Academics

As a matriculated student at ArtCenter, none of the art-related classes I took at Syracuse counted. ArtCenter does not recognize any other school, college, or university's level of course work when it comes to art and design. The two years I'd just spent at SU were more wasted than I had thought. In order to meet California State requirements to graduate with a degree, BFA or otherwise, there was a minimum amount of academics that needed to be counted as part of my curriculum. The few that did transfer from SU with me - like Art History, Communications 101, and Sex Education - were simply not enough, and I was going to need to sacrifice one of my trimesters for an all academic term. Begrudgingly, I chose to do so during the first summer trimester following Boot Camp, and I had to watch my comrades all move up in the ranks. I moved to Glendale.  

During Boot Camp, I became friends with Han S. Lee - a Graphic Design major who, prior to ArtCenter, spent two years in the Korean Army. He was ten years my senior, from Seoul, and in need of a roommate for his two-bedroom, two bath, Casa Vaquero apartment, just over the hill from the ArtCenter campus in Glendale. It had a balcony, a swimming pool, and air conditioning, plus, all the kimchi I could stomach. Han loved his kimchi, but not as much as he loved Miami Vice, and endearingly I began calling him Han Johnson. It was Han's actual military training that imparted an incredible work ethic, discipline, and genuine sense of commitment to whatever it took to get the job done. Combined with an inspiring sense of design and the impeccable quality of his craftsmanship, unbeknownst to Han, I was being home-schooled in respect to my art classes, while focused entirely on my, so-called, academics back in school. Academics were a mere formality at ArtCenter, and most of my classes felt like I was in Special Ed. Nobody took these courses seriously, for anybody taking them just needed to get the credits needed to meet those State requirements. As to be expected, easy classes meant easy A's, and they did wonders for my GPA. The wonder that I wasn't expecting to find - was my self.

The first person I so desperately wanted to talk to after experiencing my kundalini awakening was Dr. Serrano. At that time, May of 1992, there was no internet to search him, and it's safe to say that even if there had been, he wouldn't have been anywhere to be found. The last time we saw each other was in passing, on the bridge at ArtCenter, just before I graduated six years earlier. "Hello my friend. How are you?" Dr. Serrano had taught me that whenever you can't remember someone's name when they greet you, just call them friend. You can't be wrong. By now, I was living and working in New Jersey, and I assumed he was still living, maybe still teaching, in Los Angeles somewhere. My best shot at finding him was through ArtCenter's faculty department, so I called in hopes I could convince someone to give me a phone number or address. After putting me on hold for what felt like forever, the woman I reached told me that there was no record of a Dr. Louis Serrano ever teaching at ArtCenter. I explained how he was an academics professor and not part of the design faculty, and that he was teaching there in the eighties. The decade, not his age, although I'm not so sure. I was put on hold once more before a young man got on the phone and told me that he had heard Dr. Serrano was bitten by a poisonous spider and had died about a year or so ago. To this day I have no idea if that was a rumor, joke, or truth.

Of all the teachers I had while at ArtCenter, only a handful remain ingrained in my psyche. Comparatively speaking, I could not name one single professor from my time at Syracuse, as they left no impression on me what so ever. A rendering class with the illustrious Jack Hamm, who made us sharpen our pencils with knives, and learn to draw with chalks before we could move on to markers. The masterful Byrne Hogarth’s ‘Figure Drawing.’ 'Perspective', often referred to as the single most difficult and demanding studio course, with the notorious Ted Youngkin. 'Graphic Design 1,' with Ramon Munoz, who's claim to fame was rebranding the Cincinnati Bengals and only wearing black. All black. All the time. And then there was 'Psychology For The Artist,' with Dr. Louis Serrano. Followed by 'Meditation For The Artist,' also with Dr. Serrano. Oh and, 'Creative Visualization,' you guessed it, with Dr. Serrano, but the book is by Shakti Gawain. 

Six months after learning that Dr. Serrano was gone, it was the psychic, Sophia, that asked me, "Is there someone around you involved in Theology? Or Philosophy? Were you involved in that? Was that an interest of yours? ‘Cause I see you really learning. And he’s guiding you to the right books to pick up. He was a professor. He was a teacher." He was Dr. Serrano. With his thinning, longish white hair and a closely trimmed, white beard, he stood about six feet tall and dressed as if he were an Ivy League professor that just so happened to be teaching in the foothills of Pasadena. With his pocket watch, cardigan, and sandals, he moved in what seemed like suspended animation as he spoke to our class in a manner that always seemed as if he had seen God earlier that day. Now that I know what I know, I believe that very well may have been the case. Dr. Serrano had an understanding and knowing that he willingly shared with us, his class of designer disciples.

On the first day of every class, Dr. Serrano would begin by telling us, "Don't believe a word I say. Prove me wrong, and I'll give you an A." I took this as a personal challenge, and an exercise in design thinking about my own wellbeing. Our class discussions were often philosophical, our reading almost entirely Jungian. Those skeptics who pictured me at art school in LA drawing palm trees at the beach were right after all. At least for my academic summer trimester anyway. There was this little public beach, just off of a quaint residential street that ran right just below the PCH in Malibu, where I did all my reading for Serrano's classes. "A Primer of Jungian Psychology," "Psyche & Symbol," and "The Tao of Physics," all underlined, dog-eared, and highlighted to death in the warm California sun. When I could no longer absorb the rays or the knowledge for the day, I'd take the long way back to Glendale, traveling east on Sunset, with the real sunset in my rearview mirror and numinous ideas ahead.


2 comments


  • Debra Butler

    A testament to the richness of your thought. Thank you for enriching a few minutes of my day!


  • Michael Katz

    Kundalini awakening? Not sure what this was and wondering what happened to your roommate?
    I received a questionnaire about my 55th college reunion and your post got me thinking about professors that had an influence. Thanks


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