I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Columbia College Chicago. When I first entered college, I was an illustration major, and recently I’ve returned to illustration. I honestly feel like a student again and it brought back certain memories.
It boggles my mind to this day because I’m generally a responsible person, but I don’t think I started applying to colleges until Jan of senior year. I knew I wanted to do art in some form, but didn’t bother looking into an actual school that would best prepare me for this. Good thing my parents got on my case because I don’t know what would have happened. I applied at the Art Institute of Chicago, because, “hey, that’s an art school I’ve heard of I think”. They asked to review my portfolio in person, so I gathered up random doodles and art class projects, and brought them downtown. The admission’s person was not kind and tore apart my hodgepodge of projects. They were probably used to seeing people who had prepared their whole lives for this and wanted nothing more than to attend their school, and I put in about 10 minutes worth of effort. Maybe it reality they weren’t that harsh, but being a cocky 18 who had always found drawing came easy to him suddenly was told he in fact wasn’t the greatest artist to doodle Batman on the back of a spiral bound notebook.
Panic began to set in, as my minimal effort that had carried me through most scholastic endeavors suddenly wasn’t cutting it. I always assumed I could draw, why would I have a problem getting into a school? I remember pulling together another portfolio to apply to a random state school art program, when my Dad suggested Columbia College. Not really knowing what direction I wanted to take, it seemed as good as anything else.
It’s a weird feeling gong from being the kid who can draw well at your highschool, to being in college with hundreds of other kids who were also that same person at their schools. For the first time, I had to work my ass off, and I wasn’t taking it well at first. Art school broke me down. You’re a good artist? So is everyone else here. That’s how you think you do that? Actually, here’s the correct technique.
Training started back at the basics. Line, shape, color. Its seems simple and annoying at first, but now I truly understand how knowing the correct way to approach the core building blocks make all the difference in the end. Critique were stressful and pulled no punches. And while it made for uncomfortable, long nights, it was vital to make your skin thick, and teach you to learn from mistakes and do better next time.
I honestly didn’t love my time at Columbia. I lived at home, waking up early everyday and taking the train with all the business commuters into the city, followed then by a bus ride into the Loop. After class, you had to bail to make it to the train, otherwise you had a few hours to kill in the city, fun in the summer but depressing in the winter. There were no frat parties, drinking in dorm rooms or ultimate Frisbee on the quad. On top of that, my girlfriend was several hours away, and it was hard to make new friends when no one lived at school.
And it was hard work. They didn’t let you get away with anything (well, except maybe the math classes that involved playing with blocks because we’re dumb artists). I have very distinct memories of that first year; every Monday morning sitting in the train station, counting the minutes like a man on deathrow, before I had to get on that bus and start my dreaded History of Art Class. But all that said, I wouldn’t trade the education for anything. I don’t know if I would be an artist today that could earn a living from it, without Columbia. My portfolio was well rounded and I was prepared to be professionally reviewed. In retrospect, I wish I actually got more involved in the art scene there, more student clubs, more gallery shows, taking more advantage of the city as a whole. Columbia, I know talked some shit about you at the time, but, hey man, I get it now. I get it.