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
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
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.