Open Letter to Art Students

Dear Art Students,

The art world is a strange and fickle place–something you know far better than I do.  My exposure to your world began in a trash can–a barrel-size, paint-splattered trash can I emptied every night as part of my janitorial job.  Imagine my surprise when instead of paint cans, orange peels, and pencil shavings, I found beautiful prints, pencil sketches, and paintings.  My co-workers loved them too.  Eventually, all beautiful trash was pinned up in our custodial closet.  It gave us such pleasure to find the things you threw away and admire them.

For a little while, our closet was so filled with canvas it was probably a fire hazard. But we didn’t care.  We loved the pictures we found.  And when there were too many, we returned most of them to the trash.  I still have a handful, though–prints and sketches rescued from the trash bin over two years ago.  I wish I knew who painted, sketched, designed these pieces of art that I got out of a trash can.  I don’t know why you threw them away–if the colors were not just right.  If you got discouraged.  If you were bored.  Only two are signed.  The rest are anonymously beautiful.

I feel guilty sometimes, like I stole your art.  Like an identity thief who instead of stealing electronic signatures and e-mail accounts took your discarded works of imagination.  I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.  Because overall, I am glad I kept these remnants of the trashbin–they were worth saving.  Yes, dear Art Students, you will grow and you will mature in your art.  But your art now has worth and gives people joy.  So, please don’t throw it away.  Learn from it, pass it on, and move on.  But don’t throw it away.

The art world may change its mind on what is chic, what is good form, what is stylish or challenging or relevant.  But please remember, the critics won’t get your work out of the trash.  But a curious custodian might.  She might find joy in the figure of narwhal in the sea, amusement in a policeman in the dark, and inspiration in the calm serenity of two trees side by side.

So don’t stop.  Please don’t.  This world is full of people who are important and prestigious and rich.  The world is also filled with confusion and suffering and pain.  We need art.  And we need you.  Keep on.  And don’t throw any more away.


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