Friday, August 04, 2006

Rattiness, Rat Expertise and other things

Ravyn has posted an animated avatar from the now (infamous?) Rattiness that introduced my Guest of Honor program. It’s right here: Lisa in a Rat Suit

If you’d like to see the rest of the rattiness, what Gene Wolfe had to say, Neil Gaiman reading new stories, Peter S. Beagle in concert, and panels with all the guests, you’ll be very happy to know there is a DVD now available. The price for the two-disc set is $20 ---I’m not sure about shipping---and can be ordered Monday on the Balticon site.
I’ll post a link then, but here’s your ‘heads up.’If you can’t hold out until then, you can email Dr.Gandalf at

It’s very likely I’ll be getting together with Debbie Ducommun, elsewise known as “The Rat Lady.” Rat Fan Club She currently has 16 pet rats, has written books on caring for pet rats and is actively involved in changing how people view rats as companions. I’m looking forward to meeting her and will keep you posted.

I got an email from a young man I met at Balticon. I gave him some thoughts, which included things to consider, but didn’t include an answer. I did,mention that readers of my journal have a lot of experience between them and offered to post his question here. He happily accepted:

I am having a tough time deciding what to do right now in my life. I am a painter, I love drawing, but I am most passionately a sculptor. This is what I want to do. I have taken classes at my local community college for two years, have shown many of my sculptures there and have even had a piece purchased by the school. I applied to both the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, NY, and the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn NY. Pratt was the only one to offer me scholarships, so I chose to go there. I realize I will have to take out $50,000 in loans. Do you think this is wise? Is it worth it to go to a school of supposed high quality to learn of sculpture and pursue a career of such renowned poverty And pay such high loans? I love sculpture and nothing feels better than creating, the school is supposed to be one of the best and it is in New York which is all very exciting and cool. But I am fearful that it may not be worth it if I go and also I am afraid that I won't learn enough or be successful if I don't. Or maybe I should study something else and do art as a hobby?

I’m happy to say I am now re-entering the creative zone. As usual, I’ll show you what I find there. I'll drink more orange juice in the studio, listen to more music and feel more like I do in there than I do out here, even underwater. Which reminds me. Time to go.



Neon said...

I agree with Tom, if you really love something you should follow your dream. I work in the arts and I've had to take out student loans to go to university but now I have a job doing something I love- yes, i am very poor but I know I would feel crushed if I did something else just for the money. I have found that following my dreams has put me in fates hands and fate has a way of working things out for you if you follow your heart. Good luck! and let us know how you get on!

Carl V. Anderson said...

Going more to the heart of the question, do you need an education to succeed artistically? I am all for higher education but I am always interested in hearing what artists have to say about school. There are many success stories on both sides of the fence. Many artists have gotten higher education and feel they have benefited. Many have not, were 'self-taught', and are equally successful. I agree with the thoughts above about doing what you love as that is highly important to true happiness and success but I think you need to talk with advisors whose opinions you trust and follow your gut instincts on this one. When I buy art it doesn't matter to me if it comes from a person with a degree or not so if you feel school will make you a better artist then its probably worth the money. If you're going because you have the idea that having an education somehow makes you more respectable then I would have to say you might want to rethink this.

ivenotime said...

Like Tom, I also teach - sculpture, ceramics, and beginning art at our local college, and I am a sculptor. However, this was not my first career path - I received my BFA in 2003, and it was seriously the best day of my life. I wasn't allowed to study art in my late teens and twenties, and I knuckled under to family pressure. I spent a fair number of years as a systems analyst/computer programmer for enginneering firms. Miserably, I might add. I earned a good living, but it wasn't happy or satisfying. Due to a series of family events, I was able to go back to school part-time in 1997, and with the encouragement of my instructors, developed the career I have now. The only regret I have is lost years. You seem to know what you want- go and do it, don't wait, I am sure you will have the time of your life. Pratt is supposed to be a great school!!! It is true you do not necessarily need higher ed to become an artist - it's more about desire and plenty of hard work. School however, is the best place to play and experiment with more materials, methods, and techniques than you can possibly develop privately. You can really explore and decide what type of sculptor you want to be, and what type of materials speak to you the most. If you are set on a specific method and material already, this might not be as necessary, but I was like a kid in a candy shop, couldn't wait to explore it all. One thing you might look into if you are just beginning college and have no credits - many private schools are very good about accepting credits from other institutions, like a local community college. If your degree requires 60 hours of liberal arts, English, math, etc., some of these courses could be taken at a much cheaper rate. Check with Pratt on this. Best of luck to you and keep us posted.

Derek Ash said...

I could just say something stupid and leave. Like I always do.

But here's the thing.

I am a person who is filled with regret. I am a person so filled up with regret, and anger, and depression, and sorrow, and fear, and then topped off with a bit more regret, that I can't just piss this chance away.


If you love your art then fuck "hobby'.

Make it your life. I don't know if you need to spend 50,000 to do that, honestly. I just don't. Maybe you need to learn more about the ideas behind art in order to better your own. Or maybe you don't. Maybe you just need to learn about yourself, and your own art, and where it comes from. But don't let anybody elses's judgements decide for you.

If you love what you are doing then God Damn it DO IT. Be poor all you want, and still make art. Go to school all you want and still make art. Work another job but STILL MAKE ART.

Because if you don't, you will be filled up with nothing but regret, and anger, and fear, and sorrow. And this is the only life you get to make your art in.

I am fighting for myself, and I hope at some point I win. I am fighting a job I hate, and relationships that I am terrible at maintaining, and I want to make myself into some sort of strong, functional person who does the things that he loves. There was once a time in my life that all I cared about was writing, and improving myself. I made poor choices, and pissed away chances, and did nothing to help myself.

I'm married to a woman I love, and have a daughter I love... but I don't have the other things I wanted out of life. I haven't worked hard enough to deserve them yet, but I could have saved myself a lot of time and trouble if I'd gone with what I was passionate about in the first place. Personally, I don't think I needed to go to school to follow those dreams. I think I just needed to DO what it was I wanted to do. Maybe I needed school to learn that discipline. I don't know.

But the first thing you need to put out of your mind that DOING ANYTHING OTHER THAN WHAT YOU LOVE IS AN OPTION. Even if you have to do something else at first to make that possible. Life is hard, and doing what we love instead of just what we need to do to survive is even hearder.

Your real decision is whether or not you have the commitment to make it happen regardless of your next step.

ivenotime said...

Duh, I reread your letter to Lisa, and you have already done the community college stint - my apologies for being in error - I was reading what the others posted as comments and decided to comment, but it had been a good couple hours since I had read the original post. I hope you decide to pursue your art as a career regardless of whether you choose additional schooling or not. I wish you the very best of luck.

vandaluna said...

To Lisa's Postee:

I have an MFA from Pratt and student loans. I was offered a free ride to LSU's art school. My opinion, fwiw, is do not accumulate student loans.

Oooohhh...but having said that, I would not trade my time at Pratt for anything, but that is not for it art value. I still have dreams of Pratt and Murder Avenue (Myrtle Avenue). New York is its own reward but that has little to do with art.

If it is art you are after, go where you can get the best deal.

vandaluna said...


Pratt is riding on its reputation.

Lord Daecabhir said...

I think RRNN put it rather more passionately than I ever could. So heed the words of those who took a path that lead away from the things that truly meant something to them, and the regret that they have felt. Those for whom the creative fires burn so brightly will not find happiness until they are allowed to focus their hearts and souls on bringing those things that they see and feel "to life" regardless of the medium. No money will ever be a balm to one who does not do the thing that they love.

As for which art school, you must have done some amount of research to select such a small pool of schools in the first place. Something about Pratt must have spoken to you, made you feel that somehow attending Pratt would help you grow significantly as and artist. That is perhaps something else you need to cultivate, and that is trusting your instincts... something had to make you put Pratt on your list, and judging from your statements I don't think it is because of the name (I was kind of hoping to see Vanda post here, since she is a graduate of Pratt).

If you truly feel in your heart of hearts that you will only be happy if you can pursue your art, then do it. If you believe that formal instruction from the caliber of teachers available at Pratt will help you take your art to a level otherwise not possible, then do it. And above all, don't look at it solely as going into debt to the tune of $50,000... look at it as making a sizable investment in your current and future happiness by providing yourself with the opportunity to truly pursue that which means the most to you.

Lord Daecabhir said...

Drat, that wench got in while I was in the midst of my soliloquy. Listen to Vandaluna, she knows from which she speaks...

Anonymous said...

Wow! Thank you all for such passionate and awesome advice. I have decided to go to Pratt for a semester at least and check it out firsthand. I agree that there are many benefits with a quality institutional education that will help me grow as an artist better than other routes. I am really excited to experience the NY energy and to become immersed in the enviroment an art school offers. I know Pratt is not the best school and is overpriced and it has been a huge hassle to me so far by losing everything I have sent them and more, but I hope to transfer to another school after this semester, perhaps SVA. Being in Pratt, near these other schools, will help me do better research and become familiar with the people who can get me scholarships.
I had decided to go to the community college here in MD another semester and try to get into SVA with scholarships in the spring. But I realised I feel very strongly that I should go to Pratt this semester, even if it is not the logical choice. Pratt is terribly disorganized and the faculty and studios are hit and miss, but it should have some cool teachers and students and the experience will be worth it. Plus it is one of the roomiest sculpture facilities in the scrunched NY city ecosystem.
Whichever happens I cannot help but live and channel art and I will have fun and learn and do well. For now though I am happy I listened to my intuition and will be off to a cool new enviroment. Your comments are amazing, thank you for your help and inspiration!

K said...

I'm kind of late in the game, but... what RRNN said. I'm about to go back to college myself, in order to get a qualification so I can do better in a profession I really like, but which isn't what I really wanted (and still want) to do with my life. But I've boxed myself in, because I have a mortgage and a husband whose health can't be depended upon, and the days of heedless freedom are over. (This sounds like a melodramatic novel, but it's true.)

So go for sculpture. Give it all you've got before you settle for something else and begin to accumulate responsibilities and bills to pay. It could happen sooner than you think - I'm only 26...

Mimi said...

Am quite late to the party -- don't have too much to add to what everybody's been saying, but here are some thoughts anyway.

I think of school as an artificial environment in the sense that where else would you be able to focus on your subject (in this case being sculpture), put amongst instructors and students to interact with and learn from (you'll learn a lot from your peers, seriously), and spend most of your energy growing in your craft/concept/understanding of that art? If you want that kind of environment, then school is for you. It's accelerated growth in some senses. Only thing is don't expect school to spoon feed you. The fact that you're in Pratt or SVA or RISD or whatever doesn't guarantee anything. Take control of your own experience and education, don't just automatically default to the prescribed curriculum, go after the instructors you want to learn from, talk to them outside of class, etc..

What you fear about finances is valid -- freelance artists need a bit of time and energy to build up their career/business before they can solely rely on their art alone as a source of income, especially if you're a fine artist (working the gallery circuit). Maybe you'll have to work another job as you build up your portfolio. As long as you can accept and prepare for that, I think that's fine. ($50,000 is debt, but if that's all you're going into for 4 years/8 semesters, it sounds like you got a sizable scholarship?) One more thing about school -- don't just learn about the art, try to learn about the business too, if you intend to live on your art. Talent is a factor, but it's nothing if you can't deal with the business end of art.

Also, remember that you don't need a degree or a license to do art. There are as many artists who are self taught or learned through apprenticeship or other means as there are ones who have gotten formal art education. If you feel that art school isn't for you, you can stop any time, and still continue to do art. Or sometimes people have a plan, e.g. I really only want to learn this chunk of things, I'll gear my classes towards getting this done, and I'm leaving after 6 semesters.

Anyway, best of luck on everything, Christopher. Hope you'll enjoy New York and Pratt!

-- Mimi, with a photo BFA

Derek Ash said...

Sorry Lisa... that's a really cool rat-dance avatar.

Where'd you learn those smoove moves?