9 Things About Life as a Writing Student at Art School

Writing Wednesday / Wednesday, May 20th, 2015

There’s a blog post from a fellow SCAD student making its rounds on Facebook. I noticed it yesterday but didn’t read all the way through until this morning. This first-year fashion student wrote a list of 20 things to know about life as a SCAD student. She paints an accurate picture of what it’s like to be a visual artist at an art school.

As much as I like her list, it makes the pouty writing student in me drag out her soapbox and demand people pay attention to the rest of us. Life at art school is different, but being a liberal arts student at art school is more different than the normal different. So I’ve put together my own list of what it’s like for us.

1. We get painfully honest about ourselves.

Two nonfiction writing classes are required for a writing B.F.A. and people dig deep into their nightmares for content. I’ve seen people in visual programs do this for photos and illustrations, but the best writers recreate the experience with words. Visual art gives you a view of another’s nightmares, but writing puts you in the middle of it. And then we critique it.

2. No one takes our craft as seriously as they take their own.

To a lot of the artists here, “writing” is what they’ve been doing since fifth grade English. No one goes up to a filmmaker, sound designer, fashion designer, graphic artist or an architect and says, “Sure, I could do that. It’s not that hard.” But people do it to us all the time. And later, they ask us to read over their essays or help them write cover letters.

3. Most of the advice on portfolio building and presentation doesn’t apply to us.

A writing portfolio is all text. While everyone else is pushed to use Behance and other great organizers for their visual portfolio, we put together a PDF. Sure, we can spice it up with some good design, but the focus is on the content of the writing. When guest speakers start lecturing about portfolio design, we writers check out until the conversation becomes relevant to us again.

4. Advice on how to design a personal website, resumé, business card, social media platform, etc. is similarly limited in its helpfulness.

Lectures on self-branding are awesome — until it becomes clear that they’re really only talking about the visual artists. It’s great when you can share your own animation clips, illustration close-ups, or before and after editing images in film or photography. We have words. People get irked enough when they see a lot of inspirational quotes on Facebook or Instagram; putting up quotes from my own pieces that no one has read will not bring in the followers.

5. We feel screwed over for not having fancy facilities.

While the sound designers have access to foley stages and recording booths, the illustrators have a building decorated top to bottom with fantastic art, and the animation/motion media people have TVs looping clips of student work, we have blank white walls. If you’re lucky, there’s a single painting in the back of the room that only the professor really sees. It’s as if we’re forbidden to be surrounded with visuals out of spite for not being visual artists.

6. “Midterms” and “finals” aren’t scary words to us.

While other students have huge projects to complete for midterms or finals, we keep trucking along at our usual pace. Think we’ve got a huge research paper to finish? They do that in the English department, not in Writing. We catch a bit of a break here.

7. Critiques work differently.

As stated in #1, we’re actually throwing our lives and our histories onto a page, even when it’s fiction. It’s not just our word choice or sentence structure that people have opinions on, but our lives. While other students are told whether or not there’s enough contrast in an image, we’re told whether or not people can sympathize with us as characters in a story. We advise each other on how to better tell the story of abortion, addiction, love, loss, PTSD, marriage, kids, happiness.

8. Our work isn’t a social thing.

Aside from the dreaded group projects, we usually don’t collaborate. There’s critique and the occasional public reading, discussions over coffee or in smoking circles, and the email correspondence you sometimes have to bounce ideas off someone.

9. “Will you look over this for me?” translates into “Will you rewrite this for me?”

Research papers, artist statements, cover letters, resumés, emails, and even job applications. Sometimes we feel obligated to fix bad writing because it would be a sin not to. Sometimes people are just lazy and deliberately half-ass something just so we can fix it. Occasionally people understand this is our profession and offer to pay for our services.

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