Made by the Girl

Ode to my Alma Mater

Posted on 24 May 2011

What I learned in college.

Attending college in New York City is so completely different than the typical college student's experience. Now take that statement and multiply it by two since I attended an college dedicated to the Arts.

First of all, the majority of students are commuters and "the city is your campus" as the SVA catalog eagerly stated. I did have friends who lived in the dorms–which at SVA–were located in a YMCA. The times I visited or stayed over there after a party or going out--it was college in the typical sense. The music was loud, love lives and love delusions being played out and lots of talk about who we felt we were, where we thought we were going and how much we despised ourselves. Future visions of living in lofts and becoming completely vegan danced around our heads. It all seemed "deep" at the time. It seems extraordinarily typical now.

The path to being an artist is a complicated one. I was a good student academically so I could have easily attended a more traditional college but, I desperately wanted to "push myself away from the dinner table and say 'No more jello for me, Mom!'" In Art School, It wasn't the work that I found hard. I was fairly nimble and could pick things up easily for the most part. It was the intention that was hard. I had this nagging feeling all the time that I was walking through some one else's life. I wasn't a tortured Vincent van Gogh, I was I was a kid from the suburbs who could draw. It was my darkest secret. My burden was that in a world where not belonging made you belong...I did not.

Then something quite amazing happened. José Ortega put up his art for critique. Among all the pieces up on that wall that day, and there were some very talented artists, his stood out like beacon penetrating the fog. I was blown away. I watched him during the critique and in thise few moments I understood something that I now know it takes some people years to grasp.

He is doing what he was meant to do. I was not. It all made sense. It wasn't a heartbreaking epiphany. It was a relief.

I was going to switch my major from Fine Art to Communications. I called my parents and, to my surprise (I laugh at this now) they were thrilled. I now imagine my mother hanging up the phone and telling my father "She's going to get a job someday! We won't have to support her forever! Hurray!"

I went into the school's office to find a swallow-skinned 20 year- old womant sitting behind the desk. Obviously, a work-study participant. She donned a pierced lip, a pierced eyebrow and a tattoo sleeve on her arm. In short, she was who I came to SVA thinking I wanted to be.
       "I want to change my major." I said.

She looked me over deciding she was utterly bored with me.

       "Okay. I'll pull out your stuff, see what you have as credits, what applies, what doesn't." she remarked. Then she rolled her chair to a cabinet, pulling out a form, "Fill it out." she mumbled as she kept her eyes on the computer screen.
As I shuffled through it all she asked. "What are you changing to?"
       "Graphic Design." I said.
She looked at me, lifting her very cool pierced eyebrow and said "Yaeh, I can tell."

Such disdain! I knew what she was really saying was "Go on silly girl! Sell out! Be a part of the machine. You are not tough enough to be a real artist!"

True I didn't have all that meaty family drama to pull my art from. My parents loved me and each other. True I was eighteen and I didn't fully grasp why everyone was calling themselves Buddhists but sill eating MacDonald's. Yes, I liked to purchase clothes from national department stores! But I wasn't some banal teenager, I recently had an epiphany dammit!

I stood there, clad completely in black, and before I even realized it came out of my mouth I said "Yeah, well..I .just don't want to spend my life being a poser."

She lifted her her eyes from the computer screen to looked at me directly. My steely resolution was was not going to be broken.

She turned back to the computer screen and said "No, its that you've got really neat handwriting."