October 26, 2022

How I failed out of art school (part 2)

[You can read pt 1 here]

The thing is, my art-school overconfidence was not without reason. I was one of three people awarded a big art scholarship to attend this school and be part of their art program. I was chosen based on the strength of an all photography portfolio and invited into a program where I wouldn’t be able to take a photography class for another year or two. In that in-between time, I would have to take drawing, painting and sculpture classes–all disciplines I had zero experience with. Unfortunately, it didn’t instill me with an attitude for curiosity and learning and openness. I felt like I had to aggressively hide my inexperience. I went with fake it till you make it approach, but I was always one the faking it and never on the making it side. 

After this visual literacy class ended for the semester, I got a crushing letter from the department chair saying I wasn’t doing well enough to stay in the program and keep my scholarship. I felt like I had worked as hard as I could and I was still being told I shouldn’t be there and I should recalibrate my entire future career plans. 

[I’d like to point out I could have stayed in college even if I had lost my scholarship. I had the luxury of options and the scholarship was helpful, but it wasn’t the only reason I was there.]

Soon after this disaster, I found the most perfect loophole to this situation–an art history major! I fell in love with the subject matter and my professor was the most fascinating person I had ever met (I mean she had been a curator at the MFA in Boston, taught at Yale, AND was a nun? Fascinating, I tell you!). As soon as I realized I could switch majors and keep my art scholarship, I got the absolute fuck out of the studio art program. 

A portrait I created of my incredible professor, advisor, coach, editor, and cheerleader Dr. Susanna Caroselli

I definitely felt like I wasn’t good enough to be there, because frankly, I wasn’t good enough to be there. It was a bad fit. I did not expect to be weeded out and to quit so soon. I thought I would be better. I didn’t know how to ask for help. I didn’t know to look for a coach instead of a boss. 

Obviously I ended up making it as a photographer, I knew I could do it and I knew I would do it.

It wasn’t the path I expected it to be. Looking back, it’s so clear that the traditional art major path was never for me. I never would have made it through that program given where I was at creatively and technically and how little I was able to ask for help. 

I’ve carried that feeling of looking around the room and thinking ‘I’m not really supposed to be here’ and ‘everyone is way better at this than me’ for a long time. 14 years to be exact. It’s still hard to walk into a group of creatives and not immediately evaluate where I stand in the talent/success competition. 

I’m now doing what I wish I could have done in school– ask for help. Put in work even when I’m bad at something. Cultivate confidence in where I’m going. 

Luckily I found where I wasn’t supposed to be, and that led me to where I belonged. 

The Pantheon in Rome, taken during my 2010 study abroad semester

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