’re forced into an art making situation you’re not thrilled about then give it your all. You never know, you just may love it and it just may totally redefine you as an artist. You’ll never know if you don’t try, so take advantage of every last bit of the facilities and tools that school gives you while you can because you never know what might be right for you and i guarantee you’re going to miss that stuff when you’re gone.