Maine College of Art
This blog post is part of a series called Who Are They? where information is provided for the Maine Arts Ed blog readers to learn about community organizations and institutions that provide educational opportunities in the arts. You will learn that they are partnering with other organizations and schools to extend learning opportunities, not supplant.
This is the third post on the Maine College of Art (MECA) which is located in downtown Portland. Sarah Sullivan is a first year student at MECA and was kind enough to answer questions for the Maine Arts Ed blog readers. (Perhaps you’d like to share this with high school students considering art school after graduation).
What was your art education like in elementary, middle, and high school? Who or what has inspired you?
Elementary school? All I can remember from elementary school is cut paper that I made into a semi-picture, and then watching the Seasame Street art movie called “Don’t Eat the Pictures” (it was fantastic). In my free time at home I’d roll under the coffee table in my house and draw on the bottom with crayons. In middle school I was selected for the “Gifted and Talented” Art class, which wasn’t as big a deal as it sounded.
It wasn’t until high school that I really got involved with art. Yes, I guess you can say I’d always been creative, but when I got to high school, suddenly I had choices and freedom to do what I wanted. I could choose not only to do art, but what kind of art as well. It was two of my high school art teachers, Peter Morgan, and Megan Boyd who really inspired me to pursue art. Mr. Morgan taught Composition and Design, which was an introductory class where we learned the basics of how to draw still life’s and compose good pieces. Everyone had to take it, so he had to deal with a lot of people who didn’t want to be there. He had a sarcastic streak, but he was honest, and he encouraged me to continue to take art classes. He taught me a lot of the basics which I use today.
Going into my Junior year of high school though, I hadn’t thought of pursuing art in higher education, hadn’t even considered making a career out of it. As much as I enjoyed art, and classes like Mr. Morgan’s, I didn’t see how I could possibly make a living doing that. Enter Megan Boyd. She taught Graphic Design and changed my whole world. She showed me this whole other side of art that I didn’t even know existed. She became my mentor, encouraging me to push my artwork, and helping me with whatever crazy scheme I’d thought of. I don’t know if I would be where I am today without her. Even now we still talk, and I send her my work to get her thoughts on it.
Why did you select MECA to continue with your education beyond high school?
I first heard about MECA through my friend Nichole (who is currently attending with me), when we were both looking for colleges. We were all talking in AP Art about how no one had any idea what they were doing when it came to looking for colleges. We’d all heard of Rhode Island School of Design and Pratt, but then she brought up MECA, mentioning that she enjoyed her visit. MECA sent me a free application, which was a pretty great deal since most of the other colleges were asking for $50. After winning a scholarship, and visiting for an open house, I was pretty much sold. I mean everything was so personal, heck the Dean of the school shook my hand and told me to call him Ian.
How was your transition to college? How do you describe living and learning in Portland?
Hmmm… my “transition” to college? I’d say it was relatively smooth. I mean I think everyone had like a day or two of home sickness, and orientation was excruciating, but I’ve been having a great time. It never really hit me like, “we live here now”, it was more just slipping into this routine that my friends and I have built over the months. Living in Portland is incredible. It’s not a big city, but it’s got so much energy. On the weekends you can go out and explore art galleries or shops. There’s always something exciting happening to get involved in. It’s very different than a campus experience. It’s more than just walking in between your dorm room and your classes. At MECA, you work within this larger community, in the real world. MECA students are continually exchanging and working with the people of Portland. It’s something you wouldn’t get on a normal college campus.
What did you value most in your arts education growing up?
The most important part, for me, of my art education while growing up was getting feedback from other people, and learning how to take that. I mean, it’s great if you can make art for yourself, but as an artist, you’ve got to put your work out there for other people. The whole reason we create is to share it with people. You want it to be the best it can be, and part of that process is other people critiquing your work. I’ve had some great teachers and friends who have always given me honest feedback on what I’m doing. It’s always hard hearing people speak negatively about your work, but over the years I’ve learned it’s really nothing personal. It’s about your work, and you’ve got to be open to new ideas and suggestions. I think learning about that process and being a part of it has really helped me get to where I am today.
What is your passion? Medium of choice?
Graphic Design is my passion. It’s more than just art, it’s problem solving. Designers are presented with these design challenges, you know, you’ve only got so much space or a limited color pallette. I find these challenges exciting, and I enjoy solving the problems that people present. I enjoy working digitally, but I do a lot of hand work at the same time. It’s hard to pick a medium of choice, but I work in Adobe Illustrator the most.
What are you hoping to get from your education at MECA?
Hopefully, by the end of my time here at MECA, I’ll have the knowledge and confidence to go out into the world with my work. MECA has a great team of professors and administrators willing to help you however you need. I’m hoping to have a strong portfolio of work after my 4 years here, and the skills to market that work. I want to learn not just the core concepts and basics of design, but how to apply them effectively. I hope that I come out of this experience a well rounded artist able to hold my own in the world.
What’s the most creatively inspiring experience you have?
That’s also a really hard question. I mean I think we’ve all had those moments where you’re doing anything and suddenly you get an urge to paint or draw. Sometimes I’ll be going through a lesson and I have an idea for a piece or something. It’s easy to get inspired if you’re open to it. Walking around Portland at night, with all the street lights on, especially now in the winter, has a really nice feeling. I wouldn’t say that every night is inspiring, but I would say walking at night puts me in the mood to create. It’s really beautiful, and I think the city at night has that effect on everyone.
Why is art important to you?
For me, art is a method of communicating with people, in a way that my words can’t. Art is a way of working through what’s inside my head. When I draw or I design, it’s more than just putting pencil to paper. When you make art you put all of your experiences and feelings into the work. People respond to your work, in ways that you can’t predict. It has the power to change peoples’ mindsets, inspire change. I see a lot wrong with the world today, and art is my way of trying to change things for the better. I believe in the power that art has, and the spirit that artists put into their work, which is why I have to be a part of it.
How does learning about art impact other parts of your thinking? Your life?
Learning about art has given me quite a different perspective on life than other people might have. As an artist you’re open and curious about the world. You see the beauty in everything. In a world full of war and politics you stand out from the crowd. In one of my classes we read the book “Artists in the Time of War” by Howard Zinn, and it completely changed the way I thought about politics and art. I find that I’m more open to ideas and change. As a designer, I like to problem solve, so I find that in life I’m always looking at things and trying to imagine them better. I think that learning about art, whether it be movements or artists, you start to see the another side of the world and history than what’s just plugged into textbooks or media. As an artist, I’ve got to be open to looking for new perspectives, different solutions, and beautiful things.