The Secret

Point A to B

                                                       Getting from point A to B.

People pursuing creative careers often look up to the very successful for guidance on what to do. Creative careers don’t have the benefit of a rigid, structured career path, which is part of the draw of them. The freedom! The independence! But the main disadvantage of that is, of course, that it can sometimes feel like all your efforts are leading nowhere, or not in the right direction, or to something you don’t really want (or, maybe you’re not even completely sure what you want in the first place.)

Feeling directionless is not pleasant, especially when you look around at your peers and see them all in their structured, cushy jobs while you’re still trying to nurture an art career. At least if you want to be a doctor, there’s a way to figure out EXACTLY what you need to do to get there (not that actually BECOMING one isn’t hard, but at least you get a road map.) Artists don’t get a road map. There is no one, formulaic, way to become a successful artist. And that fact can sometimes be refreshing, oftentimes maddening.

I would take any opportunity to ask successful people in my field the question: any advice? What should I do? And they pretty much always say the same thing- just keep on making work. Okay. I would get so frustrated with this answer, because I felt like they were deliberately keeping some secret from me. I wanted to shake them and say “but what should I really DO! JUST FREAKIN’ TELL ME THE SECRET!” That answer is frustrating because it negates the idealistic fantasy that there is some sort of “secret formula” for success. That you can just gather the right ingredients, cook it under the right conditions, and BAM!, you have success gumbo.

So I’ve started to realize and accept this fact. It’s a scary thing to accept as a young, aspiring artist because it means accepting that you’ll have to go out and make a lot of calls for yourself, and that you will have to trust yourself to make said calls. Not crumbling when you make a bad one is where the “keep making work” advice kicks in. Gathering the strength to keep going, despite failure, or hopelessness, is really what “keep making work,” means. Although it’s no secret formula, it is great, valuable advice.

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BFA Blues

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I  very recently graduated with my BFA, and I must say, I have some mixed feelings about it. Part of me obviously feels really great to have graduated and to be done. Another, strong, part of me really didn’t want to leave.

Art school is a very nurturing environment. In my case, I had even secured a shared studio space with some friends for my senior year. We had a keurig in there and everything! My professors would visit and give impromptu critiques on what I was doing! I could take a painting straight from class to my studio space for more attention!  It was great. And I even had a life-affirming experience there on Spring break. My solo painting show (that I’ve already posted about!) was happening right after break, so that was truly the cutoff point to finish any paintings. So, I ended up driving down to the studio just about every day of what was supposed to be my vacation like it was my job- coming in in the morning, leaving in the evening. I remember driving there- to my studio, to work on my paintings, and feeling like “this is it. this is the feeling I want to have every day of my life.” And now I’ve moved out and graduated and it feels like all of that is gone. It feels like I spent all this time building something over 4 years and now I have to start all over.

We art students are human. We feel all the time the subtle (and rudely unsubtle) disapproval from others for daring to pursue a creative degree (apparently, to them, universities are just glorified vocational schools.) But in the supportive environment of art school, you get positive affirmation every day from fellow students, mentors, and professors. You have an (albeit insular) place where you belong and are appreciated. Then, you graduate and  it can feel like you’ve been cast out of Eden or something.

Then I snap out of feeling sorry for myself and realize that this uneasiness is pretty natural for recent grads. It’s natural that, after four years of structured schedules and assignments and being surrounded by people literally being paid to help you, being spit out into the world where we have such an abundance of freedom can feel overwhelming. I now have to find my own place in my art community and eke out a career for myself and that means putting myself out there without my professors standing beside me. And that’s scary. But that’s okay. Looking back, every positive change that I’ve gone through started with me feeling at least a bit uncomfortable in the beginning. And that’s what this is: a beginning. I think I and other grads should take comfort in the fact that this uncomfortable feeling, like all things, will eventually pass as we settle into lives of our own creation.

My First Solo Show!

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This is a belated post, since the event in question happened back in March… but, this semester I passed a milestone in my career- I had my first solo exhibition! I had to apply for it and everything! It was certainly one of the more challenging things I’ve ever done. Certainly just making a body of work that was both large, cohesive, and of enough quality was a challenge, but so was doing the multitude of smaller tasks associated with the show. Choosing a font for wall vinyls and ordering them, printing postcards, sending invites and trying to get press, and installing the show all took a toll and tested my patience at times. But the show went up and I celebrated. I definitely hope that this is truly just the beginning of many more in the future.

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The show took place at ASU’s swanky new Step Gallery, located in Downtown Phoenix!

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If you want to take a closer look at the pieces in my show, as well as the artist  statement for the work, be sure to check out my new (independent domain!) website: megankoth.com !

 

It’s What YOU Make of it

Lets just say that sometime in the recent past, I saw a really, really terrible senior show at my school. Just terrible. And these were seniors. People who had, presumably, been here for four or so years honing their craft, diligently listening to professors and peer criticisms and suggestions. I was baffled. How could this be all they have to show? This is their “cream of the crop?” And it dawned on me that some people are just completely and utterly unwilling to learn. Militantly resistant, even. Unfortunately, I see this all too often in the weird world of BFA pursuers.

One often overlooked quality that makes a creative degree uniquely challenging is in how lofty its value can be. Being on the cusp of graduating myself with a BFA, I’m tempted to compare the act of pursuing this degree to say, deciding to backpack through Europe for a few years, to “find myself.” Now, I’m not saying this in a derisive way, but only to make the point that the value of this thing that an art degree is is not just contingent on showing up and doing what needs to be done, acquiring easily defined skills in the process to list on some resume- but in “what I make of it,” as cliche as that sounds. Just as someone could trudge through Europe with a closed-minded attitude and end up wasting four years, someone could similarly trudge through art school for the same amount of time, emerging no more capable of producing even decent artwork than when they arrived.

Basically, the biggest demand in the successful acquisition of an art degree is in being internally motivated- motivated to learn less fun and more academic things like perspective, anatomy,  replicating objects and the human figure from life (NOT PHOTOGRAPHS OMG,) and in delving into mediums and subjects unfamiliar to you. In order to succeed as an artist, you have to be motivated enough to learn the stuff you don’t like, because ultimately, at least some of that stuff is gonna make executing the stuff you do like to make a whole lot easier (or even just slightly more possible.) In fact, what you like making may be kind of boring, actually, because it’s 1. stuff you feel comfortable doing for a reason, and 2. stuff you’re making with very little art historical context/life experience behind it. For instance, I used to really hate still life. Thought it was dumb, because all I’d been exposed to were weird, dark, Renaissance-era paintings of fruit and dead chickens:

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Sorry, but I’ve always found paintings like this to be super tacky. But then I was exposed to Wayne Thiebaud, and all was right with the world:

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My point obviously being: I changed. As a result of going to school, allowing myself to be exposed to new things, I changed a really myopic view (more like bias) of mine for the better. And I’ve made a myriad of other positive changes as well. I’ve become a much better figure painter/drawer, not without struggle, mind you. I somehow learned to like watercolor. And I’m really proud to say that I feel that I’ve successfully befriended all of the studio professors I’ve had. And some students just don’t seem willing to do that. They go to every critique as if ready for battle. They see any honest attempts at criticism as personal attacks, undoubtedly feeding into their own self-constructed persecution narrative. “They just don’t understand my ART!” They’ll think. I had a classmate in a figure painting class once express frustration during a critique that he was “sick of being objective!” i.e. he was sick of being expected to paint what he actually saw in real life. He wanted to paint these crazy fantastical scenes and put in fairy girls or whatever. But you know what makes painting a kick-ass fairy nymph a whole lot easier? knowing how to paint an actual human girl accurately first. And he clearly was not there yet.  I see so many people like this- students who want to skip squares one, two, and three all the way to four. These are people who take some sort of weird pride in resisting internal change. Like they’re some rebel defying the evil institution and professors encouraging such things as personal growth and artistic development. They somehow have twisted their own immaturity into an achievement.

Look, we’ve all had slumps. The thing with relying so much on being internally motivated to better yourself and your craft is that it can be draining. And sometimes I find myself closing off to criticism that I really need to hear. But the thing is, I eventually reflect, and realize I should listen to that advice, and I move on. And my work gets better in the process, adding value to my education.  Unfortunately, some make the mistake of letting that “slump” last all of four years, ending up  not only wasting the time of their classmates, professors, and loved ones, but their own. At least they’ll likely have some sizable student loan debt to keep them company.