A Business Mind, Stuck in a Fine Art World {The Story Behind the Amish Project}

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Just under four years ago I began my undergraduate studies at Temple University – Tyler School of Arts in Philadelphia, PA. I had no idea what I had gotten myself into.

I have loved art ever since I can remember. But going to a small Christian school meant that I had to choose between photography or furthering my art classes. I chose photography. It wasn’t until I transferred to Pequea Valley High school my junior year, that I was once again allowed to not only continue with my photo classes but also dust off my old art supplies.

My dad often tells me that there will be a few people in life that truly alter your direction, even if they only are part of your life for a very short time. Mr. Ruder, the art teacher at PV, was one of those people.

I remember a sunny winter day, my first year at PV, that Mr. Ruder took his classes on a field trip to Tyler School of Art. At the time the campus was off Temple’s main campus in Elkins Park. I remember calling my parents after and saying how I loved the program but wanted to be a part of a school that offered more than just art classes.

I soon found out that Tyler was planning to move to Main Campus the year after I graduated High-school. Meaning, I could pursue not only art but business as well. Mr. Ruder was a huge advocate of the program and was constantly pushing me to be a better artist.

I applied to five colleges, Tyler being one of them. I put together a portfolio a few days before my review and traveled to Philadelphia to present my work.

I remember walking into the admissions office, with my small portfolio book unaware of what was going on. A girl walked out of a room crying, apparently upset at the fact that she was not accepted. Until that moment, I had no idea that day they would tell me if I was accepted into the program.

A giant 5 ft drawing was hanging on the wall, a colorful self portrait with a life-sized female tangled in a detailed web. I looked at my mom and said “I could never do something like that”. She tried to comfort me by saying, “I’m sure that is not required of a freshman”. Much later I found out, that indeed, that drawing was created by a freshman in the foundations program.

I walked into a small office and laid out my portfolio. After a short review, the man across the desk said I had strong photography, but was lacking in my drawing skills. He made me promise to draw everyday till the first day of classes. I excitedly agreed.

I postponed my admissions to Tyler to travel to India with an organization called YWAM, after graduation. But in 2010, I made the move to Philadelphia. During orientation, the head of the Foundations department looked at the new thousand students and told us that everyday they are trying to make us quit because the art world is tough. Continuing, he told us how 50% of the people in that room would drop out or change majors by second semester.

Had this speech not been given, I may have been one of those people that changed majors second semester. But I decided in that moment, I would not be one of the negative statistics.

Freshman year was hell. I had NO idea what fine art was before I entered one of the most well known Fine Art schools in the country. I spent everyday of freshman year covered in some type of artistic material, from sawdust to charcoal and clay. I got up at 9 am for class and typically wouldn’t stop working till my head hit the pillow. Every Monday was my five hour drawing class and during our half hour break I would call my mom crying that I couldn’t keep going. I remember staying after class and asking my drawing teacher how all this art would help my photography.

Freshman year shaped who I am today.

63644_10150349103670307_3275445_nAbove: my FIRST critiqued drawing of art school. I got torn apart by the other students because it was too cliche. I left the class crying. Looking back now, I agree with everything each student said. 2Above left: my 4 ft x 6 ft drawing final, first semester freshman year
Above right: a 4 ft pastel drawing, second semester freshman year

387607_10150978622815307_1709959881_nAbove: Metal project from my sophomore jewelry class.

Conceptual thinking doesn’t come easy to me. I’ve never claimed to be an extremely artsy person. I thought about things differently than most of my classmates. I wasn’t the best at this whole art thing, and that frustrated me. I wanted it to come easy. My business minded personality had me creating stale and rigid work. I just didn’t see the connection between art and photography.

3Above left: Super hero costume for my 3d class, second semester freshman year Above right: 4 ft pastel and ink Hindi alphabet, second semester freshman year

This was a continually struggle for the next three years. It wasn’t until my last semester that I finally embraced the combination of art and business. In the Photography department, we are required to create a thesis show to graduate. You and another photographer classmate choose a series of your own work and prepare it for viewing, from printing, matting, framing and so on. It is a semester long project that is nothing short of exhausting.

I had originally decided to do something dealing with fashion. After all, that was my plan after school. I wanted something that my “non-artsy” friends would appreciate. I wanted to wow people with my lighting techniques and photoshop capabilities.

But I had a body of work that I had been working on for some time, that was just waiting to be rediscovered. A personal project dealing with my heritage, the Amish. It was a continual hit during critiques, people felt I had a unique perspective. But to me, it was boring and so similar to what I was use to seeing everyday in Lancaster.

Early in the semester, I hung a few pieces I was contemplating using for my show. After a forty-five minutes critique; I was more confused, stressed, and anxious then when I started. At that point, I had a decision to make. I could either decide to not take their criticism of this project not being show worthy or I could take their words to heart and pursue the Amish Project further.

It took me a few days of thinking and speaking with my parents to finally make the decision. Today, I can say, deciding to do the Amish Project was the best decision I made in art school.

Because the body of work was fairly completed, I could put all my focus on the process. I fell in love with printing, deciding the technical sizes of the mattes and frames and successfully checking off the to-dos of the project. I created a video and designed a show book. For the first time, I saw the sophistication of Fine Art.

I resisted Fine Art for three years. I guess I felt that there was no way to combine my passions with this type of art. Throughout the process of my thesis show I learned to embrace the uncomfortable and that there was extreme value in thinking outside of the box.

Images of my final thesis show Fall 2013:1459251_10153469145360307_1824994650_n 1465313_10153468309675307_452057269_n 1477981_10153469145345307_6096758_n

Art is a continually process, it is never finished. This use to drive me crazy, I like being able to check things off my list and move forward. Although my business side still often prevails, I am learning that it can work in tandem with the knowledge I have gained from Tyler School of Art. I never thought I would continue to pursue personal projects after graduation, but I think I finally gained new perspective.

I have now proudly completed my Bachelors of Fine Arts with a major in Photography from Tyler School of Arts and a minor in Business from Fox School of Business. I am extremely grateful for my time at Tyler. The connections I made and knowledge I acquired, has shaped the person and artist I am today.

Click here to view the full Amish Project

1374806_10153309170150307_89217345_n 4 390596_10152793063345307_2119067177_n Above: a class portrait from one of my favorite and most challenging classes, digital project248003_10152793066185307_695912329_n

Stay tuned for new work coming soon!

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