Life After Art School, Part 1

[originally posted in April 2010]
Justin Barnes

Transition is a terrible thing. The transition from life in art school to life in the Great Big Out There. How can it work? As I try to write this, “failure” is the only word to come to mind. Failure. But where to go from there?
Failure perfectly describes my state of mind right now. Three years after art school, three states, four jobs, and thousands of dollars of debt later, I’m still nowhere. I once sauntered through the hallways of my alma mater as a god (in my mind at least), and have now been forced, years later, to crawl like a begging dog to interview after interview with no success and no foreseeable future. I wince every time I open my email – surely another rejection is sitting there, mocking me.
“Failure” works perfectly, but what next? I’m still stuck with this goddamned transition. Clearly, the logical steps to take are to, first, as best as possible, disguise my garbage, blog-o-riffic attempt at gonzo journalism by going all meta, and second, make the clear –albeit horrendously lame- comparison of the literary transition to the literal transition. Done and done.
I attended the Savannah College of Art and Design to study installation art, film, and art history. My degree is a BFA in Film from the Film and Television department. Whereas much of the program focused on teaching the technical aspects of filmmaking, with the aide of several professors, I was able to carve out a more personal niche, allowing me a different trajectory. I chose to focus less on filmmaking and film production and more on the fine arts application of the moving image medium. Thus, I left SCAD with a phenomenal sense of satisfaction and a vast knowledge of art history, art criticism, and installation art theory, but no discernable skills.
I never developed a talent for production the way my peers did, so that meant major film industry hot spots like New York and L.A. were out as viable post-college living/working options. My work at SCAD amounted to a lot of projects done primarily as tests of theories and practices of the work of artists I had studied.  My demo reel is filled with esoteric film and video experiment that have scared off most commercial video and television production companies. So, with no scene to integrate into and no foreseeable lucrative employment options, I bit the Freudian bullet, and moved back in to my parent’s house in central New York.
Like many of my peers, these past few years after art school have been a haze of stress, uncertainty and debt. I made a stab at living in Providence, RI, but I abandoned it to move to Wisconsin and work construction for a year to slim down my immense student loan debt. Having squandered my small fortune made working construction, I ended up here in Chicago to start fresh. Being so far removed from the art world this past year, I feel strongly that my “first” time after art school was a bit of a temporal hiccup. I feel like I’m starting all over, a second “first” time.