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Justin Gotzis

Young, Artistic, and Suburban: Life in a Cultural Void


Justin Gotzis
2017 Intern

If you had told me 8 months ago that I would only be applying to art schools, I would have called you crazy. The only “working artist” I’d ever met was my wistful old neighbor who sometimes ventured out to the local park’s art center to get “a taste of the contemporary art scene.” The suburbs were truly no place for an artist, and my story is a common one.

In my high school school, the only feedback I received on my art was, “can you move that, it’s blocking the lacrosse schedule.”  I quickly learned that to the kids at my school, doing art was like fishing in a dry lake:  completely pointless. Things didn’t improve outside of school either, as my town had essentially no art scene. The few resources that did exist within its confines strictly catered to a specific variety of eccentric, yet unapproachable older women.

Then, I discovered Instagram. For the very first time, I saw the endless stream of what I thought were “incredible artists.” I was completely enthralled with the complexity of their characters, and the mastery with which they wielded their respective tools baffled and astounded me. These artists weren’t just better than me, they were so much better than me.

While at first daunting, being constantly surrounded by inspiration whenever I opened my phone proved to be extremely beneficial to my growth as an artist. Instagram, and social media in general for that matter, allowed me to construct standards for myself, which pushed me to develop my art with conviction, drive, and ambition.

Crayon Drawing, Justin Gotzis

However, by my sophomore year in high school, whatever glimmer of hope I saw in the Instagram art community faded into obscurity. I fell back into my underfunded public school art department.

I gave up on my dreams, as I had come to realize that the lives being led by the people I followed were completely unattainable, and so I decided to be an art minor, which then eventually led to me abandoning the idea of art school all together.

After months and months of overall dissatisfaction, I decided enough was enough. On a whim, I asked my parents if I could go to a summer pre-college program in studio art.

The first time I entered the summer program,  I knew I was somewhere very different from my small town in Pennsylvania. I wasn’t sheltered by any standard, but I was completely oblivious to the entire art world.

Overwhelmed and homesick, I stayed in my room … for about half an hour that is. Many of my friends have told me that they spent hours calling their parents, crying about missing their towns and families, but I honestly never experienced that.

Sure, I spent 13 hours on my kitchenette floor, completely covered in charcoal dust and making fatigued groans, but for the first time in my life,  I was enjoying my assignments, and that made a world of a difference. It wasn’t just the hard work that made the program worth it. Simply being surrounded by like minded individuals was just as integral to my improvement as the work I was doing.

I connected more with the friends I made at this summer program in a month and a half than I had with my friends back home in over 10 years. That  allowed for me to receive honest, genuine feedback from people whose opinions were not only based in emotion, but also in knowledge. For me, this summer program not only suggested that I should go to art school, but showed me that I needed to go to art school.

Now, I would be lying if I said I didn’t still have doubts about going into an art career. I question myself on a daily basis whether art can actually be my future or not, but I don’t tend to dwell on those thoughts for too long, as I know I can’t find the joy I get out of seeing my concepts evolve into sketches, and my sketches into pieces, anywhere else. So, whenever I hear the voice in the back of my head tell me “You’re an idiot for trying to be an artist,” my immediate reply is “well, at least I’m a happy idiot.”

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