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“It Can’t Be That Hard, It’s Art School!”

Posted May 13, 2013 in AlumniEvents

Alyssa A. Parsons' 2013 Valedictory Address

Those who knew me in high school would probably describe me as a safe, systematic person. I made lists; I made plans; I made schedules that spanned years. The risks I took were small in scale and few in number. For most of my school career this served me well. I was getting good grades, as planned, and I was successfully pursuing my goal of becoming a veterinarian, as planned. Everything was going smoothly and everything was clicking into place, just like oiled clockwork, right up until my junior year of high school. That's when a loose cog clogged up my perfect clockwork, and my world took a turn for the better.

The loose cog was a question: how can I be happy? For most of my life I had assumed a financially stable career equaled happiness, but as I grew up I began to fully understand the cliché that money doesn't buy happiness. I'd seen too many rich, unhappy people to believe that was the answer. So if not money, then what? Happiness couldn't be in a career; careers end. It couldn't rest solely on the shoulders of other people; people end too. My beginning-of-life crisis was depressing, but it eventually brought me to the most important realization of my life: happiness isn't something that's tied to anything. It can't be got in a bulk package (buy a career in medicine, get a box of happiness half-off, free shipping!). It's something we have to make. I decided to make mine the same way my fellow grads here have: with art.

"When I paint, I feel alive."

Art and happiness go hand and hand for me. When I paint, I feel alive. There's frustration in painting, but it's always overshadowed by the joy of looking back at a piece I'm proud of, or of looking forward to a piece I'm excited about. The best thing about being at Kendall has been being surrounded by people who feel the same way. When I would get so caught up in a piece that I would forget to eat, forget to sleep, I always knew that I could wander into any classroom or any studio and find people experiencing that same art rush. And then we could work together, and be inspired by the others' work and have our work inspire others, and that feedback loop would propel us further than we ever thought we could go. That's why I think it's so important that we don't all drift apart when we leave here today. We need to hold on to this community. This community of artists can keep us going when our inspirations lags, and catapult us into success when we're on our game. I know I'll continue to need this community for moral support and for professional support for the rest of my life, partly for inspiration, and partly for protection. Because the world, from what I've seen so far, isn't too kind to artists.

If your experience is anything like mine, you've been mocked for pursuing art. I've had my work ethic questioned. I don't know how many times I've heard people say, “Well, it can't be that hard, it's art school!” I've had strangers raise their eyebrows at my choice in major, and tell me that because I've chosen art, I will fail. And I probably will fail at some point; we all will. But that's okay, because failing means we're trying, and if we have the spirit to try something as uncertain and soul-baring and frightening as art, then we have the spirit to get back up and try again. Because making art isn't easy, and I'm not just talking about the art process. I'm talking about choosing to make art. It takes bravery, and I think that's worth taking a second to acknowledge.

"It's easy to see the shining beacon of a dream and turn away from it, to dismiss it as silly and childish and impossible. It takes bravery to acknowledge that it may be all those things, and then to walk towards it anyway."

"It's easy to see the shining beacon of a dream and turn away from it, to dismiss it as silly and childish and impossible. It takes bravery to acknowledge that it may be all those things, and then to walk towards it anyway, knowing that you might fall along the way. Pursuing the dream of art is risky, but everyone here has looked at that risk and said, “It's worth it. Art is worth it. Happiness is worth it.”

We've all stepped off the safe, well lit road of the traditional career path that I was following in high school. Many of us will be forging our own paths from now on. There are maps out there made by other artists who have succeeded, but they can only serve as guidelines, because each of our paths are going to encounter different obstacles, and we're each going to have to build our own bridges and work arounds. In a way it's exciting! It's like being an adventurer, only instead of crossing mountain ranges and slaying monster and dragons, we're crossing decades and slaying unemployment and demoralization.

And the best thing is, I know we can do it! We'll succeed on our quests for happiness and art and everything we want out of life, because we're here. Look at us! Not only were we brave enough to choose art, but we were tough enough to make it through art school. That's not easy. I don't believe it's going to get any easier, either, but I do believe we can take our expereinces as artists and use them to bind ourselves together as a community. And if we stick together, and make art together, I know that together we can make an impact on our world.

~ Alyssa A. Parsons

Editors Note: Alyssa was also the 2013 Excellence Award winner for Illustration.

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