❤ I can't always make up my mind, but I am boldly undecided. ❤

23 January 2013

Ambivalently Yours Ph.D.

Cause of ambivalence:
Academia (and the idea of apply for a Ph.D)

Note contents:
"Dear Academia,
I kind of feel like spending more time together, but I worry that if I’m with you too long our relationship will become paralyzing. - AY. ❤"

Place left:
In a couch, in a University conference room.

A few months ago, I was accepted to participate in a grad conference about resistance and I presented this project there. At the end of the conference, inspired and ambivalent from my weekend spent flirting with academia, I left this note between the cushions of one of the couches in the conference room.

I had paralyzing anxiety during my weeks of preparation prior to the conference, mainly due to the fact that I had no idea how my drawings and ambivalent convictions would be received in a group of non-artist academicsI have always felt a little disconnected from Academia with a capital A, mainly because my seemingly low brow interests and undying affection for popular culture are often dismissed by the tweed clad, French-theorist-quoting types.  But when I finally got up to present my work, I became the calm and confident version of myself that often gets lost during first impressions, buried under layers of politeness and insecurity.  What I realized in that moment is that, as cheesy as it may sound, going to grad school helped me find my voice as an artist and also gave me the guts to talk a little louder than I used to.  Before I knew it, I was discussing ambivalence with everyone in the room and feeling totally accepted in this world I once feared.  As I became more and more intoxicated with the hopeful high induced by spending two days surrounded with like-minded peers with active social convictions, I was reminded of how much I miss school.  Soon enough, my ongoing debate of “real life” vs. academia started spinning in my head again, and I began to wonder if maybe I should stop flirting with school and finally go all the way… Ph.D.

As soon as I came down from my high however, my moment of ambivalence turned into a mess of questions:

Do I want to keep studying because I think it would be beneficial to my artistic practice, or am I just feeling discontent in my current professional life and looking for more mental stimulation?  Or do I just miss my art school friends? Am I being motivated by ambition or insecurity? At this point in my career, is it the education itself or the image of having an education that I am craving? Is the dismissal I often face in professional settings due to my appearance, gender, and inclination for teenage iconography and the colour pink feeding my need for more education? Or do I just want to add three letters at the end of my signature in hopes that people will be take me more seriously?  And even if I do have the fancy letters will people just react the same way they do when I tell them I have an MFA and tell me: “wow you must really love drawing”.  Should I have studied something more serious like marine biology or architecture?  Could prolonging my education become completely paralyzing?  Will I stop making and start over thinking everything?  Is there such a thing as too much critique and too much feedback?  Is there a point when it becomes impossible to decipher one’s own instincts and ideas from those of the people critiquing and advising?  Is it more important for artists to learn to trust their instincts, self-motivate their work and surround themselves with an artist community to help sustain their practice, rather than worry about the accolades of academia?  Do I need to learn to be more independent now, before I become completely reliant on academia?  But also, how much further could my work take me if I had an extra little push once in a while?  But is academia the right place to get the kind of push I need, or will it just cause me to become more competitive as I start fighting for grades and funding? What if I don’t get in?  What if I do get in? Am I just trying to fit in?  Feel included?  Feel smart? Get attention? Do I just feel like wearing more tweed?

In conclusion, I don’t know.  I’ve re-written this blog post a dozen times trying to be clever, trying to find a point, trying to write something mind-bogglingly insightful, but all I am left with is: I don’t know.  In school we learn to look for answers and out of school I’ve been spending more time with my questionsMaybe that’s enough for now.

(Added on February  9, 2013)

I've been thinking more about my desire to go back to school for the right reasons, and I think that maybe I have been looking at this all wrong.  I am starting to wonder if maybe I wont ever reach a clean conclusion void of any of the gobbledygook left behind by my long lasting period of indecision.  Maybe final decisions are never clean cut, but always greyed by the unknown that will proceed them.  And if that is true, then so what if I want to go back to school because I want to push my work to the next level AND because I want people to think I am smart?  Does one reason necessarily cancel out the other, or can both co-exist comfortably?


  1. As a first year pH.D student, I can confirm that my practice is deepening. My program is art theory and not studio based, and my drive come from a need/love for exploration of knowledge (i.e. philosophy) which totally drives my studio practice. This may not be for everyone. I love your work because passionate ambivalence is a springboard for formulating questions, which is what art is about.

    1. Thank you for your comment Susan and your kind words about my work. It makes me really happy when I hear about people's positive Ph.D experiences. I have heard great stories and also horror stories. Maybe the trick is finding the right program, the right advisers and the right time to really go for it. It seems like you are in the right place and I couldn't be happier for you!