Friday, January 21, 2011
The case against Plan B
A review of a show about artists’ day jobs reminded me of another aspect of my talk last week with the St. Olaf visual arts students—they mentioned a strong emphasis on minor studies, and I asked if these were subjects that contributed in a significant way to their artistic pursuits (I’m all for a breadth of knowledge) or if they constituted “Plan B.”
I am SO opposed to “Plan B.”
How successful can you be at anything, when you’re simultaneously planning for failure? Especially now, when it’s impossible to predict future needs, it seems like a waste to spend time (and considerable money) on anything you’re not passionate about. My parents’ idea of Plan B for me, given that I liked art and bought a lot of clothes, was fashion illustration. I bet most of you don’t even know what fashion illustration is, since outside of a few Lord & Taylor ads that made it into the eighties, the field evaporated shortly thereafter. Besides, I hated it.
Lord & Taylor, 1984 (Copyright may apply)
However what my parents would really have liked was for me to get a good corporate job so I could live a lifetime of security, and we all know how long that lasted (it did work for my brother, a computer engineer, but only because he was ahead of his time—and he couldn’t have studied computer science in college because there weren’t yet programs for it).
It’s amazing to think that just a few years ago students were crowding journalism schools (Journalism? What’s that?), and last week the Times ran an article entitled, “Is Law School a Losing Game?” Is nothing sacred?
[Interestingly, I did take a class in eighth grade that has always stood me in good stead: typing, a subject that was discontinued soon after, as it was seen as helpful only to those who would become secretaries.]
Outside of an ability to get to a place on time and actually complete tasks (qualities that are more unusual than you’d think), what do the times require? What will they require? Well it’s always good to be the best at whatever you do, and those people will succeed, even if they choose to be journalists or lawyers. But also…people who are flexible and adaptable, who can think on their feet, think outside the box, are realistic about their strengths and weaknesses, have good social and organizational skills and surprisingly—we didn’t expect this, did we?—can write well. People who know how to learn, since in the future we will no doubt be reinventing ourselves on a regular basis, if we aren’t already (and while I always hesitate to agree with David Brooks, he touches on some of these same issues here).
So where do you go to develop these essential attributes? For one, a school like Bennington College, where I used to teach, where learning to think for yourself is built into the program, and barring that—well, I never saw myself as an advocate of art studies, but it seems as good a way as any to find out who you are and explore what you can do.
And who knows? You might even become an artist.