May 20, 2009

On Being an Art Major at a Liberal Arts College

University of Dayton Campus Puzzle Map  |  16" x 9.5"  |  Prismacolor on Paper  |  $280 on Etsy

Note: This story has nothing to do with the drawing; please go to the Etsy link above to read more about the piece.

When I started high school, I headed directly to the Arts table and and drooled over all of the available classes for incoming freshman.  My high school, Sacred Heart Academy, had an excellent art program called the 5-year program (the 5th year was the after school AP Painting class).  My dad didn't let me sign up.  I had to get my "important" classes out of the way.

Once Junior year rolled around, I had space in my schedule and signed up for the "first year" art class.  I rocked it.  I won every first place award at the art show at the end of the year.  Senior year was a dream come true:  I had so much room in my schedule that I took at least 8 art classes (we were on a semester system).  Life was good.

Like every other high school senior, I was trying to decide What I Want To Be When I Grow Up.  I knew I wanted to do something art related, but I hated the idea of an art school.  I pictured people with dyed black hair sitting around cafes bullshitting about religion, philosophy, and politics while smoking cigarettes and sipping espressos.  Not my scene.

Graphic Design made a lot of sense for me.  I was good with computers (self proclaimed computer nerd) AND it involved art.  I managed to get on the University of Dayton's mailing list, and I liked the sound of their Visual Communication Design program.  I could take painting, drawing, color theory, design... for SCHOOL?  Awesome.

After a year, I switched to Illustration and started to hone my style.  But most of all, I worked my ass off getting good grades in all of the liberal arts classes that were required.  I partied on the weekends and hung out with people who liked to watch movies, play foosball, make stupid jokes, and listen to good music.  I graduated Magna Cum Laude with an award for Most Outstanding Senior in Visual Communication Design, won awards for my paintings, and entered the real world feeling confident about the future.

It took a trip to the Illustration Academy three years later for me to realize the kind of competition that was out there.  Suddenly, I wasn't an artist, I was just someone who was good at drawing.  Fortunately, I learned more there in a week than I did while getting my BFA.  Since then, I have been able to apply that knowledge in every piece of artwork I have made, and I consider myself an artist through and through.

I have always wondered how things would have turned out had I signed up for the 5-year program at SHA.  Would I have gone to an "artsy-fartsy" school?  Maybe on scholarship?  Would I have received a more art-intense education, entered the world of illustration doing full page assignments for Rolling Stone right off the bat? Maybe, maybe not.  I'm not trying to be dramatic - I wouldn't trade my experience at UD for anything.  I will never forget late nights in the painting studio laughing with my girlfriends, or warm spring days sitting out on a porch drinking Milwaukee's Best Light, or lazy afternoons lounging on the "Grassy Knoll" between classes.  Maybe I didn't get an intense art education, but I got a great education and had a great time.  Period.

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