Thursday, March 31, 2011

Don't Tell Me This is Easy

When I inform people that I am studying art, I typically receive one of two reactions. Either they form a mild look of pity on their faces and say "That explains the circles under your eyes" or conversely, they smile, laugh in a somewhat dismissive manner and say "Well, that sounds pretty fun and not too stressful".

Not too stressful.

This completely ignorant phrase is often uttered by those that have clearly never known an art student. Otherwise, they would know better. This phrase also irritates me to no end and I find myself restraining my tongue from lashing the offender to pieces.

Not too stressful.

Granted, I realize that most non-art majors are really only acquainted with the art classes they took their K-12 years. And yes, art class was, for many, a wondrously fun and thrilling  part of the day during those years in which you were allowed to be messy and create and the art teacher was typically some fun form of insane. Art wasn't stressful then. It was all fun and laughs and hanging your latest creation on the fridge and looking forward eagerly to the next class.

I also realize that combined with that generalized background with art classes is a depressing memory by these people of long, sleepless nights at their desk or in a library, writing, studying, cramming, and drinking way too much coffee and smoking way too many cigarettes in an attempt to keep going. I get it, because I've had those nights too. I once had to go 72 straight hours without so much as a cat nap in order to get a 10 page research paper and accompanying 20 minute presentation finished. I was mildly hallucinating by the end of it. I get it. The papers, the exams, the projects, the presentations are all very stressful and require a lot of mental power. And how, from afar, those art majors with their weird clothes, weird hair, cheap smokes, and I-Don't-Give-A-Shit attitudes seem to have it so easy. Three weeks to complete a drawing- no big deal.

No. Wrong. False. Nope.

Being an art student is hard. I have friends who have had friends previously who also studied art and they look at my constantly frazzled state and say "I am so glad I am not you". They get why art students always look like shit. Because, you see, we also have those exams, those projects, those papers and those presentations to do. But we also have our pieces that we have to complete with very tight deadlines. It takes a lot of time and physical effort into creating even a simple pencil drawing; much less an oil painting, a sculpture of any kind, a print, or a constructed piece. I also have a job. I also live in an apartment with chores that need doing. I also have friends, family, and Significant Other who wish to physically see me every once in a while in order to ascertain I'm not dead.

I recently told a friend of mine a rough run-down of my day-to-day schedule. I am in class from approximately Noon to about 9 o'clock at night. Three nights of the week, I also have lab hours in the print studio from 9pm until 2:30/3 in the morning. I also work about 16 hours a week, at night (my job hours are from 8pm to 4am, and I work typically work on the nights I am not in the studio). I also have other homework, like drawings for my figure class, papers, projects (I am currently creating a children's book for a children's literature class), novels to read for multiple classes, and exams to study for. And errands. And chores at home. And I am expected to attend museum exhibits and gallery openings and artist talks in the area. At the end of the run-down, my friend asked "When do you sleep?" The answer: I don't.

Being an art student is incredibly stressful. It is very physically demanding. There is a lot of physical work involved in printmaking, sculpture, painting, and even drawing. Drawing for two and a half hours straight (the standard length of my art classes) is a physically exhausting task. Your body hurts afterward. And that is just for the art classes. That doesn't include the general classes we also have to take.

Am I memorizing formulas or researching Chaucer or running experiments with cells in a lab? No. But the fact that "all you do is draw" as an art student does not make it an easy or joke of a major. My roommates often go days without seeing me. I am nearly constantly working on something.

I say this because it needs to be said. I had a coworker try to tell me how fun/easy my major must be, after I hadn't slept in nearly 3 days, hadn't showered for a week, and was running on only 2 small meals a day. I don't need pity or sympathy; I love what I do. I wouldn't do it otherwise. It wouldn't be worth the aches, the pains, the lack of sleep, the terrible hygiene at times if I didn't love art and didn't love what I do. I wouldn't be willing to work around highly toxic chemicals and solvents, nearly guaranteeing I get cancer later in life.

Last night was the first full night of sleep I have had in a week. My body is a mess right now and everything hurts. I physically could not get up for my first class this morning- my arms and legs just would not support my weight. Significant Other has been looking at me like I could keel over at any second. I live with the exhaustion because art is my passion in life and it is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I truly believe that a world without art is not a world I would want to live in.

Art is stressful. Art is hard. Art is demanding and unforgiving. It is not easy.

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