For some reason, there’s a stereotype that art is an easy major. But luckily since Holy Cross is equally painfully difficult for everyone, most people on campus have mad respect for art students and the work we put into our art. I have been an art major and am now an art minor. I would never claim that art is the hardest major you could choose at Holy Cross (there really isn’t an easy major at Holy Cross). But being an art major is a kind of difficult that is different from most other majors. It’s quite an unconventional and idiosyncratic academic pathway to choose, with its fair share of struggles. Here are just a few of them:
Art takes an inordinate amount of time. Usually, double the amount of time you expect it to take. You’ll spend countless days and nights in the studio laboring over your art until it’s exactly how you want it, and even then, it could get torn apart during the critique.
And when you’re not in class or in the studio, professors expect that you will be writing and drawing in your sketchbook everyday. Ultimately, no amount of time spent on a project matters unless the piece is successful—and your professor is often the person who defines success. It’s not like writing a paper, where you can still turn it in even if it’s a horribly written paper. You can’t pass off a sloppily made piece of art for critique, because your classmates and your professor will know, and it certainly won’t fly.
You can't just sit down and do it. Because of how long art takes, the luxury of choosing when you want to do your work often goes out the window. Other than having to get to the studio before the doors lock at midnight, sometimes you can’t get work done unless a professor is there. If you plan on using the power tools or getting any sort of material that isn’t paper or a pencil, you have to schedule in advance when you’re going to get it done.
Art is constantly making a mess everywhere. In addition to being obscenely expensive, art supplies are always messy, and cleaning up after yourself is an eye-rolling chore. Most materials can’t just be thrown away in a trashcan when you’re done with them and need to be disposed of in a specific way.
Plaster and clay get under your fingernails and in the crevices of your rings. Paint always manages to get all over your belongings, and sawdust becomes ingrained in the fabric of your clothes. I’ve sneezed charcoal and plaster dust. It just gets everywhere.
Writing artist statements is required and usually a painful experience. In addition to making art, a time-consuming and ambitious endeavor, you have to write about your art, too. If you’re serious about this whole major/minor thing, then you’ll have to write several artist statements, in which you attempt to explain your “process” and what “informs your decision-making,” as well as your artistic influences, what your art means and where you plan on going with it. It’s the ultimate bane of everyone’s existence.
You have to do your work in the studio. If you like seeing people, socializing or just passively existing in the presence of other breathing humans, the studio will not afford you that opportunity. Unless you’re working in your sketchbook or on your own computer, you pretty much always have to do your art in the studio. Which is inconveniently located far away from almost every dorm and academic building on campus. So most of the time, you're doing tedious work like this for hours on end:
While other people get to do their work sitting around peers and friends in Dinand, Hogan or Stein, the art students are tucked away deep in the recesses of Millard—a building most people don’t know exists. Art is usually just too big, cumbersome, messy or toxic to be lugged all over campus or to be sprawled on the floor of a dorm room.
If you got creative and managed to find a way to do some of your art in the comfort of your room, chances are you’ll have to rearrange your room because you need more space than you originally anticipated.
The act of forcing yourself to make the laborious trudge to the studio is a wholly unpleasant activity all by itself. Most of the months we spend at Holy Cross are characterized by cold, unpleasant and unforgiving weather.
Weather like this:
Dragging all of your supplies—which never fit in your backpack—through all sorts of weather is common. Using your sketchbook, that’s usually bigger than your torso, as a makeshift umbrella as you shuffle-run to the studio in the middle of a downpour becomes a regular activity when you’re enrolled in art classes.
To make matters worse, you can’t have food in the studio. This really doesn’t work well in combination with the long hours you’re usually spending there. Luckily, there’s a small, closet-sized area in the studio hallway designated for eating, but you’re not supposed to take food into your workspace. Goodbye, late night snacks.
Art classes are always the longest classes. People complain about seminars that run for two and a half hours, but any art class that isn’t an Intro or Fundamentals course can go for three to four hours, and sometimes more if an artist lecture or gallery talk precedes or follows class time. And since class runs for so long, you really can’t ever miss class or you’ll be up until the second coming of the Messiah trying to finish all of the work time you missed.
There are also a lot of mandatory, time-consuming commitments outside of studio class time that often require you to do a lot of writing, research and presenting your own work in front of all of the studio art faculty.
And finally, critiques. Perhaps the most dreadful requirement of art classes is the critique. Critiques are an inevitable part of the art student experience. Sometimes all of the three or four hours of class time are devoted to a critique.
Imagine writing a paper for class, spending all of the next class reading the paper aloud to all of your classmates, then sitting down while your classmates and professor grill you with questions and analyze your paper with a fine-tooth comb. I’m comforted by the fact that my professor is the only one who reads my work. But in
So yeah, art is hard. It’s been the source of a lot of middle-of-the-night breakdowns. It’s inherently frustrating, and you have to be willing to keep trying something a thousand times in a thousand different ways. But art teaches me discipline, how to take risks and how to stand up for my ideas. And no matter how frustrated I get and how much of a task it is to make art, I’ll never stop making art.