Navigating Western University and the World: A Visual Artist’s Guide to Undergrad

“So what exactly do you do in school?” It’s a question we all get, from family, friends, and classmates, even strangers. I’ve developed a short script to try and explain SASAH and Studio Arts; “The School for Advanced Studies in Arts and Humanities is an interdisciplinary degree which allows me to study all areas within the Arts and Humanities as well as take on a double major. I chose Studio Arts.” The responses are always entertaining but I never really feel satisfied. There’s a lot of layers to my university experience, and as far as I’m aware I’m the only one taking my specific cocktail of courses. So, I’m going to start from the beginning and let you in on what I’ve learned in my three years.

I have a confession. I grew up on campus, my dad worked at Western up until the year I started university. I grew up running around the stands at Alumni Hall, finding enough change under the seats to buy a chocolate bar and pop from the vending machines. I’ve gotten lost in the tunnels from Alumni to Thames and treked from the Springett parking lot to the Visual Arts Centre to the UCC to the Rec Centre and back more times than I can count when I went to Sport Western summer camp, or what my family now calls ‘walking camp’. So I knew where I was going better than most when I started O Week. Western is not a small campus, and you really learn that when you have a class in the UCC ending consistently at 5:27 and another beginning in the Visual Arts Centre at 5:30. Hear me now: You can not make it in time. I’m pretty sure I could walk my path down past Middlesex College with my eyes closed, but unless you run or take a bike (which isn’t recommended as there is stairs) the time limit for that trip is seven minutes.

Speaking of stairs, there are only two that go all the way to the third floor of the Visual Arts Centre and they are always double the temperature outside. So, if you are looking for a good regular workout, I recommend taking a first year art course. At least if you ever do make the trip down to the Visual Arts Centre you can take advantage of the first floor study spaces. There are tables, couches, and outlets, if you’d like to get any real work done, and it is usually quiet despite the occasional noise from the workshops. Also, there’s a Tim Horton’s across the parking lot in the North Campus Building, and you can beat the line if you go when classes are in session.

You wouldn’t think a lot of students in Studio Arts have a lot of studying to do, but art history course requirements and the occasional essay or artist statement mean I’ve spent more than enough money at that specific Timmies. In all honesty I am still sorting out what method of studying and essay writing works best for me. I have learned that visual organizers and colour coding helps me most, which should be no surprise to anyone. I have developed a habit of using blue pens for facts or dates I have difficulty with because I read somewhere that blue helps you remember. Cue cards were the best method for when I had to take a language credit. As someone who is the worst with languages I do not recommend Arabic. It’s a beautiful language but I switched to Latin the second week. I ended up using a bit of my Latin knowledge in art history classes and while on my recent exchange trip, and the course was really small and supportive so if you are not interested in French I suggest looking into Latin 1000.

In general, I find course requirements very taxing. We are only given a maximum of 6.0 credits a year. With two Honors Specializations I need every single course I take, and even now, I will likely still be taking a credit during the summer session. My academic plan is such a mess of courses I have to keep a workable pdf document. I have so many special permissions going on the student help line was confused. I have limited options based on scheduling conflicts, prerequisite courses, and program requirements. I have often been placed in the unfortunate situation of having a very specific set of required SASAH courses and overlapping art courses. Without the help of school administrators I wouldn’t have been able to get as far as I have. Though the courses are required I have found myself enjoying many of them. 2274 Art Now was a highlight, a lecture based studio course meant guest lectures from practicing artists and a grade based on exams as well as visual art projects. In ARTHUM 2200 I learned theory behind aesthetics, which has become part of the framework for my recent independent studio practice. Plus, I got to participate in a show at the Arts Project, which will be a great addition to my CV. I met some of my favourite people in the entire world in VASTUDIO 2222, Intro to Sculpture, and got to sculpt tongues onto spoons.

All of this helped my acceptance to study abroad at Lancaster University in the United Kingdom for Fall 2017. I learned theory on perception in the arts, took a documentary drawing class when I couldn’t draw a stick figure beforehand, and had my own independent studio practice. I visited old high school friends in York and London, then spent my 20th birthday in Paris and at Vimy Ridge. I got to travel to Switzerland, Spain, Greece, and Italy. I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, the Sistine Chapel, the David, the Birth of Venus, and basically every other piece of art I have been studying since grade nine. I took a train for the first time, also missed a train for the first time. I thanked the gods for my obsession with the Greek alphabet when my phone died on the subway in Athens. I got rained on so bad in Vatican City my passport was ruined and almost not accepted at the boarder (photocopy everything folks). I’ve had my lunch on the top of the Acropolis and had a burger with Brie cheese for Christmas dinner on the way from Florence to Rome. I’ve even gotten so lost I ended up at the Coliseum by mistake.

Honestly, I am not even sure what it is exactly I ‘do’ in school. I go to classes, have weekly meetings, stress eat, watch Netflix, and complain about my part time job. Mostly I just try my best. The absolute most important thing I have to say about my university experience thus far is that though you may feel like you are never sure what is going to happen or what exactly you are doing, it doesn’t really matter because eventually you stumble onto something great.

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