From class to canvas

By Peter Hemminger

Pity the poor art school student? Even more than the philosophy major, the art student is a misunderstood and much maligned breed. Why would someone put so much time and effort into a degree many consider useless?

"That’s a major misconception about the art program," says Deitra Kalyn, a fourth-year student at the Alberta College of Art and Design. "[They think] you graduate with a bachelor of fuck all and you can’t do anything with it. But there are a lot of things you can do with the degree that people don’t realize. I could do theatre sets, costume design, fashion design; those all require a fine arts background. There’s a lot I can do with it."

It won’t be long before Kalyn has to do something with her degree. She’s graduating in April, and will soon have to leave the safety net provided by her school. Unlike many students I’ve spoken to in more practical faculties, she isn’t worried. She firmly believes her degree in painting has prepared her for life outside of school.

"One of the nice things about art school is that there is such an emphasis on paperwork and planning your day out," she says. "It makes you self-sufficient and gives you skills you can apply to other jobs. I know lots of design firms that prefer hiring fine arts graduates over design grads just because of those skills you develop."

An emphasis on paperwork? Yes.

The career artist needs to know how to file taxes as a self-employed individual. They also need excellent communication skills in order to gain approval for displays–a rigorous process involving submitted proposals and panels of judges. The slacker-artist stereotype wouldn’t survive a week in this world.

In fact, Kalyn is about as far removed from flaky as possible. She’s well-organized, well-spoken and, above all, appears very confident that she’s made the right choice. Despite a hectic schedule which has her working over 90 hours a week, she’s far from frazzled. It’s obvious she enjoys what she’s doing, and it’s easy to see why.

Consider what she has planned for her exhibit’s opening Thu., Feb 12.

She found a box of "Authentic Architectural Cookie Cutters," including one of the Chrysler Building, a New York landmark which features prominently in the exhibit.

"I’ll be serving Chrysler Building-shaped cookies and cucumber sandwiches," she explains. "I’m also constructing these giant costumes out of foam, so there’ll be mascots serving the cookies and sandwiches."

Maybe we shouldn’t criticize art students so quickly. After all, they’re making a living doing something they’re passionate about. So what would Kalyn say to those who were lured away from their dreams by the siren song of practicality?

"I would say I’ll probably see them in art school in about 10 years," she laughs. "I find that a lot of the mature students that go to this school have had a successful career for 25 years. They’ve had their own businesses and they’ve made tons of money. They just didn’t like it. Now they’re here doing something that they love. They’re in debt, they’ve spent all of their retirement savings, but they’re doing what makes them happy."

Pity the art student? Pity the rest of us. Odds are we’ll never have our own mascots.

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