Art Army

In the morning paper, on the day I was to report to duty, the Family Circus comic showed the little boy, P.J., climbing up on his Dad's lap, and the line was, "But I don't want to be a big boy, I just want to go outside and play." Playtime was surely over and things were about to get very serious. While at Syracuse, I was literally getting away with murder, but ArtCenter, ArtCenter was out to kill me. They take no prisoners. In fact, they only take the best of the best. I had spent the summer convincing myself that not only did I belong there, but I could take whatever they threw at me. Why should I be afraid of the competition, when I was the competition? This became my daily affirmation. "I AM the competition." That, and the constant replaying in my mind of the intense scene from the movie "An Officer And a Gentleman," where Zack Mayo, played by Richard Gere, comes into conflict with his hard-driving Marine Corps Gunnery Sergeant, Emil Foley, played by Lou Gossett Jr. "Why would a slick little hustler like you wanna sign up for this kind of abuse anyway?," Foley asks Mayo. Mayo's reply, "I wanna fly jets, Sir." 'I Wanna Fly Jets', became my personal mantra, and a metaphor for my determination. Belligerently, Foley continues, "I want your D.O.R.! I want your D.O.R.!" D.O.R. stands for 'Drop On Request', which is the Military acronym for a cadet applying for voluntary resignation. In the case of Marine cadet Mayo, his insistent and repeated reply, "I ain't gonna quit." I ain't gonna quit. And I hadn't even started yet. 

About a hundred of us were gathered in the school's theater for orientation. Up on the stage were the Department Heads, all seated in Director's Chairs, while behind the podium was ArtCenter's President, David R. Brown, who, from where I was seated, looked to be about seven-feet tall. After some easing in of welcoming formalities and introductions, David told us all to, "Take a look around you. See who is seated next to you, behind you, and in front of you - and know this - most of these people will not be here when you, if you, graduate." When the Advertising Design Department Head spoke to me, and whoever my peers were in the room, he told us in closing, "When you leave here, the only thing your future employer will need to show you is where the restroom is."

There was a total student body of about twelve-hundred, including undergrad and graduate students, spread out among nine design disciplines. There were less than one hundred students in each discipline and this kept class sizes down to roughly twenty - on a good day. There were no dorms, no clubs, no sports, and, during my tenure, no computers or cell phones - but that was because they didn't exist quite yet. ArtCenter's campus was comprised of two buildings joined by 'the bridge' which housed the theater, cafeteria, student store, and library. It was slick, modern, concrete, tinted glass, and black steel, with white walls and gray lockers. The ONLY color was the school's logo - a simple orange dot. It's a private school situated in the suburban hills of Pasadena, overlooking The Rose Bowl, up a relatively quiet residential street, far enough away from anything that might be any form of distraction. Classes were six days per week and often included evening classes as part of your schedule each trimester. One full year at ArtCenter was three trimesters - Fall, Spring, and Summer. There's no winter in LA, but the school did close unexpectedly one afternoon, but it wasn't snow that was falling from the sky. It was ash. The hills surrounding campus were on fire and everyone was told to leave. I'd never experienced anything like that. Not the brush fire. The free afternoon to get my work done.         

The first year of trimesters is commonly referred to as "Boot Camp." Its sole purpose is to weed out the weak. The onslaught of assignments, the meticulous training, and the impossible deadlines were designed to break you. And if that wasn't enough to do so, there was always the critique of your work, which was its own form of mental torture. At twenty, I was one of the youngest in my class. Most of my classmates had either already received their degrees from a community college or were professionals looking to up their game. Being the only one from New York, even if it was, as The New York Times referred to it, the New Jersey section, the farthest east anyone else was from was either Minneapolis or Korea. During many a crit someone would lose it and break down in tears. Some simply left the room, many went D.O.R. Most of my crying was done back in my apartment, alone, often in the middle of the night, while struggling to stay awake enough to complete the assignment due in the morning. It's that much harder to stand there and take it like a man, when you've only had an hour and a half of sleep, and all you want to do is go outside and play.

1 comment

  • Michael Katz

    Mikel, I guess every Friday I will learn something new about you and your journey. A welcome experience as I love through my journey’s blip under quarantine in Aruba.

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