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Fool for school

January 22, 2002

I always knew, since I was about ten years old, that I wanted to be an artist. I don't think anyone ever told me there were actual careers in art like graphic design, so I figured I'd be a painter or sculptor and pretty much just starve to death. I was fine with that, though.

 

When I was young I was pretty romantic I guess; and everyone told me what a great artist I'd make. As far as I knew I had no real aptitude for anything else. I loved reading and writing and the language arts, but again, I guess I had no idea what creative-type careers were available to me within those fields. My brother was "the smart one", even though my grades were fine (except in math, where they fluctuated wildly) and I enjoyed school for the most part, except during the ages where school is just a petri dish for social skills. I wasn't one of the more popular amoebae.

 

When I was a junior in high school, I rather surprisingly and with as little effort as possible was inducted into CSF, the California Scholarship Federation. Within CSF there were career-oriented programs which were largely unavailable to other students at my school. So one day I was pulled from my classes and taken to the cafeteria for a career aptitude test. The rather remarkable result of the long multiple-choice questionnaire was essentially, "Susan Jennings should be very happy with a career in the arts. We recommend Photography." Imagine that. I hadn't yet taken up camera at that point, but I was flattered they thought I'd be good at it.

 

Coming from a family of well-educated people, some rather eminent, and knowing I wanted to continue my own education, I always planned to go to college someplace and study something... I just didn't know the details. So I decided to start out at Ventura College, one of the local city colleges which was recognized as having an exceptional art program and sending its grads off to a variety of universities and private schools to further their art studies. I never thought of it as some sort of college cop-out; I took my studies there very seriously. But I ended up staying for four years, which is just silly. I didn't mean to... the last two years I had sent in applications for advanced-standing transfer to Cal State Long Beach, one of two Southern California universities possessing reputable art programs. Each time, CSULB either lost my application or accepted me into the program and failed to notify me.

 

I'm sure I had also become way too comfortable there at VC, making my way as I did through every class in art and design, and exploring stuff I'd developed interest in like English literature and philosophy. In my four years at a two-year school, I very thoroughly completed my college foundation, earned my Associate's degree in Graphic Design, and in the process built a pretty impressive design portfolio; so it wasn't all bad. I finally got my ass in gear and called up CSULB to ask what the deal was when they failed to respond to my application for the third time. I will never forget the impressively incompetent bureaucratic systems implemented by public education institutions, and exemplified by CSULB. But in retrospect I think I was nervous about moving away to university, being on my own, and being a little fish in a mighty big pond. Ultimately though, it happened; and finally in the fall of 1989 I moved to Long Beach and began classes.

 

The university system at that time, under governor George Deukmejian, was profoundly lacking funding and was understaffed and overpopulated. It was nearly impossible to get into all the classes I needed to complete the design program I was in, so to fill in my schedule I studied stuff that interested me like metaphysics (which I didn't finish but Plato's "The Cave" sure blew my mind) and world theatre history, which focused on Dadaism, Futurism, and other wacky 20th century stuff. I studied design and art and photography too; but overall I was unimpressed with the program and with the university itself. I loved university life, truly a universe unto itself - a little city with its own barber shop, two-story bookstore, five-story library, art galleries, and movie theatre - but I disliked the whole fraternity thing, and those stupid kids were always putting up banners for some rush or some sports activity or some social gathering. I thought I'd left all that stuff back in the high school petri dish. I honestly think Ventura-friggin'-college had a more academic environment.

 

"How does this sound," I asked my Grandmother. "I transfer to a private art school with ten times the tuition of Long Beach State, and start over at the beginning in a four-year program?"

 

She though that sounded fine (okay, we, erm, discussed it at length and her rich boyfriend agreed to help pay for it), so after surviving their portfolio review and application process, off I went to Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, where I earned my bachelor's degree in Art over four years.

 

All this has been to explain the math involved in this fact: I went to college for a total of nine years, and only have a bachelor's degree to show for it.

 

Here's another thing I always knew, even after nine years of college: That I would go back one day. So that one day has come! After a seven-year career in graphic design, I've finally gotten it through my head that this is not just a money-making option for the starving artist, or the commercial whoring of myself where photography wasn't paying the bills. I'm newly excited about really passionately pursuing my design career and now I have a new commitment to it - to being a powerful force within a really great agency, maybe even my own. I realize how noncommittal I could be in my past. That word is banished from my vocabulary!

 

So I started looking into some classes at Berkeley Extension, and discovered they have a Certificate Program in graphic design. Further investigation showed, disappointingly, that it was designed for beginners rather than professionals looking to hone their skills. I wanted to be back in a creative environment surrounded by incredibly talented artists and led by renowned professional creative directors, wherein I would get a more thorough understanding of the workings of the business, study branding and corporate identity, and sharpen my existing design skills.

 

After withdrawing from Berkeley Extension I started asking around to see what programs there are in the area with the emphasis on working professionals like myself. It was suggested I take an MFA, which all of a sudden is looking really, really appealing. If I were in Southern California, I'd have a wide choice of schools; but up here I really have no idea of reputation and quality of programs. So I'm still looking. I'm grossed out by the flagrant and deeply cheesy commercial image of Academy of Art College, but at the moment they're looking like one the most viable choices with a grad program claiming emphasis in all the things I'm looking for. We'll see.

 

If Ash and I move to New York (which will happen sometime, but when?) before I start my MFA, I'll have so many more choices!

 

So, that's all I think about these days. Back to School! And now you know the long, boring story of my simultaneous over- and under-education: Three schools, nine years, and only a Bachelor's degree in my pocket.

 

But I know how to make a silkscreen, analyze Renaissance poetry, write a speech, drop the odd German philosopher's name, and, you know... other useful stuff.

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