Nineteen students will graduate from fourth year studio at the University of Waterloo Department of Fine Arts this spring. Nineteen students will take the experiences and learning they have acquired in this past year and in the past four years and apply it to the next ten years of their lives. Give or take a few years.
Give a few years extra if you have been present for every class, and used every spare time opportunity to work in the studio. Give a couple more years if you collected postcards or stole invitations from the bulletin boards containing art work that attracted you, irritated you, charmed you or otherwise turned your head, and then give a year or two more if you regularly stayed up late trawling the Internet or combing the library stacks looking for other images by those artists or reading interpretations of their work. Add a couple of months if in the past year you have had at least one drunken argument with a fellow student where the subject was the relevance of art in the contemporary world. Add a few months if you have fallen asleep with your head in an art book. Add a couple more months if it completely screwed up your dreams that night, and tack on some more time if you woke up the next morning still thinking about it.
I don’t have to explain how you take years off. If you missed a bunch of classes for no good reason, rarely spent time in the studio, and gave little thought to the discipline of art during the rest of the day or week, then this experience will not linger. You won’t have to worry about fitting all of your art work into the van when you move. What the hell, what you have you probably won’t even bother moving – might as well just leave it for the custodians to deal with. With little invested, little will be returned and in a couple of years the whole experience will be a vague memory.
By the time you read this all of the above will be water under the bridge. You will have either done the work or you haven’t. The larger question facing you will be “To what end?” Upon graduating, will you be able to enter the world as a professional artist? Probably not yet. Those who are considering that route should be planning on a lot more work and study before that becomes a possibility. Will this programme significantly add to your employment prospects? No, not significantly, but neither will your fourth year psychology credit. Will you have become a sophisticated consumer of cultural products? Well, let’s put it this way. It’s a start.
When people question the importance of a fine art education today, I counter that it has never been more important. In a world where knowledge is increasingly mediated through images rather than text, where else do we study the construction and the interpretation of pictures? In our society, those who have the ability to control, shape and distribute images also have, not coincidentally, the greatest political and economic power. An educated population is no longer one that is just literate and numerate, an educated population today is also visually literate. An educated person today understands that we can be led by our dreams and our fears and that those dreams and fears are often constructed by others through visual media. True freedom is the ability to perceive seduction, manipulation and coercion for what it is, and to act, speak and create and exchange images that are our own, consciously, freely, humanely.
Yes, it’s a start. Your education is truly the beginning of your freedom.
Gordon Hatt, 2006