I attended The Studio Arts Company in New York for my high school education. I was thrilled when I was accepted. I received a scholarship and without it I’d never been able to go. My mother was a drug addict and my father was a cruel asshole while my siblings and I had grown accustomed to hand me downs and skipping meals.
I remember how terrified I was the day I asked my mother to sign the papers. I applied on my own but needed a parent’s signature.
She signed the papers.
I’d no longer be attending a traditional public school. I spent the next four years living inside a world of creativity where general studies were a back burner event boiling over with “just do it and get it over with already.” It was the first time I embraced the value of my self worth. It gave me something to grab hold of outside of a torturous home environment, and provided me with an outlet for suppressed emotions.
I felt special. I felt proud. I submitted the journals I buried my writing and sketches in when hiding in my bedroom, trying to escape my home life.
My instructor, David Ross, was tough and some days I hated him but he was also amazing and fun. Some days I loved him. He believed in us and cheered us on. He scolded us when he knew we could do better.
He was tunnel focused on my ability to create art. He opened my eyes to the value of relationships. I learned how to strengthen my bond with classmates while working in collaboration. He forced us to work together regardless of how we felt about one another. We discovered the skills we each brought to the table when working on a collaborative piece.
Mr. Ross pushed me to fail so I would succeed.
Critique was scheduled on Wednesday mornings. The first month was silent. There were two dozen students sitting in the gallery. On the fourth week Mr. Ross spoke up.
He stood, slammed his hands on the desk and shouted, “Critique the damn piece, already. You want to be artists. Speak!”
He believed, in order for us to be the best we needed to be able to comprehend the work of others, to see as its true meaning and not visual presentation.
He threw us out of the gallery that day. We went back to the studio with our heads down in silence and shame.
Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. — Edgar Degas
I was given all the materials I needed to create freely, and to a female. minority growing up in Queens, this made me feel invincible and fed my hunger pangs. There was no pressure, or constraints. Assigned monthly projects were to be completed in our medium of choice. The remainder of our studio time was spent on creating what we wanted and these are the pieces we’d bring into the gallery each week for critique.
Although I was only in my teen years at the time I felt I grew as an artist and person.
With each brush stroke, color swatch and charcoal contrast, I transformed into my own creation. By senior year I had evolved into the artist I hoped I could be four years prior when I applied.
When I struggled with artist block I’d write about my perception of the world around me. I’d create with my words until I was able to speak in color again. I still struggle with finding the creative energy to do both and is the reason why I keep my writing and sketches in one journal.
“If I could say it in words there would be no reason to paint.” — Edward Hopper
Art is essential for the human spirit. Art in all its forms color the world and is a savior during times when we need to feel but can’t.
Art is survival. It nourishes my mind and my soul. It shows me strength and weakness. It sheds light on the beauty surrounding me.
Art makes me think. It exercises my critical thinking skills. I search for meaning and purpose in my own work and the work of others.
Art takes me places. I travel to far off lands. I envision the sunset. I stand on mountain tops. I contemplate the universe. I experience new cultures.
Art is a part of my history. It’s a time stamp and a memory just the same as a photograph. It’s a memoir of happy times and dark days. It’s the past, present and future.
I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn’t say any other way — things I had no words for.- Georgia O’Keeffe
Art education is valuable. This is the most important knowledge I gained during those years. It’s freedom of our uniqueness and at the same time, our contribution to the world.
Art has no definition, it comes in many forms. Writing, visual and preforming arts are the foundation for all artistic narrative. Artists of any and all forms are creators.
Over the course of the four years I attended The Studio Arts Company students came and went but there were six core students who remained from freshman year until graduation. I was one of them.
When Mr. Ross passed away, twenty six years after graduation, the six of us created our final collaborative piece but this time in his memory.
Today I create for myself and for you, because of him.