Thursday, October 29, 2009
Real artists don't wear suits
I made this shoe drawing during my fashion illustration class last night. I now have 6 of these. I figure I'll make about 20 and then consider possible exhibition venues for them. A very different "kettle of fish" from my usual line-oriented paintings, but I think they have potential for an interesting exhibit and eventually a happy home.
These images, and the fact that they are illustrations and not "fine art," remind me of a bizarre but informative experience I had when I first decided I wanted to teach, soon after graduate school (1998). I heard that a painting professor at the local community college was taking maternity leave and the school was hiring a replacement for one painting class. Figuring that this would be a good opportunity for a beginning artist with a fresh M.F.A., I sent in my application.
I received a call from the department chair, who sounded very impressed with my application, and set up an interview. He smiled as I entered his office, but the moment he looked at me when I extended my hand to shake, he got this weird, disgusted look on his face. For the entire interview, he seemed very uncomfortable, like he couldn't wait for me to get out of his office.
I typically handle interviews with great confidence (for some reason, I really enjoy them!), but this one shook me. I felt very strange about the experience, as I was driving home afterwards. I knew there was something about my appearance that had freaked this guy out, but I couldn't imagine what it was. I had purchased a new orange sweater and a matching brown blazer and trousers with orange pinstripes at Macy's, in preparation for my interview, so I figured I looked good -- professional, but with a twist.
When the department chair notified me soon afterward that I had not been hired, I wasn't surprised, but I was still confused as to what was wrong about my looks. Several weeks later, by coincidence, I met a woman who worked as a graphic design professor at this particular college, at a social gathering. I told her about my experience and said I couldn't understand what had gone wrong.
She said she had heard about my interview, and that it had indeed been MY SUIT that had turned off the department chair and cost me the job. Apparently he had been prepared to hire me based on my resume and work samples, but then decided when he saw me that I didn't look like a "real artist" in a suit.
I wasn't clear on what had been wrong with my lovely (and expensive) suit, but I decided that perhaps an artist is "supposed" to wear all black or paint-smeared clothing (like what I had hanging in my studio, but had considered too casual for an interview).
I phoned my mother and lamented that I shouldn't have worn a suit, that maybe I was too dressy and "fashion-y" to be a real artist. But my wise mother replied, "Never hide who you are! Be yourself!"