Saturday, February 18, 2012

Okay…So Why DIDN’T You Go To Art School?

In my previous post I mentioned the momentous day upon which I learned of the existence of a school, founded by and named for a legendary comic book artist, which specializes in preparing aspiring artists for careers in comic books and animation, and how it had been my fondest wish to one day be a student there.

But that didn’t end up happening.  In fact, I didn’t go to any sort of art school at all, and I view the fact that I didn’t get any sort of post-secondary art education to serve as a foundation for developing my artistic talents as one of the reasons why I don’t work in a field even remotely connected to art.

So why didn’t I go to art school in general, or the Kubert School in particular?

The answer to the second part of that question is pretty simple and straightforward – New Jersey is a long, long way from Twin Lakes, Michigan, and there was no way that I was going to be able to scrape together the money to move halfway across the country and then somehow manage to pay tuition.

And even if I could have managed that, as a kid from the middle of nowhere with very limited exposure to the larger, more densely-populated world, I was not in any way prepared to venture that far from home.

Does that make me a wimp?  Maybe, but honestly, as smart and as cynical as I was at eighteen, I can’t imagine that I would have done well on my own in a completely alien environment.

And while in hindsight I admit that it’s foolish, my girlfriend was a major consideration in most of the decisions I made back then.  Her post-secondary education options were…considerably more limited than mine, and I wasn’t prepared to abandon her – or try the long-distance relationship thing – so I chose to limit my options as well.

To be clear, I’m not not blaming her – it was my choice, after all – and honestly, I doubt that I would have done things much differently anyway, but she definitely was a factor in my decision-making.

As was the $1,200 per year scholarship I got from the state – provided I went to a state university in Michigan – and the additional assistance I got from another state agency as a result of injuries I sustained in a car accident when I was sixteen.

“Okay…so maybe you couldn’t go to the Kubert School, but didn’t they have an Art program at the university you did attend?”

As a matter of fact, they did.  Further, comic book artist Norm Breyfogle was a graduate of that program, though I didn’t know that until sometime around my sophomore year.

So why didn’t I enroll in that?  Didn’t I even consider it?

As a matter of fact, I did…up until I saw the requirements for enrollment.


At some point when I was a kid, my mom acquired this huge stack of blank newsprint that had been cut down to letter-size sheets.  I don’t remember where she got it - from the newspaper, I imagine, though I don't really remember the “why” of it - but we used it around the house for years as scrap paper, and, for me, as drawing paper.  It was thin and fragile and gray, and not exactly an ideal medium for artwork, but it was what we had, with the exception of the art supplies my older brother – who had gotten a degree in Commercial Art* before joining the Navy – had left behind.

Later in life, I worked on typing paper.

We didn’t have a lot of money to throw around on things like art supplies.  Not, at least, if I wanted to keep reading comic books, and there wasn’t much of anything that could have gotten me to give those up.

The high school I graduated from was not actually accredited by the state, and did not offer AP classes, foreign language classes, a proper library, or, most significantly, art classes.

Enrollment in an art program required a portfolio, with work in an assortment of media.  If I had gone to a high school that had art classes, I might have been able to assemble a portfolio at some point.

But I didn’t go to such a school, so somehow I doubt that a handful of drawings on newsprint and typing paper that consisted mostly of reproductions of heavy metal album or Conan novel covers and images from comic books, and a few poorly-executed “original” images would have passed muster.

Hell, even the boring, lifeless oil and acrylic paintings I had done in my grade school “art” classes, which were, based on our instructors view of what constituted art, limited to reproductions of saccharine postcard images, had been lost in the house fire we had in my freshman year of high school, so I didn’t even have those to present as part of a “portfolio.”

You may find yourself thinking that none of that matters, that if I’d had enough grit and determination (and pluck and spunk and …) I could have overcome those obstacles.  That smacks of the just world fallacy to me, but even if it’s true, and not a philosophical fallacy…well, I didn’t have those things.  Whether it was a matter of willingness or ability is kind of irrelevant.

And ultimately, the fact is, by the time I was at a point in my life at which I could make the decision to go to to art school, I didn’t really want to go anymore.  Justified or not, I didn’t have confidence in my talent.  I didn’t believe that it was something I could really make a go of, something that would ever be anything more than a hobby.  By that time I had considerably more confidence in my writing ability, and I decided that, between the two, pursuing writing was more likely – if only by a very narrow margin – to provide me some options if and when the time came that I had to abandon any hope of a life of creative pursuits in favor of something more pragmatic.

So I guess that’s what it boils down to:  simple pragmatism won out over hope.

If that sounds depressing, it’s because it is, and you begin to understand why it bothers me so much when people, with the intent of complimenting me upon seeing my artwork, say things like, “Why are you working here?”

*My brother went to a different high school than I did, one that did have art classes.  In fact, Norm Breyfogle was a contemporary of my brother, and had attended a rival high school.  The two of them were often competitors in local art competitions.

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