20 May 2008

"The Aristocracy of Hands..."

Here's to you, AIB Class of 2008. We did it. And here is my commencement speech...in its entirety. The truth is, I don't even remember giving it. I remember standing up at the podium and thinking my voice sounded weird and then sitting down.

Address to the Graduating Class of 2008

When I was asked to do this I laughed out loud. It is an incredible honor. But I have been an outspoken pain in the ass for four years and look where it got me.

Then I actually had to sit down and write this. And in doing so try to be honest about what it is to be in art school and what it feels like to graduate and face that great wide open.

The truth is I alternate between feeling scared out of my mind and feeling like things are going to be okay. It’s hard to see the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

People assure me there is a light. My father even suggested that a penguin is holding it (perhaps that is why it seems a bit low on the horizon). It just doesn’t feel like that right now. Not when one large chapter of your life is finished.

There are things they don’t tell you about life. Things you have to figure out for yourself. Like sometimes we have to do things that scare us. That you are not always right. That you have to take one for the team. And that you sometimes have to suck it up and deal. Most importantly, I’ve learned that things don’t always work out how you plan, but that’s what makes it fun.

Now what?

I have asked myself that question a lot in the last month or so. The mass media is feeding us the gloom and doom of reality: soaring gas prices, a presidency up for grabs, our environment and economy in shambles, genocide, war.

The big picture is not pretty. And we get to walk out into that world. It all seems a bit much.

We can’t change the big picture by ourselves.

Forget the big picture.

What we can do is change the spaces in between the big things.
Isn’t that what matters? The little pictures, the conversations, the moments in the chaos. There will always be war, and death, and taxes, and politics, and people graduating into uncertainty.

Regardless of the road that got us here, we are sitting here today to receive a degree that we have earned. Congratulations. Honestly. There is something to be said for that piece of paper. It means we started and finished something and stuck with it despite a long and varied list of things that seemed against us at the time. It means that all that frustration, sacrifice, triumph, and exploration, got us to this point and at the end of this 4 years (or 5 or 6 or however long it took), we have a body of knowledge and tools, and we have a community.

We have found a community of people who are as weird as we are. Face it, normal is relative in art school. But at least here they speak our language. It is a community of people who engage in conversation about the historical, conceptual, and practical nature of art. People who find it perfectly natural to fret over the minutia of materials. People who offer a critical eye, a different perspective, and sound advice. People who support us, because they know what it is like to make the intangible tangible, and then have to explain it as if it weren’t alchemy.

Ideas don’t arrive like unexpected postcards. Most of the time it is damn hard work. Art is hard work? Yes, and so was art school. But I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

The art world has changed fundamentally along with the rest of the world. What hasn’t changed is the dialogue between the artist and the world.

And the simple fact that whether you are a painter, photographer, printmaker, designer, sculptor, animator, or illustrator, you are a creator.

It is an interesting burden to carry, this ability to create. It is a burden and a gift. As artists, it is a duality that must first be understood in ourselves before it is understood by the world at large.

I would like to leave you with some advice from the photographer Walker Evans. He said: “Stare. It is the way to educate your mind and more. Stare, pry, listen, eavesdrop. Die knowing something. You are not here long.”

We are not here long, and there is so much left to do.

(Kate Castelli)

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