A Message to Fine Arts Undergrads: Creating Community in Diversity
So begins the journey into an unknown, but familiar future. The last semester at a university bounces you between dizzying visions of success and failure, and if you are like me, memories of working a terrible non work-study job to make ends meet. You do not have to be a genius to recognize that a Fine Arts degree is not going to necessarily make you a success. In reality, it is probably not good for a lot, unless it has given you the time to become a master painter or composer (the same thing you will likely be working towards in graduate school). For us Cinematic Arts kids (those of us you probably did not even know we had a building on campus or at least part of one) education is mostly an internal experience. We are like the rest of the Fine Arts department in this way. We are taught critical thought, how to internalize our own processes, meet deadlines and use a semicolon correctly (oh God, did I miss one?). How does it apply to the real world though? What is that all about? Well, I am here to help you.
People will tell you that school is all about community. However, by the time you are two-plus years into your undergraduate degree, you will start to wonder if such a community ever existed. Perhaps you will try the various societies around campus that often do little, if anything at all. I recently posted on Facebook to one such group: “What is it you guys do exactly?” I have yet to receive a response. There also seems to be a lack of foresight in departments interacting with their students. With all the bellyaching about budget cuts and new business models departments are forced to deal with, they miss out on the most cost effective and useful thing to students: socialization with their peers. When is the last time your department had an event where faculty and students could just hang out and talk? If the budget allowed, you could even have some splendid fruit punch or Kool-Aid. My message to you is don’t wait for that to happen. University is a bureaucratic echo chamber. Your department has probably been talking about such an event for the last four years. Grab the coolest kids you know from your classes and do it yourself (maybe you can get your favorite professors to take part).
I will not list all the staff who did not respond to my emails during my efforts to coerce departmental cooperation (you know who you are, Costuming). An email response takes twenty seconds; my frustration lasts a lifetime. Anyway, let me give you some other great advice: try to not get frustrated and do whatever you can to seek helpful people out. Post on every Listserv and bulletin board on campus, bang on professors’ doors (especially when they ignore email) and find people with similar interests. Slug line: “artsy academic seeks gorgeous, vivacious brain for steamy intellectual pursuits.” My best education came from asking people to have a beer or coffee with me. I have forged great friendships this way, with teachers and students alike. I was even able to build a website driven by a network of film and television enthusiasts. We even have a weekly screenwriting group now (we inspire each other every Thursday). Be proactive. Don’t waste your time around so many propitious and talented students who can teach you more than you will learn by only sitting in massive lecture halls.
Last and very importantly: make a portfolio. Most likely you will approach the end of your education with little work to show (a negative to a broad education). For me, this meant taking as many independent-study projects as I could handle. However, in the end, it is more important to make the time for yourself. This is because everything you make early in your degree, you will likely hate by the end. This is the natural and rather frustrating progression of getting better at something. I would advise more coursework earlier in your degree, so that you have a lighter load your final semester. Therefore, you will have the time to create memorable works to further your professional career. Moreover, use department resources during this time (even if they are outdated), set a block of time for yourself and let your creativity take hold. I will leave you, my artistic comrades and peers, with a few last words of wisdom. To paraphrase something I am sure someone said better at some point in history: art does not require time, but rather, it requires passion, which will always create the time you need.