This week I had the opportunity to represent Avant8 as a judge for the student art showcase at SLCC. I’ve never judged an art show before, but I was excited for the experience, as I figured it would bring back a lot of great memories from my own time as a design student.
Also, I really love judging others.
The plan was this… Me, sitting behind a table with a large glass of Coca-Cola, tearful students surrounding me as I channeled my inner Simon Cowell. tears, smiles, the weight of judgement in the air. But… Alas. My dream was not quite a reality. I had a lot of fun nonetheless, but the day went more like this…
It was just myself and three other judges meandering around the gallery, and discussing which pieces were the best. We reviewed work from all sectors of the Visual Arts & Design Department, from painting, to photography, to web design. Because of this diverse array of work, we had a diverse array of judges. There was an older gentleman with many years of graphic design experience woven into his silver goatee; a middle-aged, full-time painter; a young photographer with her own hip photography studio; and me, with my Visual Communication degree and Beatle boots (that I would soon regret wearing that day).
Looking at the student work brought back memories of my own days as a student. I recognized similarities to projects that I had to do, even though I went to a different school. The bittersweet feeling of nostalgia swept over me. I was looking at student work through the eyes of a professional, and you know what really stood out to me? That student work is truly, genuinely, creative.
Though execution, and possibly understanding, of design principles may not be quite top notch, students have huge amounts of creative freedom. As a professional designer, I have parameters to work within, audiences to pander to and clients to please. My creativity is definitively channeled in a specific direction, based on the focus of a campaign or the preference of a customer.
These students were certainly working on pieces based on the request of their professor, but it was still free and lovely, ideas turning into pieces based on the flow of thought into the hands. I was a little bit jealous.
One piece that stood out to me was a lovely painting of a mason jar, with a Pikachu stuffed inside. It made my day. It was so honest, so fun, so vibrant, and the artist could put something they loved on paper, without anyone telling them, “No, you can’t do that”. It was refreshing and reminded me of some of my favourite portfolio work. It prompted a lot of personal reflection in the days after the show, and that led me to this message…
Art students, Listen To Me. Don’t try to scrape by with a passing grade and giving your Professors exactly what they want or expect. This is a time when you are honing your craft and you’re free to experiment as you like, with few parameters or penalties. School is a time when you work for yourself, so make things that you want to make. Enjoy collaborating with other students and checking out what others are creating. Incorporate your interests and passions. Do it for the love of the process, not just the outcome. Reach to the outermost limits of your imagination and creativity. Make things that you enjoy.
I’m not saying that working in the professional world sucks, but you certainly won’t be allowed to be as self-serving with your creativity. So take the few years you have as an art student and be a little selfish with your work. Enjoy the time you have as a student.
The plus side to being a creative professional, is that you get to create things that have a clear purpose. You get to pull an idea from the air, and create a tangible from it. You get to help small business turn into big ones. You get to participate in the creation of a strategy, and see the outcomes. You get to see your work on boxes and billboards, on store fronts and websites. It’s gratifying to drive down I-15 and seeing something I’ve designed, 30ft in the air. Knowing that your designs help facilitate the success of businesses and organizations can be a truly satisfying thing. And you do sometimes still get to let loose, it’s just left frequent.
Now don’t get me wrong. I am glad I’m no longer a student. I still smile to myself whenever I hear someone complain about going back to school and I don’t have to. But I do sometimes miss the freedom of the college years. My time was well spent, and I enjoyed it, so make sure you take full advantage while you can.
The SLCC student art showcase runs from April 6–19 at the SLCC South City Campus.