You’re going to spend a lot of money.
At the beginning of every semester, at the beginning of each new class, you will receive a materials list. You will receive a syllabus. Your wallet will become a husk for your hopes and dreams. You’ll think you need more paint than you do. You’ll buy too many pencils. You’ll buy too much charcoal. Stock up on paper probably, but don’t try to get it all in one shot. Get the stuff you think you’ll need for the first few weeks, and let the rest slide until you need it. You can make a trip to the store the weekend before. The midnight madness sales are fun, but you don’t save that much, they’re busy, and the impulse buys will destroy you. Brushes are sooooo expensive, you don’t even know. It’s a niche market of picky people, so yeah, they’re going to drag you over the coals. Don’t cheap out on your materials though. Try a few different types of the same thing, and see which one works best for you. Sometimes struggling with crap materials can make you miserable, make you look bad and can make doing your work harder than it needs to be.
Sidenote on materials: If you let running out of white charcoal stop you from finishing a drawing, meeting a deadline or making a grade to make a GPA to meet a scholarship: Beg, borrow or (don’t really but the cliché fits,) steal some white charcoal to make it happen. That drawing is the most important thing. It has to be, why else are you spending time at a 4 year institution drawing nudes and going to war with modernism/clement Greenberg/post-modernism? So suck it up. Draw the thing. You’ll be glad you did. Or make an excuse in front of a steadfast practitioner in whose hands lies your fate, and he may reach into a drawer and give you some white charcoal to shut you up. But don't rely on this, professionals have limited patience when it comes to plucky young idiots in white t-shirts.
You don’t know what you don’t know.
Enthusiasm is great, but FFS follow the directions, you're being graded.
Tom Sachs says, “Creativity is the enemy.” Also checkout, 10 Bullets, by Tom Sachs, (from whose studio I would be quickly fired, probably.) You don’t get to do what you want, how you want to do it - at least not at the beginning. Whatever habits or style you have cultivated up to this point in your life is wrong. It has contributed to your acceptance to this institution, but they chose you because they saw ability that could be molded into something serviceable, you were good raw material. So, calm down. Take the instructions. Temper your enthusiasm with humility. If you are presented with something completely foreign to you, accept that it’s only foreign because you don’t know it yet. It is not necessarily wrong, and you lack the credibility or experience to make that call yet. Also, you’re there to learn, so suck it up and give it a shot. If somebody tells you to do a self-portrait, for instance, don’t do the metaphorical thing, you’re not there yet. Find an interesting way to draw yourself, by actually drawing yourself, because that’s the point of the exercise. That’s what they’ll be talking about in class. And you’ll look like a dope during the critique if you don't, (sophomore year was rough.) Do what you want. Eventually. But I recommend learning a process first, it'll help you make more informed decisions about your own tendencies and style.
You are learning how to observe. You are learning a process of revision, evaluation and iteration.
Or I think you should be. You will be exhausted all the time. The level of activity you will spend observing will be intense. And I think it should be. You're rewiring your brain. You're LEARNING STUFF. If you're learning how to be a “contemporary artist,” you're learning about what's trendy. And if you're learning that, you're not learning about Art writ-large. It's up to you to decide, but I would consider a program geared towards observational work. Working from life teaches you how to see, how to evaluate your own tendencies and cultivates objectivity about the resultant drawing or painting or sculpture or whatever. You will learn to embrace the uncertainty and figure stuff out.
For instance sometimes I think performance art is just really shitty theatre, or made up ritualistic exercises in determining what you can get away with to express an idea that if you really wanted to talk about it, it might've been better just to write an essay. Or make a movie. Or start a cult.
I feel the same way about installation work sometimes. If the work has to be supported by a mountain of text does the work do enough on its own? Is the experience meant to be a sensory one? Is it meant to overwhelm with beauty and splendor? Disney World is an art installation. Maybe installations are just kind of really crappy theme-parks? Sometimes I think they're media made-up to be poor imitations or more deliberately commercial enterprises. Are artists statements just a sales tool cooked up by the establishment so that elitists can feel like they have one over on the uncultured masses? Or is it an essay meant to endear someone to your work? I know I hate writing them. Look at the work. See if it does something. Read the title.
I've got opinions and questions, lots of 'em. Know why I have them? Because I learned to observe, to think, to re-organize that information and to turn it forward by drawing crumpled paper tacked to a wall for 3 weeks.
Your work has to do on its own that which you will say it does, without you having to say it does it.
This is an imprecise way of saying, “Sincerity has no value.” I stole that line from 101 Things You Learn in Art School. It's a great little book. But, no matter how much “heart and soul” or time or money you put into a thing in art school, if it sucks it sucks, (Art-star douchebags, Hurst, Koons et al not withstanding.) And sometimes you won’t know it until somebody else tells you. This thing you make has got to do the thing you think it does without you there to direct the way for the people viewing it to think about it. Artists statements are ok, (refer to previous bullet point) but once you let that thing you made out into the world, it's open season. If it sucks, a friend or family might hold back, but nobody else will. You can't please everybody all the time, and punching people in the face is illegal. Make good work that does what you want it to do.
Get ready for contradiction, complication and downright hypocrisy.
A teacher will tell you a rule one day then refute it the next. Maybe they're tired of your shit. Maybe they really believe it. You may never know but you'll probably figure out that both of the things they said are true. Two opposite but related truths can coexist and both be right. It's all about causality, and here's where hanging with Philosophy, English and Classics majors gets really fun. So get in there, mix it up, don't be dogmatic, and baste yourself in the savory juices of pluralistic ecstasy. Which is to say, “learn to hold two or more thoughts in your head at the same time.” It's not a step-by-step, singular path to completing a drawing or painting or sculpture, it's more of an advancing loop, like life.
If you don't learn to fail, you will fail to learn.
Calm down. Don't worry so much about making a great piece of art. It will become apparent when that is important. Focus on learning how to do things. Gather skills, tools, materials, experiences and ideas. Those are the things that you won't get anywhere else. Think about it the way you think about language; think about how you feel when you go to write an e-mail to someone. Good writers have a big vocabulary to help them out of a jam, to clarify, to articulate. Not every sentence is an opportunity to embellish. And most peoples first few novels, or essays or blog posts are a bit crap, but the more practice you get using the components of these finished products, applying ideas and proficiencies in a meaningful way, the better the result will be. Focus on the process, not the result. You'll be happier, feel more accomplished and ultimately have more intimate knowledge than you thought, because you weren't always looking at the goal post.
A wise woman once told me, “If you're alive now, and making art now, you are a contemporary artist.” No philosophical inquiry or aesthetic trend makes you less contemporary, factors beyond your control make you of your time. So learn the old processes. Learn what works. As this all strains through your brain, whatever comes out will be you. Same lady told me she could teach us everything she knew, and we still couldn't do what she does. Sounds mean, but it isn't. She meant that we each have a unique perspective that is refined through learning, not altered or destroyed. That shit takes time though.
If during the course of your drawing class, you notice your professor starts to phone in their instruction to you, if they softball you, or they start to ghost you: Shut up. You’re being a dick. Ask me how I know this.
Connections and friendships are important:
College, as I learned too late, is about making connections. There are alumni magazines for a reason. Be nice to people. I know. It's hard. But this is America, and here people are nice. It'll help you later on. Nobody cares if you do a really good job, or how skilled you are if you're difficult. They'll find a reason to push you away, or out the door. Your calls will not be returned. I didn't realize that. This ain't no meritocracy! Nothing is straightforward and honest! #goodvibeseveryday, - hashtags by the way, I just... can't earnestly bring myself to use, #earnest #articulate you will never see - will get you by, or so I've heard.
Only tenured professors, deans and distinguished alumni get to be moody. If you have to be rude, do so politely. Feed 'em a compliment sandwich and go scream into a pillow. “But art school is the place for weirdos,” I can hear you saying. Nowhere is the place for weirdos. I know because I am one. Do what you can with this information.
Go forth and draw ... or something!
While this was probably not informative, I do hope you were at the very least entertained. If you want to buy something I've made, or send me a snarky e-mail you can hit the contact tab and fill out the form. Nobody's done that yet, so hey, take a chance. Be the first.