When I was in art college my friends and I would sometimes hang out at a bar down the street called the We’ave. Although we shared many moments together, there was one memory that I’ve held onto for a very long time. One evening as we were about to leave one of my friends posed a question about where we saw ourselves in the next few years, when we would become professional artists and designers. Until then most of how I viewed myself was through the lens of daily classroom critiques, through the work that I made, and soon it would come to an end. I would have to find ways of figuring out the kind of illustrator I wanted to be on my own (well, mostly on my own... I sometimes asked my friends for help, for them to give me feedback about my illustrations). I don’t recall what I’d said but for some reason I remember feeling a kind of heat and hopefulness about the future. Like many interactions with people, it’s not always what you remember about the conversations you've had with them, rather how you were left feeling once the conversation finished.
This is what I remember about my graduation…I wore a thin long-sleeved midnight blue knitted top with an equally dark blue draw string pant. Both my sister and mom were there; it was held at Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto. I remember the bigness of the stage and how small I felt amongst some of my fellow graduates who already had big things lined up for them. Paul Baker my “Page to Stage” teacher, a wonderful and exuberant man who had since passed away, was the MC during our ceremony When he called my name it came out in a kind of soft and drawn out way like he was singing it.
Beyond that I don’t remember many of the other details aside from smiling friends’ faces, conviviality, hugs and feeling proud that I'd made it this far because I almost dropped out before my junior year. Following in my brother and sister’s footsteps, I’m the third in my family to go to college.
This year I wanted to wish my students and all the students who have spent years pouring their lives into their art education much love and good luck. In art college with all the opinions and critiques about your work that are done to strengthen your artistic facilities, to help you become better critical thinkers and to give you a place to explore and express, I know that validation can also be very important. I’ve never been a teacher who’s felt like he needed to break down students in order to build them up -- this way of learning has never worked for me. Instead my classroom is about having conversations with students, asking questions (just because I’m the teacher I don’t have all the answers), and experimenting artistically. As someone who was raised by a cruel and loving father, I'm grateful that I realized my intention as a teacher is to motivate and to make space for my students so that they feel like they want to learn because quite frankly, making art is hard work, and sometimes it can get boring too – the physical labour, mental and emotional energy it takes to make art is real. And so, I get it – to not be able to have a commencement irl is such a let-down. But my writing this isn’t to rub salt into your wounds, but only to share some final words of encouragement and to champion your resilience and creativity. I hope you all can find ways (which I’m sure you will) to celebrate your art school journeys. This isn’t a blip in yours lives, and although it'll be tough, knowing you, I'm sure you'll make it memorable.
At the end of one of our last remote teaching sessions one of my students said that our class felt like a family, and I agreed with them. The strangeness of moving from irl to online, as much as I hated it, created some turbulence which allowed me to feel a deeper connection in the moment with my students in a way that was profoundly different from past cohorts that I’ve taught. My reactionary self in the moment kept me from seeing this at first, but now that the semester is done (officially done for me as of last night) it’s like the icky feelings are beginning to lift and separate and I'm becoming more receptive of the good things that have come out of these curious times. So congratulations again to my students at SVA and also to those of you who will be graduating this year. Be well, health is everything, be kind, take space, make space, be creative, be relational, ask for help, share your knowledge, eyeliner is fun, work hard, and enjoy life. Much love. I wish you only great things.