September 19, 2010

A Bus Ticket at the Airport?

When I graduated from the Emily Carr College of Art and Design (ECCAD) in 1989, one voice in the faculty stood out: Bob Evermon. In an impassioned letter to the graduating class and college (which I cannot completely recall), he likened the Diplomas we would receive to getting "a bus ticket at the airport". His point, I believe, was that the college should be a degree-granting institution. I have always wondered if getting a Bachelors of Fine Arts would have helped to further my career.

During my four years at ECCAD, my studies progressed from Foundation through a series of computer graphics, drawing, art history and multimedia courses. Of particular note was an amazing, inspiring all-day Senior Multimedia Studio taught by Gary Lee Nova and Michael Agrios, which combined a morning theory session with an afternoon practical session. I learned a lot about the development and impact of modern media on culture, and got a lot of hands-on experience with consumer-grade audio and video equipment and production techniques.We were just on the verge of the convergence of the Computer, Print, and Broadcast media, and it is incredible to see how far that integration has progressed, affecting whole swaths of culture and lifestyle.

By my final year, I was taking a number of self-study blocks, which meant that I had to define my own project for the semester and pursue it under the guidance of a consulting instructor. I used those sessions to develop ideas for an interactive slide show of computer graphics and an electronic sculpture idea. I read obsessively about art, science and technology, especially cybernetics and AI. I taught myself how to use a breadboard to prototype little circuits, how to solder (badly) and how to program in BASIC. I made many trips up Fourth Avenue to RP Electronics that year, and felt a huge amount of gratification from running my own creative projects on my own terms and schedule. (Instructor and electronics artist Dennis Vance was a huge inspiration to me during those projects.)

I'd be lying if I said that I had any idea back then what I'd be doing with my career in the long term, but with the collaboration and help of some classmates (especially the always-brilliant Martin Hunt) my grad projects were completed and shown successfully. Impermanence is part of life. After the 1989 Grad Show was completed, I documented the pieces and dismantled them. Their purpose was served.

Now, over twenty years after graduation, I've managed to keep my career alive as a commercial artist in the IT sector, working for a succession of small-to-mid-sized companies. Most often, I've succeeded by creating a role for myself as an "everything art guy" or an all-round digital and print designer.

I'm still interested in technology, but I find that I don't often get the opportunity to create anything that interests me, or of which I can feel particularly excited. In the first 10 years of my career, every brochure and business card design, website layout or programming challenge seemed unique and exciting to me. Between 1992 and 2002, I got to flex my graphic skills, create animations, or help to tell a story using words and pictures. The design mojo had started to develop in me in art school, but the actual design technology skills and production experience came face-first, on the job.

I think I have always been happiest if I had one project that I could control from beginning to end - a pet project. These opportunities seem to be few and far between, and getting fewer all the time. But, every employer's needs are different, and it's unrealistic to expect a commercial design position to afford too many opportunities for personal expression or even personal satisfaction.

There's always been a little voice in the back of my mind asking things like "Is my Do It Yourself career a good enough path for me? Would I be happier if I pursued formal training - maybe got some credentials in design or multimedia or something? What about teaching? The few times I've worked as an instructor, I've always loved it. What about that?"

Did I get a bus ticket at the airport after all? Maybe it's a good time to ask if I need a transfer...

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