As an illustration student at Pratt Institute (before my love of design was born), my freshman year schedule was chock-full. I had morning to night foundation classes. It was five full-days of intense instruction: the study and exploration of drawing, painting, 3-D and color theory classes, as well as typical course work. Any free time was spent on homework with high-expectations, requiring many hours and many sleepless nights.
When I started my sophomore year, I was eager to step into my first illustration class. This would be the start of me. Of what I was great at. I expected to find myself shining like a star, nailing every project and confidently catapulting onto cloud 9 over the next 3 years and onward into the workforce.
My first class was taught by Charles Goslin. I had signed up for his class not knowing much about him. He was a tidy looking older gentleman, wearing a tweed jacket and a neatly trimmed beard, peering at us over his round little glasses. He spoke quietly but confidently and very matter of fact.
Professor Goslin gave us assignments using newspaper clippings he found. He wanted us to illustrate these stories. His critiques were harsh but delivered in such a whitty, gentle manner that it caused some students’ jaws to drop. Very few of his comments were ever complimentary. The students who received praise quickly learned not to say, “Thank you.” Professor Goslin made it clear they should not say “thank you,” because it was his opinion — and an opinion is not concrete, therefore it did not warrant a “thank you.” Unless you were ready to say “thank you” to any comment, positive or negative, it was best just to shut up and listen to him.
As the semester went on, most classes were spent discussing our illustration projects, and the remaining time was spent drawing the figure. We would hang our drawings for a critique toward the end of the class. I remember a student arguing that Goslin’s suggestions did not work with his “style.” We learned that no one had enough experience to have a “style.” Goslin wielded a thick black marker during critique, which he used to mark an X through any work created by students who had “styles.” There was a percentage of students who did not want to hear Professor Goslin’s teachings while certainly a percentage whose ears I could see steam blowing out of when the X was on their work. Many students walked out.
“Very often my students confuse technique with style. I tell them to never try to find ‘a style’ because your own individual style will find you.”
Charles Goslin did a nice job of quickly shaking any “High School Class Artist” out of me that semester. He put me in my place. He put many students in their place — and that place was where we should have been all along — a place to learn.
Professor Goslin passed away in 2007. I often think about the things he taught me, many of which he recited in this commencement speech, made in 2003. And it seems the older I get, the more I understand it.
Never Give Up. Never Give In.
“Wonderful things are rarely done by comfortable people. You have the opportunity to work every day and look forward to the experience, enjoying your effort, nourished by it, so much that some of you will work a seven day week just because you want to.
Don’t look for a style. Let if find you, again and again as it deepens and grows in richness, and as to your style, your friends will recognize it, you won’t, unless you stole someone else’s. Style comes to you when it is ready and it comes as inevitably as sweat on a July day.
Don’t expect to revolutionize the world. You won’t. But you can change and mould your corner of the world. You have the option to bring it intelligence, beauty and coherence. Your legacy is your talent. Use it well.
That small child with the scissors and colored paper, sitting in the middle of the parental living room rug, making shapes out of beautiful colors, for his or her own joy, not for money, not for critical acclaim, that child is you. You have the opportunity to create what never was. Forget about revolutionizing the world. Work for the joy of working, and without intending to, you will help to change your corner of the world.
Divya Dileep, Adria Taricani, Noble Cumming, Natsuko Bosaka, Lori Leonard, Omid Mohadjeri, Aki Carpenter, Han Cheung, Stephanie Goralnick, Mike Gerbino, Kathleen Creighton; an abridged cross section of this fine college, granting you degrees today. Your work should be as inventive and diverse as these beautiful names. Resist that ever-present and mind-numbing pressure to conform. You can’t conform. You are special.
What is familiar to us is reassuring, and ultimately boring. What is different about us is beautiful, stimulating, and wonderfully disturbing.
Now some of you have been told, “You’ll never get away with it,” that ground-breaking idea that is so vital to you. Well, you never will get away with it if you don’t try. But if you do try, again and again and again, you will know the gratification of creating something as personal as your signature, your brain waves in a painting, in the design of a wrench, a car, a building, a trademark, anything that needs creating.
You have before you a wonderful life. You can help heal a world full of hurt and violence, with the beauty and grace it so desperately needs.
NEVER GIVE UP. NEVER GIVE IN.”