I had finished high school, was a pretty awesome script kiddie, had no idea where to apply my skills, and just wanted to make wonderfully good-looking things. The internet was a different place back then and learning resources were sparse (can you imagine?!).
After pondering whether to pursue architecture, industrial design or graphic design, I chose the latter. Design had so many unknowns to me, that I found it hard to get a handle on it. I decided it was worth studying it and applied for art school.
These are my biggest learnings, which I still apply today:
I did well at school and never really had to work hard for it. I made sure my grades were good enough by doing the minimal amount of studying.
But the parts of my brain that made high school a breeze were much less useful in art school, and here I really had to put in the work. Being creative on demand isn’t easy. You struggle. You need to overcome challenges. You hit many walls. You have to keep pushing through. This could be working late nights or doing things you’re uncomfortable with.
And it pays off – you’ll have breakthroughs and create things you never could have thought up.
I had some wonderful teachers but noticed that who you teamed up with to collaborate could have an equally big impact on your learnings, and on having good output.
Learning together with others is a wonderful thing. As you continually discuss the material and the process, you reason about the work, which helps in solidifying your learning and to encode all that stuff in your brain. These experiences make lasting memories.
And solving hard problems together is just much more fun than just by yourself.
Being able to see and explain what makes something conceptually or aesthetically good is possibly the favourite thing I’ve learned. It requires you to analyse the context of the work, the intent of the creator, and the execution of the work. And reflecting on the work of others is the best way to learn to reflect on your own.
This is how I learned to present my work. How I learned to be able to explain why I made certain choices, and why I think those are good choices.
Our (modern) painting classes were taught by a fine art painter. My main takeaway from his classes is a thing he called The Big Intervention. It’s the moment when you step back from your work, look at it, and decide that the path you’ve been on hasn’t been working out and it’s time to make a big change.
Hang it upside down, paint over it. Cut it up. Or tear up your work and start over. And that feeling, of making a big change, of taking control and choosing a new direction feels incredibly empowering (and scary at times!).
What I identified as the artist’s mindset is to do everything yourself. You come up with the idea, you learn what you need to, do the work, and you’re the one deciding when it’s done and what happens next. It comes down to a desire for autonomy, freedom, and ownership of the work you do.
But this artist’s mindset is a fallacy. It’s impossible to do everything yourself, and you’ll limit yourself in the size of projects you can take on, and ultimately the quality of your work.
Even though I work in a (seemingly) different field than what I studied, I still apply these learnings every day. And the best people I’ve worked with often have unexpected backgrounds too. The thing that sets you apart from others is your journey and all of the learnings you’ve picked up on your way — and your ability to keep on learning.