In a world of technology, people are exposed to new branches— open doors, images, names and diverse identity stories. Since people are introduced and welcomed to read, engage, understand and react to such diverse culture available on the Internet, you would think certain stereotypes and judgments about a specific culture would change. However, that’s not the case, especially when it comes to art culture.
Art culture is one that happens to blossom in the 21st century, educate its practitioner and nourish its beholders. However, a great majority of society still thinks of art as a luxury, a hobby and a tool to fill your time when bored. When students share with the public their choice of major, their acceptance to art school or the fact that they’re currently enrolled in one and dedicating their energy towards it, there are a few popular responses. One would be “Oh, you go to art school? You must be drawing and painting all day!” You might also get the typical shocked and frowned face— which you can tell that they’re judging you for choosing to be “jobless” instead of a doctor or lawyer. They still try to be nice to you and instead respond, “Ohm so you’ll be painting for the rest of your life or become an art teacher, right?” Of course, other phrases that fall along these lines are used. Quite frankly, they’re endless when it comes to people stereotyping or underestimating art students, even if these students happen to be attending one of the most prestigious, ivy league art schools in the world, such as Rhode Island School of Design.
When I first informed my classmates about my decision to pursue art in my future years in college, I got three types of reactions that can be categorized into three groups. One is the extremely supportive group who kept relentlessly encouraging me with their words, saying how they see a great future for me or explaining that they can’t wait to see my work being exhibited in art galleries. Two includes the "I’m going to be nice to you so that I don’t hurt your feelings about your choice, but deep inside I really think you’d be good at sciences instead" response. Three is the "I’m not going to worry about hurting your feelings, you’re going to be jobless, period" response.
I have to say, being bombarded with constant accusations about how I’m going to be “jobless” or even the supportive comments that assumed I was going to be a painter with my work exhibited in galleries really frustrated me. People really don’t know that art school is more than a single major called painting.
In my university, Rhode Island School of Design, there are 13 majors offered for undergraduate students that lean into the fine arts side or the design aspect of the arts. However, these two sides still interlace and feed each other, as students witness during their freshman year— also known as foundation year. All freshman are required to finish foundation year courses before starting or even choosing their majors. RISD works on helping its future artists to be well rounded, multi-skilled and familiar with branching their thoughts outside the box by exposing them to different professor styles in design, drawing, and spatial dynamics classes. Spatial dynamics helps students grow in terms of 3D. Design feeds into that as well, depending on the professor. It also introduces students to famous artists' work, how to create sculptures of social, political and religious meanings. Drawing courses work on enhancing pupils' skills while learning different techniques in various traditional mediums. Some of these mediums include compressed charcoal, which is one of the messiest mediums one could use. Basically, art students don’t just sit affront of their drawing boards and draw a “beautiful scenery” or “gorgeous models." Instead, they build, create, plan and design spatial objects and drawings. During my freshman year, I didn’t do a single painting in any of my classes. I didn’t draw a single city structure, a closeup of an eye or a celebrity portrait. I didn’t do any of society’s stereotypes and assumptions about art, art school or art majors.
During my freshman year, I drew 420 silhouettes of animals and humans in one week in order to eventually be able to draw proportional and spatial human figures. I was able to express and glorify my identity through my work. I redesigned my university’s logo to be in Arabic rather than just in English, then installed it in the RISD store and pretended it was for sale. I created a film that publicizes the six set of earrings that I designed, 3D printed and placed it under a collection that’s named after an Arabic expression that could mean two different things, depending on one’s interpretation. In my spatial dynamics class, I laser cut ten sheets of bendable plywood so that they have Arabic words translated in English letters on the bases, installed the 92 x 48 structure on the wall and then projected a video of my lips pronouncing and reading the text installed on the wall. The audience is exposed to familiarity through these English letters, however they are surprised by these English letters that mean nothing in English, but mean a lot in Arabic. This mystery, confusion and reaction that leads its beholders to contemplate about how these words go along with the vocal lips being projected on the wall. It is what makes the art piece an image object— one that exists in the virtual and physical world at once. The text was about the Palestinian vs Israeli issue. It talked about the story of a 16-year-old who was beaten to death by 5 Israelis in response to a “terrorist” attack, even though he had nothing to do with that. Of course, there are other projects I’ve made that projected my Arabic identity through sculptures, films and various other art installations. I was able to express my identity just through art.
With time, one learns to think about such new topics being introduced, as they’re instantaneously forced to learn how to use wood, sawing machines and tools for the first time. In art school, I didn’t spend my time learning how to “hold a brush and draw straight lines." I learned how to build, design and generate functional machines. In the span of 4 weeks, I built a whole drawing machine that wrote the word “freedom” in Arabic in a stylish way. It took another two weeks to professionally document it using Adobe Premiere and after effects. The word contradicts the controlled nature of the machine. My machine was fully made out of wood. It was the first time I have ever built a machine and spent 25 hours of my week alone in the wood shop. In comparison, I only spent 8 hours on my drawing homework each week during my second term and 14 hours during my first term, which is still less than the amount of time spent dealing with wood and these new mechanical technicalities.
Not only that, but in just one week, I fully documented my drawing machine and made a film of it.
These hours of work are not only dedicated to studio courses. We’re also obliged to take two other liberal art courses. Don’t worry, we also write essays, do research about artists, study art during specific eras, review art in relation to culture and learn about philosophical and psychology courses such as “The Stereotype of Prejudice and Discrimination”.
That being said, it is fair to say that art students are not just talented individuals who know how to draw. They are talented individuals who know how to sustain life’s enduring challenges as they work on serving society. Art majors are as vital as any other science, political, and history related major.
The “cool” couch or chair you’re sitting on, along with the rest of your house’s furniture was originally designed by furniture designers. The mug that keeps your coffee hot, the secure shoes you’re wearing and other comfortable, yet functional belongings that you own and happen to use regularly were designed and created by industrial designers. The Chicago Bean, Ai Weiwei Sunflower Seeds, Lipstick (Ascending) On Caterpillar Track and many other installations that you and the public stand affront and beneath of as you take pictures of it are all art installations made by vocal artists. Some sculptures are made as a way of challenging normality, others are ways of expressing political opinions. For example, Lipstick (Ascending) On Caterpillar Track was installed in Yale University as a reflection of society's obsession with the new lipstick technology during the 80s, while people were also dying in the Vietnam war. These installations are powerful. They spoke on behalf of the public and they were made by artists.
The glass vase your family dearly cherishes or glass of water or wine that you are sipping from are designed and created by glass majors. The same thing goes to ceramic majors.
The books you read to your children or animes you watch were designed and drawn by illustrators. The movies you so happily watch such as Frozen, Chicken Run and Avengers: Infinity War were made by individuals who studied FAV (Film, Animation, and Video). The photos that aided in of war, progression, science discoveries and family connections were all taken by photographers. Paintings and murals exhibited in galleries such as Maria Goodman Gallery in London and New York are created by printmaking and painting majors. Although these majors' works are exhibited in galleries, they also contribute to the sculpture world and space installations as well.
The curtains, rugs and carpets placed in your house to beautify and give a sense of home to you were made by textile majors. The traditional clothing your ancestors proudly wore and you continue to hold close are also made by textile majors. The dress or suit you wore on the day of your wedding, first date, job interview or to your vacation trip was made by apparel designers. The underwear you’re wearing right now was probably made by either an apparel, textile or even an industrial designer who were all once students in an art school. The next time you talk about being jobless, please acknowledge the accommodations made to you through these manufactured objects and clothing that simplify your day-to-day life. Acknowledge the voice that speaks about your rights, culture, identity and struggles on your behalf by passionate, liberal and brave art installations by sculpture or fine art majors.
Artists are rebellious, innovative and brave individuals. Those characteristics are ones owned through persistence, trial and error and constant concern for the public’s interest and response. Those skills that shape individuals into these characters are ones I learned in art school, not engineering, not medicine, and not even in law school. I respect all majors, I really do. But art majors' influence and contribute to people's lives daily, yet society fails to acknowledge and appreciate their work. Then they’re taken for granted. On the other hand, people are unaware and unattentive to the leaders behind creations.
I’m sorry if I made anyone feel like they’re being attacked, but at least now you know what it feels like to be an artist who’s constantly being judged by the public.