What Is It About Art School?

Art School Supplies
Attending art school has always been a narrative that flowed alongside my life, particularly the Ontario Collage of Art and Design or OCAD (formerly OCA). When I was in junior high, one of my best friends had a dream of going there. At 14 she was already working on her portfolio. She took me down to The Grange, which was right by the art college and, at the time, was a beautiful little warren of exclusive shops and restaurants worthy of artists and their patrons. When my parents divorced, my mom pursued her artistic aspirations as a part-time student at OCAD, studying everything from sound to colour theory. My aunt went to OCAD. My sister Shannon went to OCAD. And my husband, Justin, went, for a time, to OCAD too.

But I never thought it was something for me. Out of all the arts, the visual arts have been the most intimidating to me, the most rife with art wounds. Over the past decade, I’ve given myself many opportunities for healing. I’ve attended all kinds of art classes, both online and in Toronto. I’ve spent hours art journaling, doodling and playing with drawing and painting. Every Sunday we have Art Day.

I’ve held it all lightly, as lightly as I could, and did my best to create for myself the encouraging environment I’d never been able to find.

This year, I’ve signed up for a class at an art school, not the iconic OCAD but a reputable school nonetheless. I’m doing a week-long immersive in collage – starting Tuesday. I’m so glad that I planned this many months ago when the beginning date was far enough away to be less scary. Now that I’m right on the cusp of the start, I’m committed. The decision has been made. The money has been paid. All that’s left is to go.

As I prepare for this next adventure, I’m so aware of all the stories I have in my heart me about art school and what this course is likely to be like. Here are just a few.

The Stories I’m Carrying Around about Art School

  • The environment is going to be confusing, unclear and generally a bit unwelcoming.
  • The teacher is going to gravitate to those who are already awesome and ignore those who are learning to be.
  • The students are going to be reserved and mostly do their own thing.
  • Other people will feel at home but I’ll feel like I don’t belong.
  • There will be one woman who is older than me by a fair bit and everyone else will be younger than me by a fair bit.
  • It’s going to be mostly self-directed.
  • I’ll relish the dedicated creative time but resent the lack of guidance and instruction.
  • Seeing what other people do will expand my range of possibilities.
  • Seeing what other people do will bring out my insecurities.
  • I’ll create pieces that I feel mark me as a novice and maybe a thing or two I feel good about.
  • I’ll indulge myself in the repeated fantasy of not returning but I’ll stick it out until the end.
  • It’s going to be on an emotional roller coaster.
  • I’m going to learn at least something in spite of all this.
  • I’m going to feel proud of myself for going.

And here’s what I know; those are just stories. Sure, they are stories rooted in past experience but they have no bearing on what next week will be like unless I wash everything in their colour.

But one of the things the kittens are reminding me of is just how unpredictable life’s adventures can be. This is why we creative adventurers benefit so powerfully from our practices, so we develop our muscles for showing up and being present to the moment; and from our projects, which nourish our confidence and grow our capacity; and from our performances, where we learn to trust ourselves to dance with whatever shows up and use it as nourishment for our creative lives.

The Stories & Strategies I’m Choosing to Carry with Me to Art School

  • Don’t think about it too much; just go.
  • Make sure I have all my supplies and know exactly where I’m going ahead of time. Who needs additional stress?
  • Have a journal with me at all times so I can have an outlet when/if things get intense.
  • Know that I can text Shannon and Justin to remember that I am connected to people I love and who believe in me.
  • Know that I can leave any at time. I am an adult and the choice of staying or going is up to me.
  • Ask for what I want/need to make it a positive learning experience.
  • Start with the belief that we, as a class, are a community, and everyone will likely be helpful.
  • Be the kind of classmate that I would like to have.
  • Be open to the learning, all of it – content-wise and context-wise.
  • Be open to loving it and wanting more.

I wonder which of my stories will be affirmed and which will be obliterated. What I promise myself is that I will enter this art school exploration with an open heart and a curious mind. From there, we’ll see what happens. Wish me luck on the adventure.

Any advice for me about this art school adventure? Anything you’d like me to share? I’ll be blogging about it as soon as I’m able.


  1. candi says:

    I wish I had had your list of things to remember before I started a watercolor class a few weeks ago! Instead of allowing myself to enjoy the process, be easy with myself knowing I have no experience with it & asking for help, I made myself tense & miserable by judging, comparing & not asking for help. I’ve learned little & haven’t had much fun either which is all on me. Next class I take, I will ask for help, strive to be easier on myself & engage more with the other artists. I’m glad you’ve got yourself mentally prepared for the experience & bet you won’t even need your list – you’re awesome at all you create & this will be no different. :-)

  2. Kris says:

    Once upon a time I signed up for a beginning Norwegian language class. I was so excited. On the first night, the teacher was speaking Norwegian to most of the class and they were responding. Most of them already spoke the language. This was not the beginning class I had signed up for. Fast forward 30 years or more. I have been taking some on-line classes also and have found that the teachers are there to do just that — to teach and to share with and to empower me. The in-person realistic collage classes that I’ve taken have been fun and generally if I have a question, it is one that many others in the class share. There truly is no such thing as a dumb question. One of the most surprisging things I’ve realized in my creative journey, is that often I have things to share with others — moments of clarity or inspiration or dare I say, moments of “teaching”!!! Take a deep breath, have an open heart, carry no limiting expectations. Take another deep breath and have fun! I have a feeling that you, being the joy bubble that you are, will contribute soooo much to the class just by being there. This should be a piece of cake and yes, you can eat it too!!!! Love to you.

  3. A week-long immersive in collage sounds like a BLAST! I bet that week will fly. Enjoy every moment. As you’ve shared in your creative journey…art is for EVERYONE. And that includes YOU! Shine on

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