Leaving high school was scary for me. With only an inkling of an idea of what I wanted to do, I knew I had a lot to figure out. I chose a school that was under 20 minutes away from home, which helped ease my transition of leaving the nest and jumping into the college experience.
Nerves aside, I started college full of excitement. I moved into a dorm and was free to do whatever I wanted. As a homebody, I was happy to be close to home, but still separate enough to feel like I was spreading my wings. Like most freshmen who go into college not knowing what they want to major in, I took some standard prerequisite classes.
I started off with psychology and philosophy— subjects I had never actually studied in high school but was always curious about. I also took an art class my first semester, but oddly enough I can’t remember what it was. My guess would be that it was something somewhat generic, a preliminary, 101-type "Intro to" art course to get our little freshmen feet wet before delving into the more in depth, technical art classes.
The combination of art and psychology courses piqued my interest, though it took me three semesters to declare my major. Art Therapy wasn’t a program offered to undergrads, and I decided I didn’t want to be a psychologist (too clinical for me). So, I landed on a major in Fine Arts with a minor in Psychology. It was the perfect combination: 80% creative expression and 20% mental analysis. Plus, I set myself up perfectly with all of the required classes for my school’s Creative Arts Therapy graduate program, just in case I decided to go back to school some day (hello, foreshadowing).
I remember my first day of my first class as an “art major,” my professor ended class with this note: “Next week, we’re going to start painting.”
Um, I’m sorry, paint what? Will there be guidelines? Instructions? I had no idea where to start! I had never been given this type of freedom before, being prompted to paint with no assignment or theme attached to it. My mind was blown, and I think I panicked for a bit. What am I supposed to do?!
Luckily the painting didn’t begin that day, so I had some time to process and figure out how to manage this new artistic freedom. That weekend, I went to the city to see a Wassily Kandinsky exhibit at the Guggenheim Museum. Kandinsky’s style is pretty different than what was, at the time, my artistic taste, largely because there is no real order or structure to it. As a new artist finding her way, structure made me happy. Pieces by Piet Mondrian made me happy because they were orderly and straight-forward; they’re full of squares. You can’t get much more orderly than squares.
Kandinsky’s pieces were dynamic and made me feel scattered, but intrigued at the same time. Walking through the exhibit, I came across a piece called “Development in Brown,” a strange and seemingly out-of-place painting that was almost void of color.
It completely captivated me.
The next week in class, I painted a small, 12” x 16" canvas with overlapping brown squares. I loved it, and so did my professor. I still remember how I felt while creating that piece, starting it full of insecurity and finishing it full of excitement.
That began my real, adult, "college-level" artistic journey.
There is an incredible sense of power that comes with being an artist; you can literally create whatever you want with your materials and never be wrong, because it’s your work. It comes from your hands, your mind, and your creative spirit.
I think this has something to do with why some people don’t consider Fine Arts to be a “real major,” or even further still, don’t consider being an artist a “real career.” There isn’t always a lot of structure or concrete coursework for Fine Arts majors, and for some, that’s hard to understand. But artists do need to take “structured” classes, like Art History for example. Learning equations and formulas from a math textbook is an entirely different type of learning than that of an artist, but that doesn’t make one any more or less valid.
From my perspective, art is freeing and extremely challenging all at once. There’s this balance of taking things in and letting things go that makes for a very dynamic learning experience.
I loved painting. I loved making my own rules, or better yet, not having any rules to follow. It’s a lot like jazz in that way. I was able to explore whatever it was I wanted to, experiment, make mistakes, and learn how to turn them into something I was proud of. I felt untouchable.
Then, as a senior, I was given my own studio (I shared it with someone, but still), which was the most incredible gift I could’ve asked for as a budding artist who was really finding her "voice," so to speak.
In my studio I could leave my supplies out, work on several paintings at once, and make a mess. It was amazing. It was my space, separate from my dorm, separate from my friends. It was a space I could visit any time, even at 1 a.m. when I couldn’t sleep (which I actually did from time to time). My “safe place” expanded once again, from my bedroom, to the art room in school, to my own studio where my art could continue to grow and develop even further, as would my skills and voice as an artist.
I miss that studio. I miss college. And above all else I miss painting.
Now you might be thinking “You can still do that now, can’t you? Paint on your own time, create whenever you want?” In effect, yes, I can, but the truth of the matter is, I don’t.
Lately, I rarely make time for my own art. I don’t have a place that I can designate as my “studio,” so I don’t paint for myself anymore. Being part of an art program and having that studio gave me the freedom to create whenever I wanted. Without those external forces driving me forward, art has started to feel like a chore. That is a horrible feeling.
As an art therapist, I spread the good word of art therapy around to whoever is willing to listen. There are benefits that art can have for our minds, emotions, bodies, and spirits. And yet, I don’t often utilize it for myself.
This has been a struggle for me for quite a while. When I think about it, my response is usually “You’ll get back into it when you’re ready.” I’ve let myself off the hook so far, but it’s time to dig a little deeper…
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