Wednesday, January 20, 2010

1/20/10:: The Truth About Cats and Dogs

It's been a pretty long time now (I can't determine exactly HOW long) that I have been having some internal issues with what I'm doing with my life, as far as career and general occupation (time spent, friendships maintained, etc). It's always been difficult–I'm not going to pretend that when I started my time at art college that I found what I was doing to be easy or natural. Struggle has always been present. It's the invigoration and the desire to succeed that has capsized, and it's this that has really come to worry me.

When I look back at my first two years at CCS, I see a very different person from who I have become today. I used to lecture people on the importance of college, and I used to elevate my work to a holy level. I was invigorated by every new challenge, and the way I looked at the work in design annuals was nothing short of a worshiping gaze. I was getting amazing marks, and I was consistently ahead of the curb, even when my projects weren't entirely successful. Even in failure, I was absorbing things, and I was fierily determined to make a mark, make a successful gesture, receive a compliment, and try something new.

It seems to me, however, that somewhere along the line, for me anyway, the "magic" that I once saw in a creative career has been lost. Not to say that I don't enjoy creativity or enjoy the fruits of hard labor anymore, but I have just come to decide that I no longer align myself with the way people in this industry function. For example, I used to marvel at the works of David Carson, Stefan Sagmeister, Tomato... and now, I have a hard time looking at them without thinking, "Oh, they are on another level." "They are rock stars." "They are fully caught up in a shroud of design arrogance and bullshit that just doesn't apply to my practical experience and struggles with design." As often as I try to re-evaluate this outlook, I don't find myself changing my mind.

Now that I am on the brink of graduation, my professionalism has come under serious scrutiny by my peers (not verbally, but it is felt) and especially by my school's faculty. No longer a star student, I have been told time-and-time again over the past two years that my typographic skills are weak, I don't experiment enough, I am too stuck on unoriginal ideas, I am not editing properaly, and that my overall body of work is not where it should be for someone "at my level." I am struck down and dumb-founded by this, as I am a second semester senior sitting on a 3.6 GPA. Where did I go wrong? Was it when I stopped feverishly loving design? Probably. But I'm not sure it's possible to force yourself to love a career or process if, for the most part, you despise its underlying mythologies.

The mythology of design is truly that it needs to be intelligent and exhaustive. You need to be culturally aware, explore things from every angle, and at the end of the day, produce extremely pointed and perfectly crafted work. No room for mistakes conceptually or in actual execution. Choosing a typeface from the wrong era-- how foolish! Using stripes instead of a self-created pattern based on socio-cultural observations-- how lazy, how boring, how predictable!

I can't argue that these people are all wrong. Good work does come from this sort of thinking, I agree. But somewhere along the line, there isn't a welcoming bow to people willing to learn. I truly feel like 'you get it or you don't' at this point, and there is little room in the modern art school for people that struggle. People that aren't completely moist with trends and the latest doo-dad available via CS4. Reading books like "How to be a graphic designer without losing your soul"-- a book created for students on the brink of career-- seem absolutely absurd to me. This book outlines what it takes to be a designer today, and to me, it just seems like a ridiculous checklist of traits that are superhuman. Who is perfect at all of these things? How snobby do I have to be to produce great work and be accepted in the design community? Maybe I am being overly harsh, but the fact remains in that this profession seems to demand an outlook and interest that I just do not hold. My values do not lie in schmoozing my way to the top, being a typeface snob, clouding forms with mountains of process. I'm an advocate for living and letting creativity flow from experiences. I believe in working to live, not living to work, which seems to have caused others to brush me aside and take me less seriously as a designer. I guess they are right about that-- since my portfolio is apparently a disaster.

At some point in my academic career, I have bumped into the category of the hopeless, the lazy, and the sloppy. In my reviews now, there is little praise and lots of shaking heads which all seem to be saying, "What have you been doing for the past three years not to produce anything worthwhile?" The truth is that I don't know. I never imagined myself to be one semester away from a professional career and suddenly feeling like I was never cut out for this.

Now, when I need it most, I find myself without the drive to fix things. I find myself bored of the hoity-toity design world, and I find myself happiest when I am far away from it. For any psychologist and probably every "professional designer," this is where they turn away from me, abandon all hope in my progress, and tell me to look into another profession. Not an option, people. I am almost 100k in this thing, and I wasn't always this cynical. No one is owning up to the fact that art schools and the design field in general are destroying people emotionally and creatively. I feel there is something seriously wrong with starting out invigorated with excitement and drive for success and leaving absolutely depressed and hating everything and everyone associated with my field of choice. I find something seriously wrong with letting someone get to their final year in education ON THE DEAN'S LIST, and then basically tell them they have no chance of being successful in the real world. When I point my finger, three fingers DO point back at me... and that's fine. I'll take that. But it doesn't make it any easier to solve my current problem. It doesn't answer my questions. It doesn't make every single night that I sit depressed at my computer any easier. It doesn't make design fun again. It doesn't do anything for my self-confidence.

There doesn't seem to be anything left for me to do besides try to ignore all these internal conflicts and just do the best I can to get out of here and get a job. I don't think, however, that my walk into the job market is going to go smoothly. And I don't think I'm going to leave here feeling good about the $100,000 I've spent on this education. To me, I feel like I've spent the money on a lot of projects that I am going to have to redo anyway... and a great feeling of self-doubt and inadequacy. I came in with guns-blazing, and I am leaving with my head down, smoker lungs, and a serious feeling of general melancholy about my future. I used to be full of life and vigor, and now I feel like half of myself. I just want to cry every day that I am forced to go to school and talk about art like it actually makes any sense. It all just seems like a bunch of conceptual bullshit. If someone as eager to learn as I was has no place in this field, then who does? The people wearing the most layered v-necks?
To me, this is the definition of a poor investment.

Ah, but what to do about it anyway.

No comments: