The First Cardinal Sin of Art School

The art professor asks, “why did you pick these materials?”  and your response is, “these are the materials I had.”

If you have ever said this to your professor, you have committed the first Cardinal Sin in art school.  This unforgivable laps in judgement happened to me often in my early art school days, but I soon learned to hear the response only in my head while my mouth wove a very different tale about the intent and meaning that these materials bring to whatever piece I happened to be making.  Did they buy it?  Most of the time, probably not.  Did I buy it?  No.

Now to be fair, this question was almost never raised unless the outcome of whatever project I was working on happened to fail miserably.  And so, I found the loop-hole in the system; I could use whatever materials I wanted (i.e. materials that were cheep, free, or lying around) as long as I made them work in my favor.  Hmm… now I was getting somewhere.

My very first project in my very first design class was called a transformation project.  In a nutshell, each week we had to make something using 12 (or a multiple of 12) of something to create something else, transforming it in such a way as to make it either extremely interesting or completely unrecognizable (or both).  The object that I chose to transform was a humble paper bag and for my first project from this series I made a teddy bear.  Though I had never really had any particular interest in sewing up until that point (I had gone into art school loving to paint), I somehow ended up making this bear using nothing more than the travel sewing kit my mom packed in my college dorm supplies*.  To my relief the teacher loved it.  I had discovered Fiber and a whole other side of craft that I never knew existed.

Though this first project was a success, I had many, many more failures in turning humble materials into artistic and academic gold, but that didn’t stop me from trying.

Now, nearly eleven years removed from my first day of art school, I am reminded of this “Cardinal Sin” because of what I find myself doing on a daily basis; I make things out of the materials that I have.  If I don’t have it, I don’t make it.  Period.  It’s kind of worked into my newly found business model of using primarily recycled/repurposed/reused materials.  To me, it’s a challenge of having a material and then finding a new use for it.  It’s exciting.  It’s fun.  It’s me.

I’ve recently realized that I’m an adult now and I live in that place that adults used to talk about incessantly while I was in college called “the real world.”  And, in the real world, one does not need to follow the rules of the “art world.”  That said, I very much enjoyed my time in art school and I really did learn a lot from my professors.  Namely, I learned about construction, craftsmanship, and intent and how these elements are important to think about when creating something.

My intent is to use materials in such a way as to give them new life.  In the most basic and conventional sense I am making these objects useful again, but really I’m trying to take this work to the next step and move beyond recycling or upcycling.  What this means, I’m not really sure.  (Transforming maybe?)

Throughout this post are photos of some projects that I’ve been working on recently.  There’s origami gift boxes made from junk mail, old calendars, and magazines.  There’s earrings made from recycled buttons (yes, every one).  There’s greeting cards with funny sayings made from cereal boxes.  These objects are where I am right now in my quest to figure out where I’m going.  To see them (or better yet, buy them!) and me in person, I invite you to come out to the Rowdy Indie Craft Fair this Sunday.  I’d love to chat with you!

*If you look closely at the bears eyes you can see that they are buttons, but since my cheep sewing kit didn’t include black buttons I just painted them.

**this post was just added to Made By You Mondays on Skip to My Lou, and The Inspiration Link Party 12 on Homework.



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8 responses to “The First Cardinal Sin of Art School

  1. Nancy

    I always loved that bear!, you did some real nice work with 12 paper bags, your guilt was a knock out. too!. As I recall it was always a challenge helping you acquire the things you “had on hand”. I think it is more appropriate to say things you could get for free or cheaply. It seems so long ago.
    Love, ya, Mom

    • I guess the sewing kit was more the thing I had on hand in that case. I remember getting my first bags for that bear project at the co-op next to the Factory building, but the most of the rest of the bags were from your kroger stash.

  2. Independence of thought… and the lack of it in early days of schooling. We do what they tell us, and we follow the rules. It is great though to grow up at some stage and build your own rules and break some of the ones that we have been taught originally. This is a lovely post Emily. Thanks for sharing your artistic background. It does come down to professionalism and the perfection of the product we are delivering. Your art is very fine and your presentation is fantastic. I do not have a tertiary training in Art but I have an eye for beauty and talent. It is important to believe in your skill, have an idea and then nurture it so that it can become something greater! Things seem to come your way…
    “Life is not about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.”

    • Sunchi, Thank you for such a thought provoking response. I am of the school of thought that one should know the rules first before breaking them. That said, I can’t say I’ve always followed that rule myself. There is always a balance to be made. I do believe in the importance of educating oneself, but education may take many forms. It could mean attending a college or university, yes, but it can also mean hours of self guided research and informal instruction from mentors. One should never stop growing. To continue to grow, you needs to continue to learn. Once you cease growing you die, physically or mentally or both.

  3. You have some wonderful ideas and the facts that you are recycling makes them doubly clever. The bear is delightful. Good luck at the Craft Fair- if I lived close by I’d be there! Lynda @

  4. I agree, we continue to learn with each new day ahead of us and every effort needs to be made in order to learn more and improve oneself. Not to do so would mean the waste of mental resources and this precious time given to us.
    Happy creating! 🙂

  5. “Silly ol’ bear.” I’ve always been partial to bears… love your teddy and the story. Great post, Emily! Thanks for sharing.

  6. Wonderful story and the bear is amazing. I would be so happy if you shared this project on my Inspiration Board {link party}. I know my readers would really enjoy it.
    Hope to see you there.
    carolyn | homework

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