Huddled in the back corner of the quad at Illinois State University is the fine art complex. The Center for Performing Arts, the Center for Visual Arts, and Centennial Hall make up this cluster of buildings awaiting desperate renovation. Asbestos lofts through the air within the ceilings. Within these walls are students stressing in a different way than a majority of other students at ISU.
Fine art majors at universities go through a different kind of evaluation than that of business, education, STEM, or communication majors. For them, creating art is their passion, such that they want to live with their passion, rather than treat it as a hobby. Despite the constant negative stigma student artists receive, they push through.
There have been countless occurrences of students dropping out of art school or changing majors due to a negative stigma thrown toward studying art at a university level – or at a public university.
“A few times in my life my parents told me I should be looking for a ‘real job’ something ‘9-5,’” recent graduate Amanda Weygand said, “I tried to explain how that just is not who I am.” Amanda graduated in Spring 2018 from the School of Art with a studio art degree focusing on photography. Now, months after her graduation, she owns her own art gallery in Ottawa, ILL., and has already lined up a handful of exhibitions.
Weygand originally attended Columbia College Chicago, a highly-renowned college for fine art across the country. “It just wasn’t for me,” she said. Fine art specific colleges often have large classes of brooding artists, locking the students in to their art-filled world, ironically preventing much progress and creating an overly-competitive environment.
Student artists at a public university not known for its College of Fine Art allows students to collaborate more, to create art together in a low-competition environment. These students recognize that they can’t go about this alone. Surviving the battering of degradation from the masses has become the norm for art students. Many of these students are in the same general education classes, or student organizations, or jobs as their counterparts in other majors.
“There was no such thing as balance,” said Carleigh Gray, who graduated from the School of Communication with a degree in mass media and a minor in photography, “when you immerse yourself in your art…into your life, they become intertwined.”
Being an artist is hard these days and being an art student is even harder. Beyond college, there are artists and content creators everywhere you look. There is a never-ending sea of competition in the “real world,” where in university, that competition is turned into collaboration. In college-level art courses, or even just being a student artist not in a college of fine art, there is an art of itself being the feared critique. Where it seems that this fabled “real world” competition is put into simulation.
As a multimedia artist, Weygand uses digital photography and oil paint in her work. “When I started school, the thing that held me back…was not knowing the language to be able to describe what I was seeing,” Weygand said. Critique in art classes is very different from that outside of class. In class, these critiques are like being graded on live television, whereas being critiqued by friends and peers outside of class is much more conversational.
Many musicians in bands at ISU aren’t enrolled in music courses, but their friends and peers turn into their critique group. For musicians, it’s often all about how it sounds to other people, unlike visual artists, who often start with how it looks to themselves.
“I’m my [own] worst critic, and I often don’t show people my work if I’m not 100% proud of it,” said Joe Vargas. Vargas is an arts technology student focusing on music production at ISU.
Being proud of your work is hard as a student. It’s often expected that the artist should hate their work, and if they don’t hate their work, they’re “full of themselves” or “elitist.” The curse of going to an art school is the feeling that your work will never be good enough.
“Personal growth is something artists should always keep an eye on,” said Rachel Anderson, a senior painting and art education major at ISU, “people who don’t understand art…don’t get a say on what you’ve accomplished. I’ve improved so much since freshman year…and that’s enough.” Senior art majors often begin to develop what is referred to as their “artistic voice” around this time in their academic career.
Through it all, with their final projects, artist statements, and critiques, art majors don’t go through more stress, but rather a different kind of stress. Even those who aren’t art majors go through it. Art in academia is something often frowned upon, but these students make it something to be proud of.