It’s Fine To Be A Fine Arts Major

There are so many stigmas around college majors, and being someone who has attended two different universities, these stereotypes definitely have a range. However, regardless of where you go to school, art majors are almost always met with judgment. Some people have referred to getting an art degree as being a waste of time and money, or that the student isn’t really learning anything.

However, these claims hold no truth to them. Yes, being an artist and living off of your work is definitely going to be more difficult to do than someone who works in a law firm or in banking, but from what I’ve seen, these art students are actually extremely talented and devoted to their craft.

BU Junior, Alanna Birmingham (CFA '19) is a prime example of those talented art students. Alanna is a Painting and Printmaking Major with an Art History minor, and her work is outstanding.

I was lucky enough to interview Alanna and hear about what her experience has been being an art student. Her responses were inspiring and thought-provoking; a perfect complement to her artwork.

Gabriella: How long have you been doing art?

Alanna: I went to a very artistic preschool, so I’ve been effectively making art since I was three. It was in high school that I decided I wanted to major in art thanks to an incredibly influential teacher and mentor, Katharine Boyd.

Growing up, my parents also took me to museums and galleries and I realized that the best contribution I can make (and want to make) is to create art.

It is not always easy, but it is important to make something every day. I have also had a wide range experiences in the art world and through traveling, this exposure to lots of media and culture has impacted my work and worldview.

G: What is printmaking?

A:  Printmaking is a way of making multiple images, usually on paper, that is handmade rather than digital. It can be painterly or a fine way to make multiples of a drawing.

There are four major subcategories: relief, intaglio, lithography, and silkscreen. I’m studying intaglio at the moment, which involves etching lines into zinc plates by soaking in acid.

I then apply ink from cans and wipe away the ink that is not sunk, slightly deeper, into the surface of the plate. I usually make editions of five- that is five near copies of one drawing. I soak fine papers in water and run them through the press on top of my etching plate.

G: Why printmaking?  

A: I like the two-dimensionality of printmaking. Paintings can look very muddy and impasto. Printmaking is fresh and fast and I like the rules and steps involved- it is a science. I just discovered it my freshman year in college. Each of my printmaking professors here have been out-of-this-world fantastic and make me enjoy printmaking even more with each class and interaction.

G: Is your family supportive? Do they wish you were studying something else?

A: My parents have offered me the unwavering support of my choice to pursue art. My mom is a lawyer and my dad is in commercial real estate and even though I might go into my Dad’s business after school, there’s no doubt in my mind that I will keep making art, even if I work outside of the industry. I really like my parents!

G: Are you nervous about your career and job opportunities?

A: I’m not nervous, no. I trust that I will just keep putting my work out there and keep applying for positions and shows. I try not to worry too much and just see which way life takes me. It’s really important for me to work and keep busy and I treat making art like a job: starting early and finishing late in the day.

G: What do you hope to do in the future with your degree? Meaning do you want to make and sell your art independently or do you hope to work for a company and create pieces for them?

A: Both sound great! I wouldn’t like to make art for a company I do not believe is doing good for the world, though. 

G: Who or what has been an inspiration for your art?

A: Nature, specifically plants.

G: What was one of your favorite pieces that you’ve created?

A: I made a mural of Napa Valley vineyards that was placed in the Twitter Headquarters. It was also in the Hall of Justice in San Francisco. I did that with the support of the Mural Music and Arts Program, a non-profit I worked for in East Palo Alto. It is large and acrylic on canvas and looks a lot like a place in Napa that is special to me.

G: What advice do you have for those considering pursuing a Fine Arts Degree? 

A: That it takes persistence. You have to be somewhat good at math and perfectionistic to work in a print shop. You’ll probably have to get another job if you plan on supporting yourself, but this actually enriches the artwork in my opinion.

The most important thing that an artist has to do is produce. If you’re hesitant and don’t think you really want to be an artist, go do something else, don’t force it.

G: What do you wish people knew about studying Fine Arts and majoring in it?

A: That there’s a huge job market in the creative economy. Almost every company needs graphic designers. Being a fine artist is not easy money if you go the traditional route like me, but there ARE paying opportunities, artist residencies and a lot of opportunities if you seek them out. It is a fun life, with tangible products. You get to test your abilities. The community is one of the best things about being an artist.

 

I also had an influential art teacher in school and considered studying art myself but ultimately decided that that wasn’t my path. But as Alanna pointed out, it totally can be for others. It takes hard work and perseverance just like any other major, but it can also be a very rewarding career.

Hopefully, this article and interview will offer inspiration and encouragement for those considering a degree in fine arts and will help dissuade the negativity and judgment surrounding art degrees. 

Go check out more of Alanna’s amazing art! @alannamakesart

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