This is a bit of a read, give it a go and I promise the end will make sense of everything.
When confronted with the parental reality that I needed to go to college, this was not a choice in my household, I didn’t really know what to do because I didn’t want to go in the 1st place. I can clearly remember being 8 years old at a dinner with my parents and their friends; I was asked something along the lines of what do you want to do and where do you dream of going to school. I proceeded to tell these adults that my 8 year old ass didn’t need to go to school. I was going to take over my Mother’s company and work because school is only for people that don’t know what they want to do or they have to go because they are going to be Dr’s or lawyers. I really was that self-aware at an early age.
My parents did everything they could to break me down and dim my shine. They moved me from public school to a private Catholic grade school that got kids into good high schools. After 3 years of being tortured by the little shits at school that didn’t like new kids from public school, I got into the best high school in the area and did well; yes, some high schools are like college to get into. I still didn’t want to be a Dr or Lawyer, so college still didn’t make sense to me. What I really wanted to do was pursue my 2 passions; art and martial arts. I didn’t know what to do so I did what I still do and that is something a little odd considering the company I am keeping. All the kids around me applied to every big name school in the country and I applied to 1 school. I applied to the Maryland Institute College of Art’s Fine Arts program. I have never needed approval from those around me to believe in myself.
I didn’t just apply to art school; I applied to arguably the #1 art school in the country. This was my only application with zero fall backs. Let’s rewind a minute; I applied to the top fine arts college in the country without ever taking a single art class beyond arts and crafts in kindergarten. My high school guidance counselor, an 80 year old LaSalle Brother, met with me 1 time and never again because my goals didn’t fit the goals of the school; my college of choice did not help them raise money or look prestigious in their sphere of influence. I am not salty, I totally get why people do what they do, I feel bad for them, no anger here. I was on my own to apply to the school of my choice and I was 100% OK with it.
If I was going to college, I was going on my terms, period. Parents didn’t get me, school didn’t want to get me, and my acquaintances didn’t get any of it. I didn’t really have friends because I was on my own trip. I had fellow classmates but no real friends. Don’t feel bad for me. I had dreams and aspirations. That really was enough. You have to be prepared to walk alone if you are the only one believing in you.
The admission process required a portfolio review and in my special case, an interview. I didn’t know what a portfolio was. So, I packed my 1988 Jeep Wrangler, with a bad carburetor, with as much art as I could fit in it. I put on a shirt and tie as I was taught at Catholic school and trucked on down to Baltimore. I had a nice chat with the head of admissions about how over qualified I was academically. I agreed but didn’t care. When it was time to do a portfolio review, I was expected to pull out an actual portfolio case with small examples of my work, slides, and pictures. I had to explain that my stuff was in the car out back. We went outside and I scattered my art on the front lawn of the school. We sat and talked about it for a while. I was sure I was fucked but didn’t care because they either got me or they didn’t. They got me…
I got a call a week later that my situation was rather unique but they were impressed with my effort and commitment to the arts. I was accepted with the condition that I took a summer course and passed with at least a C. I took the course and got an A. I was in. I did what many would have considered to be impossible. I beat out 100’s of applicants from real art programs. I had no real skills compared to my fellow applicants but I had passion and I hustled. I did something disruptive and got noticed.
I don’t think my parents were ever too thrilled with my choice and ultimate acceptance. I can’t say that I didn’t care because I think every kid wants the approval of their parents, but I also didn’t care enough about outside approval to do things that I thought would make me miserable. I had a strong feeling that this was the path I needed at the time. In hindsight, it really was.
Here is the short version of my college experience; I drank a lot, I didn’t do drugs, I grew long hair and a beard, and I went to my 1st class in which I was told by my Freshman advisor that I was too straight, white, and that my life didn’t have enough pain to be an artist. I said fuck you very much and went about making the most of it. I did what I wanted, the way I wanted and didn’t care what the powers that be said or did. If you didn’t want me to disrupt, you had to give me what I wanted. This was a valuable lesson. Your absence can have as much value as your presence if played right.
I aced all the academics without going to class besides test days and I cut deals with most of my studio teachers that allowed me to work out of my apartment and only come in for critiques (this was how work was evaluated and graded). I got decent grades and battled with the administration. I was a begrudging favorite amongst the students and considered one of the better painters in my class by my peers. It was so hard for them to admit I was good because I didn’t fit the mold. But when you throw all of your work into a parking lot and burn it as a “performance piece” or cut up 6 months of work and glue it on a big board just to say Fuck You…. I was a little more punk rock then I looked. I couldn’t be attacked for what I did because I was walking the talk, which was rare. All these kids trying to be rebels but only really playing parts and never challenging anything, I was authentic while they were posing. Authenticity has the greatest value.
After 4 plus years and about a semester shy of graduating, I had enough and left. I had an offer to fight overseas, which I took, and I never looked back at school again. I said it above, my 2 passions are art and martial arts. I was aggressively doing both and was wide open to the better opportunity either would bring. Being open is the key. You have to be focused on your goals but open to opportunities that you may not have seen coming.
So what’s the point? You don’t have to play the game to get what you want. You don’t have to do anything besides follow the path you know deep down you are supposed to be on. It’s not about what the world wants for you, it’s what you want. As long as you believe, it’s enough. Go for it no matter what.