Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Portrait of the Artist as an ex-Zookeeper.

It no longer surprises me when I meet someone who’s transitioned from a scientific career to an artistic one. (Or vice-versa.) My first boss out of art school was a former geneticist. Her artistic claim to fame was working on the design team that created the Legg’s pantyhose eggs. “People don’t remember what type of hose or cereal they buy,” she confided in me. “They remember what color egg, or box it comes in.”

It’s all in the details, literally. Scientists render detailed drawings of microbes and diatoms to study what makes them tick. Artists belabor the details of an ad, or a book cover, because one typographical element or golden mean can make the difference between a success and a flop. Perhaps my eye for detail allowed me to pupate from zookeeper to designer in a surprisingly short amount of time. In two very intense, sweat and blood filled years, I learned the sullen ways of the designer and adopted the de rigueur black clothing.

What fine institution of the arts did I attend, you may ask? Why, Alamance Community College, I’ll proudly offer. Let me summarize the experience:

Classes at Alamance began at 8:00am sharp. Those of us taking computer graphics and desktop publishing might stay in class until 9:00pm. Attendance was compulsory: miss three classes and you’re out. Tardy too many times? You’re out, too. It was a harsh contrast to my undergraduate experience at UNC, where my Biology and Chemistry professors lectured in monotone voices to vast auditoriums of student cattle. At Alamance, classes contained an average of 15 students. The poorly prepared and hung-over students were easily identified, but so were the studious and hard working. I busted my butt at that school, and my reward was a great job straight after graduation in an interactive multimedia firm. Two years of vocational experience and hands-on internships landed me farther than a Biology degree from a well known university. Yeah, I was older and wiser, but I also discovered the value of a practical education versus a theoretical one.

I chose community college by chance. I originally planned to attend a frou-frou “Art Institute” that offered classes with MTV animators and Hollywood special effects guys. My cousin convinced me that I could save money and expedite a career change by attending a community college in state. (He happened to be the registrar of a community college at the time.) He assured me that the curriculum and graduate placement rate at Alamance rivaled the Art Institute. This sounded much better than selling all I had, accruing student loans, and moving to Fort Lauderdale.

“And so I loaded up the Honda and drove to Ala-mance Countee... From Chapel Hill, that is…Southern drawls, Bible belt, barbecue…” Yep, I learned my trade in the bosom of the poor South, in a tiny school that was cutting edge for multimedia and advertising design. Along the way, I encountered a novel’s worth of characters and made steadfast friends. From Henry, a sweet guy with no belly-button, to “RFJ”, a gentle giant with a bullet studded necklace, I learned there was life after lemurs.

black and white ruffed lemur