I’d like to introduce readers to Willa Köerner, the new Two Coats of Paint intern. Willa just earned her a BFA from Vassar College and, in addition to helping out around HQ, she has agreed to write “Willa’s Commencement,” a regular post about her experiences as a fledgling artist. Remember what it was like when you first got out of school? Here is the first entry, in which Willa admits that graduating in 2009 with a BFA in studio art might be a little dangerous as well as adventurous. She compares the lousy economy to an unfinished painting that just needs to be scraped down and repainted.
The Parisian bohemians of the nineteenth century were historically the first “starving artists,” young idealistic types who packed themselves into dirty single-room apartments, ate potatoes and drank cheap wine. Sound familiar? Welcome to “La vie bohème,” version 2009, the year of making art, eating lentils and romanticizing my own life as a graduated studio art major.
After four years of studying painting, sculpture and digital media, I have been set free with a handshake, a small body of artwork, and zero dollars. While my professors gave me all the advice and training I could have hoped for, wriggling into the art world just doesn’t seem likely at this particular moment, and the idea of applying for more loans to go to grad school seems ridiculous. In 2009, being a 22-year-old artist without a trust fund feels far more dangerous than adventurous.
“No money, no jobs, no fun!” some might say, but that would be so Great Depression. Luckily, my friends and I are resilient, hopeful and eager. We have been told repeatedly that becoming an artist is nearly impossible, but for some reason, this makes us want to do it even more. Art school taught us that paint is expensive and making ugly paintings is wasteful, and therefore, we have stopped making ugly paintings and moved into experimental media, which is so new and unexplored, it cannot yet be deemed ugly. Yes, the economy may be congealed, but luckily this force of rotten energy sparks my desire to make something fresh.
Artists of the new depression era have been blessed with incredible tools to produce and share art ––computers and the Internet to name two. We have also been born at a unique time in which the future inspires art as much as the past does. Have you seen the New Museum’s “ Younger Than Jesus?” Rather than look backward for answers, we’re looking ahead and developing surprising new visual languages.
The status quo, for all it’s worth, has been and will continue to be annihilated by artists who make art that is not only about culture, but ahead of culture. A lot of good art is overlooked simply because people don’t know how to understand it, and it often takes a few years before a new medium is recognized as a legitimate artform. Clearly, there are myriad reasons why my fellow art school graduates and I must continue to make art over the next however many years, even if nobody is going to look at it. They say that patience is a virtue, but it is certainly a necessity within the art world.
I have graduated with the intention of becoming an artist no matter what, and I don’t mind sweating it out. In fact, the current state of the economy might be just like a bad painting—all it needs is some scrubbing, gesso, and some time to settle before the “aha” moment comes along all on its own. Sure, the jobs aren’t presenting themselves to me in neat little packages, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be sitting around doing nothing until Obama fixes the world. Rather, I’ll be making and looking at art, traveling like a nomad, eating cheap food and finding my “raison d’être,” which they didn’t teach me in college anyway.
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Tags: Willa Köerner