to my fellow graduates
Delivered to the class of 2019, winter University of Maryland art and art history graduates:
“To my friends and family whom I didn’t tell I was speaking at today’s commencement: surprise!
To my fellow graduates: congratulations!
To my faculty, professors, advisors and supervisors: thank you!
I guess Andy Warhol was right. Everyone is famous for 15-minutes, and this will be my abridged rendition of that statement.
I want to begin by acknowledging that there are a lot of stereotypes about art school. I think there’s an expectation that all of us dye our hair pink, join drum circles and actually claim to understand modern art. We’re thought to be the kids doodling on our hands with Sharpies or tie dying t-shirts in our dorm rooms.
Beyond that, it probably looks like art majors just spend their time sitting under the shade of maple trees, practicing figure drawing in their sketchbooks. It probably seems like we peacefully paint canvases for five hours every week and then go home to a warm cup of tea.
But all of us here today know the reality of what it means to go to art school.
It means late nights, running out of supplies at the most inopportune times, recklessly cutting foam core with dull X-acto knives. It means making a deck of a hundred Renaissance paintings in preparation for an exam. It means constantly arguing with yourself as your harshest critic; fighting every urge of perfectionism.
Another assumption made about art school is one that suggests that it’s unnecessary; that you either have the creative gifting or you don’t, and you can’t learn to be an artist. It may surprise you that I agree, partly. I don’t think that you learn to be an artist, but rather that if you put in enough dedication to the craft like we all have, you become one in the process.
In art school, we learned more than color theory. We learned more than composition. We learned more than how to use power tools, how to properly flood a silkscreen or how to navigate the deep dark depths of Photoshop. We learned more than Dada, Impressionism or The Guerilla Girls.
In art school, we learned to work under pressure. We learned how to channel our creative muses at 3 AM before a 9 AM deadline. We learned how to receive criticism, to gracefully embrace vulnerability. We learned to accept failure, to experiment, to leap out of our comfort zones when necessary.
Most importantly, still, in art school, we learned what inspires us as individuals. We learned about our personal tastes and styles. We learned about our niches. All this is to say that in art school, we learned about what it means to be authentically ourselves and how we imprint our personality onto the world.
Once, a talented friend of mine was asked what the longest amount of time was that she’d spent on a single art project.
This particular friend dabbled in many mediums here at UMD. She painted, collaged, drew and sculpted. But still, she thought for a moment, and then said that her longest piece was 20 years in the making, and it wasn’t even finished yet. In case my sly attempt at storytelling was unclear, my friend was saying that she, herself, was her greatest art project.
I think this mentality applies to each of us in this room, because whether we may have realized it or not, all the time we’d spent on sculptures, illustrations and paintings have left more of an imprint on ourselves than our mediums. We wouldn’t be the current versions of ourselves without our artistic education.
Art means something different to each of us, and we each personify it differently. As art students, we may be the “artsy” friend or sibling to those who know us. We may be the ones who go to museums by ourselves because we want quality time with the paintings. We may very well be the ones who recognize typefaces in public and excitedly download them when we get back to our laptops.
Class of 2019, don’t stop being yourself–even if you do enjoy tie dye and drum circles. Don’t discredit your artistic talent or ability to add beauty to the society around you.
Speaking for myself, I for one am encouraged to look out and see that I’m not alone in this artistic journey. I urge you to continue to support and gain wisdom from fellow craftsmen and women, to learn from and appreciate one another, because as Thoreau says, “the world is a canvas to our imagination.”
So let’s paint, draw, print and built on it together.
Feature photo by my Sophomore Year Self