Boulder Watershed Sunset: From atop Mt. Arikaree, looking North along the Continental Divide to Mt. Navaho and the distant Longs Peak.

The surest task of an artist is the making of a self that has the capacity to create, and directing this creative capacity toward a significant direction. This task must be approached with great patience and commitment, understanding that self-as-artist is an every day & lifelong pursuit.

This making of self has meant finding what leads me, and pursuing the thread of that lead. Immersion in and appreciation of Nature has been a constant pursuit, twin to my pursuit of the arts, assuring that art and life retain the living quality of intuitive response.
Immersion in nature was, for a time, of a magnitude of order beyond what is normally possible. Through my late teens and all through my 20's my summers were on the Continental Divide above Boulder, Colorado at the Boulder Watershed. Most of those 12 summers were spent as Patrol/Caretaker, hiking the 8,000 acre property and keeping it free of all human trespassers. Two glacial valleys, 14 lakes, 5 thirteen thousand foot peaks, a herd of 70 elk, moose, bear, mountain lions, golden eagles, pica, pine martens, and cutthroat trout- I was the land's protector hiking 10 to 20 miles per day, with elevation gains and losses of more than 10,000 feet, mostly in the back country with no trails. This experience allowed a creative wayfinding that has allowed me to navigate the arts in a manner that listens with an intuition for intuition. In the way of constant walking- through forests, fording rivers, over mountains, the practice of immersive movement acts as a vehicle for artistic exploration, rather than an end in itself.

North Arapahoe Sunset. Boulder Watershed from Mt .Arikaree.

Arapahoe Glacier from Silver Lake at the Boulder Watershed

View from the Bunkhouse at the Boulder Watershed. Silver Lake at 10,000 feet in elevation with a rainbow spanning the glacial valley.

At 29 I had left my career as art department chair of a Colorado high school, prior to beginning a Masters degree in Sculpture- but still spent my summers at the Boulder Watershed. This is a sunset hike up 13er Mt. Kiowa with a background view  of Mt. Navaho. 

What is the point of academia for an artist? My high school art instructor put me in for the annual art scholarship for seniors. She argued for me to the group, but they would not listen to her to reasons, and instead chose someone who wasn't going on in the arts, needed no financial help, but whom the school thought would benefit the program the most. If you can read between the lines on that one, then you can also understand my instructor's earnest apology to me and hope that I would continue on in the arts. In the first semester of my Freshman year, the university held up my college loan and told me I had to forfeit it to the school. After months of going rounds with them, just prior to Thanksgiving break, I was sat down by the financial manager and told that "maybe college wasn't for me" and that I should just leave as the loan couldn't be recovered from their system, but that I was still liable for the full amount to the federal government. My adjunct professor in drawing noticed I was clearing out my locker and asked what was up. I told him and he told me to give him a day to fix it. I got a call to come back into the student loan office, where I was swept into the manager's office and told that a simple clerical error of a letter O being in the place of a zero was the entire issue and that it was solved and I could remain at University. At 19 I was in my sophomore year, and my drawing professor (who humble-bragged of his limp landscape work that adorned the suites of a local motel chain) had told me I was "cheating somehow", he tried to set up a system with another professor to catch me out in my method, then abruptly decided I wasn't worth the effort. In my senior year his accomplice professor, who would be "let go" the following year, dropped my academic standing from Suma Cum Laude to Cum Laude- all that he could manage without being caught out. They were both of a mindset that talent didn't exist, and that everything an artist needed to know could only be gained through academic process. My Sophomore 3-D studio professor not only told me that I was cheating, but held up my work for the entire class as an example of someone who had gone to the library, appropriated a design from another culture, and tried to pass it off as original work. After class I told him that this wasn't the case, and he sneeringly told me then I should be able to create just as mature of a form with an entirely different focus, and gave me two days to come up with it. So I did. Upon seeing it he asked me to step into the hall, he apologized and told me I was an anomaly, something he had never encountered in his career of arts teaching; an artist. He asked that I stick with the second design so he could save face, even though he admitted the first was better and obviously where my interest was (I created it in alabaster years later, see Ouroboros' page). Universities in Colorado and Wyoming held a bi-annual interscholastic blind juried exhibition. The first and only year I applied I was called in after the jury selection. My work had won the categories of sculpture, ceramics, metal smithing, and drawing. They wanted to personally let me know that they were pulling my work from the show, and allowing me an honorable mention in my major field of sculpture if I kept quiet about it. 
Graduate school was even worse. Without mentioning any specifics: after matriculation I was interviewing for University work at the annual College Arts Association job fair held that year in New York City, I was called over to a Big University table as they had recognized me from their role as the lead university in reviewing the ongoing Accreditation for the art department of my MFA program. They told me they had been very impressed with me, wished they had an opening, would keep me in mind, and that they were sorry that such a truly bad, academically challenged institution existed, and that I had had to endure it. That encounter was the best part of my MFA experience.

After completing my undergraduate degree in sculpture at Colorado State University (graduating with Cum Laude honors and on the Dean's List and a member of the Gold Key National Honor's Society) my professors had encouraged me to apply out for MFA programs. 
My undergrad professor in Ceramics happened to be an internationally famous artist, considered by some to be the most important ceramicist of his era. He liked my work, and kept an entire series of my ceramic work to teach from. He sat me down one day when I was about to graduate and told me how the art world breaks down for a high-achieving Normal: 

Dean’s List- Check
Graduating with Honors- Check
Hot Portfolio- Check
Juried Exhibition Awards- Check

He told me although I was the best artist he had seen come through the program maybe ever, that it doesn’t matter- because the real game is played on a higher level than a state school art department.

Some statistics to think about, if you like that kind of thing:
The 4-year Graduation Rate for Art Majors sits at about 5%.
Fine Arts is the worst field for jobs: five years after graduation only 1% of those who graduated with an art degree will still be in the field. The numbers play out like this:
500 in 10,000 graduate in 4 years, 1 (one) will still be in the field in five years.

Optimistic Risk Bias: “I will be that 1%” leads to Optimistic Failure Mode.
Who is that 1%? Most likely it is not you or anyone you know, and if you know one, then statistically you are out.

The 1% of art majors still in the field five years after graduation are those who attend a competitive private Arts School with portfolio entry requirements, on partial or full scholarship because of great talent (nurtured for years with private instruction at great expense) or at full price ($20k to $40K per year tuition, plus the expense of living in a large city- $2k monthly rent for a shoebox). Often these are students who, rather than working all summer (and school year) do career-building endeavors such as going abroad to intern with arts specialists, sometimes paying for an apprenticeship- or purchasing specialized skill sets not available at the private art school.
Their academic peer-group is far more serious, better prepared, and more competitive. They may have had internships in shops learning an entire process, a shop where you would be lucky to find minimum wage repetitive-task employment. Their teachers/professors are often highly regarded professionals in their own field, collected by museums and shown in international symposia and galleries. Their personal studios are better equipped than some university departments, and they can afford to farm out work to foundries and shops. Their work often really is on a higher order, and just as often it is mediocre- but that doesn’t mean their opportunity is any less.

The sub-art world is littered with the C&B-Level students of this higher order. They will take the best secondary jobs that service the Art World: University jobs (State schools might hire a Normal to a small mediocre department); the curatorial / sales & acquisitions of gallery & museum positions; arts publications; all not for you.
The best of the best go on with those who pay cash to highly competitive MFA programs to graduate with placement in art careers linked to the connections they/their schools/their parents made. Major national galleries and international galleries align with these departments, guaranteeing an immediate high profile exhibition record that would otherwise be unobtainable.

The realization of one’s own Optimistic Failure Mode should be the fist step in an art degree from an art department in a basic state college. Your art degree ensures department stability, you are a paying number, and so you are passed along regardless. Your art degree is a signifier of vast college debt leading nowhere. When applying out for graduate school, realize that the only real path forward for a future as a practicing artist will be to pay in cash for a valueless MFA from a small state university, then adjunct within the academic system dedicating all time and money to creating original work, getting shown, getting known, and aspire to be hired into an unknown art department with studio facilities that match your interest, likely a small state school in a vast Western state's cultural backwater, joining the throngs of academics in the arts with unused studios, whom the muse abandoned long ago. In a nutshell, he laid out a plan that aspired to his position, realizing it is the best you can do on your own. And hope that when you have your big break-out show in an important West Coast museum, that the UPS truck doesn't unload all your decades worth of work then back over it and crush it all, as happened to him.

I applied out to many MFA programs, and over the course of a few months, was not accepted to any of them. I had put myself through college ( my thrice-divorced mother had moved to NV years before, and I was mostly estranged from my father out in Montana since my parents divorce when I was two years old), and with no further academia lined up my college loans came due. I decided I would re-apply to MFA programs for the following academic year, and looked for a job in my field of sculpture. I had worked as the shop-tec for the university sculpture department which had an emphasis on bronze casting, and after summer patrol I was offered a job at a big fine arts foundry in Loveland, Colorado working bronze chase, which means sculpting bronze figures back to perfection after casting and welding. I worked there through the winter, as rejected from all MFA programs again, and returned to Watershed Patrol for summer. I had been strongly encouraged by my professors to focus on my art, and forego an art teaching certification, but that summer I re-applied to University for my teaching certification, passed their entrance exam, and was accepted into the program. I worked part time at the foundry while going back to school for the first year, then left the foundry when I was selected into an educational pilot program at a local high school, with half the day spent in the classroom and half the day spent with on-site university instruction, leading to the semester of student teaching being done there at the High School. Only half of student teaching for art is done at the high school level, and the other half is in elementary education. The high school brought me back as a full time substitute, expediting my teaching certification, so I could cover classes while an art instructor was away in Europe with the high school honors program.  

The elementary teacher I had done my student teaching with was an exceptional educator, traveling nationally to lecture on arts education and also having served as the district's arts specialist. He encouraged me to consider teaching elementary, and was concerned that my ideals for art would be at loggerheads with high schools and I would burn out. He saw that I had wanted to teach at University, and advised that high school is not an equivalent in any way- and that the experience I had as a student teacher in the local high school would not be anything like other schools. He was right, of course. A full time offer in one of Denver's best school's, where the principal had told me the job was a sure thing and to quit other interviews, fell through due to an internal hire. After months of interviews that lasted into the summer I was offered a part-time position at a rough Title-1 high school. I took it. Part way into the semester I was offered a 1/4 time position at the feeder Jr. High, as their new hire had experienced a nervous break-down after just a few months. Up at the high school, the regular instructor had been there since the school opened in the 1978, and was becoming terrified of his students, and retired due to a heart condition and an incident where he mistakenly thought a student asking for after school help was threatening to kill him (meanwhile at the Jr High a student actually threatened to kill me, and we met with the principal and the campus police officer). I was offered the full time position at the high school for the next year and I took it, even though the pay was below poverty-line (the local paper included me in a piece on low payed professionals). 

I had made friends with the new Band teacher at the high school, and we joined forces and team-taught a humanities class. That year I also began the process of a large mural on the school's civic auditorium wall (this will have a page soon, when I have the slides transferred to digital). About here is where something unexpected and great happened. One of my top student's parents stopped in during a parent/teacher conference. His father quipped where my favorite place in Europe was for art, assuming I'd been there from what I'd taught in my classes. I told him Italy would be a great place to start. He was shocked to learn I'd never been abroad, and joking, offered to have me come along with his family as their art guide, as he was a pilot and could bring me along on a buddy-pass. About a month later he gave me a call, and told me he hadn't been kidding. So I accompanied his family to Italy for an extended Spring Break, back in the mid-1990's, before the tourism was as crushing as it has become. Milan, Rome, Florence, and Pisa. The next year he brought me along to Paris. This brought a yawing contrast between a culture of art and personal direction in the arts, and the hard reality of the high school classroom. He and his son encouraged me to apply out to graduate schools again, and invited me to tour art schools with them that his son was considering. I applied out again, and was once again not accepted. I spent one more year teaching in the high school, then left my career as a teacher, to my surprise with 12 other teachers, many of whom had started there with me, including my Band teaching friend. I applied out to MFA programs one last time, this time putting in for my last-place fallback the University of Utah, and long after all the regular rejections had come back, I was accepted to Utah.
I completed my MFA, taught as an adjunct at University, competed for and was selected for a handful of public art commissions, and was hired to direct Salt Lake City's youth arts program including the Kennedy Center Imagination Celebration. Then the City dissolved the arts program a few years later, on the heels of the Kennedy Center dissolving theirs, and I strung together public art projects in ever expanding gaps of years and ever shrinking amounts. I helped my father as he passed away with cancer. My girlfriend of many years married me soon after, and we have a house in Salt Lake City with an attached sculpture studio. We have traveled to Italy and Paris, and I have met again the works of art in what had seemed not long ago, but was more than a self ago, and still in their presence an awakening of a self that has never emerged. 
I was invited to show (for a fee) at a big art show in Great Falls, Montana. I asked around, and this used to be a great art show, though it seemed no one who used to show there did so any more. I accepted. I created new work. I made a modular system for the back of my truck that layered the sculptures, then acted as a vast sculpture basing system for the showroom. Of course, nothing sold, and to sum up the experience; a 60-ish cowboy dandy (some feller's still dress up like it is 1885) saw a nude female figure, waved his Western Experience crowd onward, peeked around the room and didn't see me, and commenced to giving the nude a vigorous finger blasting till he popped off, then scampered off to join his crew. This is the most serious attention my work received. Finding a better venue means ponying upwards of $10,000 for a spot, and if I'm paying to see my work molested, doesn't that make me the pervert? 

I think of Rodin, telling Rainer Maria Rilke that his time as a young man hiking in the hills is his most important creative work, and I look at the image of my Patrol self, of summers working at the Boulder Watershed. This part, this summer mountain self, like so many valued selves, is never to return. The smaller of the two glaciers I guarded, Arikaree Glacier, will likely be gone by 2025 on the downward slope of the world into the 6th Mass Extinction, joined now by the ongoing pandemic of COVID Sars-2. 

And what of art? What of ancient Greece and the Medici and Lorenzo the Magnificent and his Laurentian Era and the height of the Renaissance and all that has followed? What would I tell my university students in my art history classes now, if that academic self yet remained? What will art be if young sculptor Normal will never chance abroad to Florence and experience the internal earthquake of that great city? Where is the practice of art now, and where can it lead when so far beyond the edge of all?   
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