What Kind of Horrible Student Are You?
Story and Art by Russell Gottwaldt
1. The corrupt Art Student
Every day admirers hound you. If it isn’t undergraduates squealing with delight and dashing toward you on the street, then it’s companies and established professionals pouring offers in front of you. It’s difficult being such a talented and important student and that’s why exceptions should be made when it comes to compromising your integrity. People like you deserve a little break every now and then, which is why you took the generous offer to design a product logo for a business that sells dangerously sharp and rusty bicycles to little children on the South Side. You’ve also decided to take that glamorous job with the big-name fashion designer who whole-heartedly endorses anorexia nervosa and makes coats by skinning alive only the cutest of puppies.
Recently, you figured out that shady lawyers happen to make the best accountants. Sure, they seemed a little rough around the edges at first, but that was before you got to know them and before you started getting back a king’s ransom on your yearly returns. I mean, it’s not like the government needs all that money, and it’s not like the Bush administration is following the straight and narrow either, so why shouldn’t a talented individual like you also be a lucrative individual?
It’s true, you have a real talent for design, a real sense of application, and a real knack for pushing your work out there, but you’ve been successful for a long time and it’s been a long time since you re-evaluated your principles. You can’t remember why you used to turn down corporate offers. You don’t mean to be distracted by praise, attention and wealth, but hedonism is such a pleasing alternative to morality. Sometimes you feel empty inside, but that’s nothing that a little Bristol Bay King Crab covered in butter wouldn’t help with. Maybe you had dreams of selflessly contributing unique art to the world once upon a time, but your concerns lately are different: which steakhouse to eat at, what celebrity you think you look like, and how to get those bitchy poor people out of your life.
2. The Loveless Art Student
“Unconditional” is a term you are unfamiliar with. You’ve heard of students giving their leftover paintings or sculpture supplies to peers without needlessly charging them, you’ve heard of professors putting forth effort to help incompetent students, and you’ve been to dorm rooms where one roommate buys a gallon of milk with the intention of sharing it. This is abnormal behavior from your point of view, since every step you take is heavy with skepticism and distrust. If the school you attend keeps recruiting whiny ingrates pretending to be intellectuals, then why wouldn’t you be? If you’ve practiced noble discourses only to conceal ulterior motives your whole life, then who knows what kind of tactical socializing the slime at this school are doing? Imagine the deplorable kinds of strategic conducts that could be taking place behind your back, under your nose, and where your eyes don’t go.
This kind of thinking, however, hasn’t yet deterred you from trying to be the most successful of all artists. You’re perpetually on the offense. You can’t be an art star if you aren’t playing friends and relatives like a chessboard. Admittedly, it’s difficult deciding whom exactly to step on to get ahead, since many people you attend school with are larger than you and can punch harder than you. In such cases, a little backstabbing and defamation of character are sensible routes. I mean, you can’t be the next Matthew Barney if you’re sitting on your ass and being considerate all day.
This isn’t to say that you act selfishly all the time. Just as generous students pour their enthusiasm over classmates who are thirsty for companionship you, too, can act with esteem toward shy or awkward individuals. You can still be someone’s best friend so long as they have a potential opening in a gallery for you. If said individual is in a position of great influence, you can be friendlier still.
You take great care not to befriend those of little or uncertain use. Unless you’re in a relationship to extract pertinent information, it’s just unnecessary effort. God knows how exhausting it can be when the company you keep doesn’t edify you on a daily basis. After someone has offered all they can to you, it’s best to drop them like a bag of dirt. You can’t be carrying fleshy, disgusting friends up the social ladder with you they’ll make you sweaty and no one respects an artist with B.O.
3. The Lukewarm Art Student
You were the token arty kid in high school. Friends and enemies alike expected you to draw, paint, or fabricate some exciting, new adornment of life when you grew up. That’s why, when Great Aunt Mildred’s passing left you enough money to attend a college without tuition costs negating your decided school, you went to an elite school for the art. Currently, you warmly tell relatives how much you enjoy schmoozing and musing with creative intellectuals. Your friends assure you that you’re the nicest guy they know. Every week there is a new pack of beer in the fridge for your roommates. The hot water never runs out because you shower diligently. Dogs wag their tails and slobber incessantly when you walk by. You’re totally content.
Which could very well be why everything you create is benign. Your work is anecdotal, lacking in technical achievement and passion. With all the outside praise you absorbed growing up, you never once asked yourself critical questions like, “Why shouldn’t I indiscriminately paint iconic hearts over all of my photographs?” Or, “Why shouldn’t I keep making images of large-breasted women being stabbed in graveyards?”
Lately, it occurred to you that not once have you tried to mirror society at large with your work. Not once have you stepped outside your comfortable habits to create for the greater good. This doesn’t bother you too much, though, as art isn’t the main focus of your life, anyway. It’s just something you do. Your philosophy is that any artist stressing over their work is simply asking for ulcers. The news can be really depressing, and it’s hard to understand what people are talking about sometimes, so you just ignore the fuss and continue living in an uninterrupted flow of warm mediocrity.
4. The Faithful Art Student
You love to create. Not only do you love to create, you care about what you create. Your brainchildren are not something you take for granted or something you take lightly. You have an unworldly trust in the power of art and it’s communicative ability, which is apparent in the way you toil. The things you make aren’t created, they’re begotten. Every week you walk to the art supply store, as you sold your U-Pass to buy art supplies, and spare no expense on materials. Not only that, you shop at the art supply store that needs your business, the one owned by a kind grandpa who calls himself Pappi.
Each project you dream up is more thoughtful than the last. Each one is technically more advanced than the last. Knowing that making epic, aberrant art is your divine mission makes it easy for you to spend thrice as much on fabric, paint, or film than on life-sustaining essentials like toilet paper. Because nothing is more powerful and true than the visual arts, your abnegation is frighteningly intense.
Food, clothing and utility bills are secondary priorities. In the grand scheme of things, earthly inconveniences are mere specs of dust on the timeless lampshade of fine art. You repeat to yourself, “Hunger pains are tolerable, underwear still functions after the elastic waistband turns to dust, and ComEd forcing me to work by candlelight makes me a righteous martyr, so why not pour everything into my work?” You argue that though our life is temporary, our statements are potentially timeless, so washing your moldy undergarments and showering regularly have become optional practices since you arrived at this artistic epiphany. It is far better to use the time wasted with hygiene and clothing for creative purposes, like tearing up said dirty undergarments and gessoing them onto a canvas, or using your frighteningly long fingernails to screw together the parts of what used to be your television. The only thing surpassing your superiors’ amazement at the quality of your work is your superiors’ amazement at the quality of your hygiene.