BFA Blues

Created with Microsoft Fresh Paint

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.

On Being Brave for Critiques

Well, it’s that time of year again- final exams. If you’re an art major, some of your final exams aren’t really traditional, scantron/essay exams- they’re submissions of final portfolios- the culmination of your work for the past semester. With that, comes final critiques. Critiques can be pretty scary sometimes. Putting your work up for all to see, after nursing it alone in your studio, toiling away at it for hours upon hours, can be pretty daunting.

not to mention the horrible stools we have to sit on for 3 hours.

I used to hate critiques back in high school. And not because I didn’t want anybody to say anything negative about my work, but because everyone kind of didn’t ever really care about saying anything helpful. Everyone just kind of “meh”-ed through it. Or people would say the most inoffensive comments possible, like “I like the way you did the eyes” or “the tree looks cool,” of just the dreaded “I like it.” I still kind of hear this in college- I guess old habits die hard. I think in college people tend to be afraid of offending more than their being apathetic. But that’s why critiques take bravery- both in giving and receiving a critique. It takes guts to tell a peer that something is just not working about their piece- especially if you know and respect them and know how much of them they put into it. And you, as the artist, have to stop yourself from getting defensive and trying to BS your way around something that you really should consider and improve upon.

It also, of course, takes guts to put something out there that you think is wonderful and awesome and amazing and have it picked apart by others you feel haven’t given it the consideration you have. However, over the years I’ve gotten pretty good at taking these criticisms for what they are- as they’re usually helpful advice from people who respect your work enough to want it to get better. And to me, that shows a whole lot more respect to me than someone just giving my painting a cursory glance and saying “I like it.”