26 Apr how i learned how to learn.
I finished this year at my personal best: I spent my summer scraping off the residue of my first, guiltless “F” but will graduate in May with a GPA of 3.53, I got engaged to the most creative, handsome, free-thinking mentor-slash-friend I know, and was accepted into the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Master’s of Modern and Contemporary Art History, Theory, and Criticism program. Here are a couple of things that I’ve learned over this year.
One. I learned how to learn. Decades into debt already, and I don’t remember much of what I learned in the classroom. I’ve taken over 130 credit hours of coursework, but only three stand out: “American Novel after 1920” with Warick Waddlington, “Twentieth-Century Poetry” with Susannah Hollister, and “L’origine de l’art moderne” with Anne-Catherine Abécassis. The first is a lesson in linguistics, form, and rhetoric; the second, my introduction to inter-disciplinary methods, trying to apply astronomical and Post-Structuralist concepts to poetry with varying degrees of success; the third, a continuation of the same as the first two, only in French, and about the history of Modern Art. These three classes are the pillars of the foundation upon which I built my education. Forging the bridge between what instructors try to teach you and what you’re actually interested in is where learning happens. As Roy Christopher always tells me when I’m starting a paper I couldn’t give two flips about, “Don’t let education get in the way of learning.”
While I was in Paris Spring 2011, I learned how to learn. As I put it in my graduate application’s Statement of Purpose:
“While overseas, my focus shifted from writing inside the lines to thinking outside the boîte. I learned more outside the classroom than in it and buried my head deeper in literature such as Gaston Bachelard’s La poétique de l’espace at a hole-in-the-wall café than in my French grammar book at my desk.”
Thereby, I explain my guiltless “F.” While in Paris, I also began Kyle Gann’s beautiful book, No Such Thing as Silence. John Cage, having a similar academic lineage as I, left Texas for Paris in Spring 1930 because of this tension between learning and education:
“Rather than reading a textbook assigned by one professor, he systematically selected materials at random from the library and read those instead – and received an A on his examination anyway.”
His sentiment follows, “If I could do something so perverse and get away with it, the whole system must be wrong.”
I don’t necessarily believe that the system is wrong. I flip it the other way. It’s up to you to make what you will of your education. And if that means I skip math because I’m too busy reading “Of Grammatology” or “Quantum Mechanics,” the system gives me affordance to do so (maybe because of shady attendance policies). As Michael Scott says, “Truth be told, I think I thrive under a lack of accountability.” I agree, but while you’re forging bridges, don’t burn them either. Learn to connect astronomy with poetry. Stretch it, elaborate it, build on it. That’s where I’ve had all my fun.
Two. I learned how to go steady with, seduce, and secure a grad student for his books and knowledge. A competitive person already, keeping up with royc.’s railings and glorifications against and for Deleuze and Guattari, McLuhan, Norwegian Black Metal, old and new school hip hop, media and literary theory, and more, I was challenged to speak the same language. But I kept pace with my rantings for and against Quantum Mechanics, Black Holes and String Theory, linguistics, Ezra Pound, Wallace Stevens, John Cage, Mark Z. Danielewski, J-P Sartre, fashion, Modern Art, and speaking in French. We built bridges between what we both know. One night, we found that I knew the photographer, model, designer, and edition of VOGUE Paris that the subject, Lily Donaldson, of his paper “In the Style of Demons” was written on. I give you: bridging what you know with others.
Without much more mush, I learned to surround myself with people who want to see me learn and who will encourage and help me facilitate it. The agency is mine when it comes to my education, but it’s certainly nice to have a cheerleader clad in Godflesh, Dickies, and skate shoes on the sidelines, cheering me up and on.
Three. I learned how to get what I want out of a grad school. Applying to SAIC, as well as a number of other schools I was rejected from, was a very nerve-wrecking experience. From researching countless institutions to letters of recommendation to study abroad credit transfer, I was doubtful any of this could come together. On top of that, I applied to a specialized art school–without a major or a minor in studio art or art history.
In my Personal History Statement to Berkeley, I wrote:
“Allow me to preface that I have neither majored in art history nor minored in it. I have neither read extensive histories and biographies on artists such as Titian, nor read into symbolism on anyone’s ceiling. Instead, I will graduate from the University of Texas at Austin in 2012 with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English. My lack of academic background in art or its history has not in any way discouraged me from pursuing a degree and reputation in this field but has instead excited me to translate what I do have a strong academic background in, that is literary and rhetorical studies and criticisms, to the subjects taught in the History of Art Department.”
Needless to say, I didn’t get in. I did, however, come to the realization that perhaps that school wasn’t for me. At least I was honest about my lack of accredited instruction in the field. But because I had learned to translate my strong background in literary theory and criticism and expressed an interest in relaying that knowledge to an armchair interest of mine, I knew there would be an art school that would appreciate it.
I applied to SAIC, even with never hearing anything about it. The institution stresses inter-disciplinary practices and methods, while focusing strongly on Modern and Contemporary Art. So I gave it a shot in January, got accepted in April, registered for classes late-April, we move in July, and school starts in August. I’ll get to see where this rabbit hole goes soonly.
This year has been hellish, amazing, discouraging, and astonishing. This is the year I learned how to learn, and that has made all the difference. I was trudging, and now I’m finding that I’m bounding. I probably annoy some classmates by constantly barraging them with chopped and screwed snippets of knowledge, but you have to stretch if you want to leap.
Go and be bold. Education is what you make it.
Much thanks to my professors. Much thanks to Sir. Much thanks to my family. Much thanks to my amazing, wonderful, and inspiring friends who have stayed with me through this year. Much thanks to SAIC for taking this madness on. Consider yourself warned.