So you think Minneapolis College of Art and Design students have the life, eh? Whiling away the hours sketching, smoking and pondering the essence of chartreuse?
Yeah, right. Meet Anthony "AJ" Warnick and think again.
At 28, the senior in Web and Multimedia Environments studies full time while cobbling together several outside jobs into 40-plus hours a week of work just to pay the bills.
I've been having breakfast with him, as I figure a look into his life might help me figure out what makes MCAD students tick.
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He's a former philosophy major from Kansas State University who dropped out after a year because he hated the classroom and the dryness of academic life. For five years, he managed a coffee shop while living in the artsy section of Kansas City, Missouri, where he fell in with the art crowd and dabbled in photography.
The art bug bit him, and after an arts-oriented girlfriend nudged him to get back to school, the couple toured MCAD. That's when he discovered that he was more of a hands-on guy, someone who loved philosophy but needed something other than pen and paper to practice it.
They broke up the day they arrived at the school (ouch), but he stayed while she went back home.
No regrets. He seems to feel comfortable here.
So on with it: What's with the philosophy-art switch?
He told me that in high school:
"I always loved learning but hated the classroom. I guess I never put two and two together. I went to Kansas State, because that's what everyone was supposed to do. ... But I need hands-on learning. I need demo's -- people showing me how something works."
He still practices the philosophy. Despite being an art and design school, MCAD has its students fulfill a core set of classes in the liberal arts in addition to the art courses.
Warnick said he chose Web and Multimedia (often called "new media" at other schools) because he can practice his art while seeing the world in the manner he feels most comfortable. Unlike those who see things in linear fashion, Warnick says, he views things in terms of how they (abstractly) fit together in a system or network.
So at MCAD he learns the "hard skills" of computer programming, video production, painting and the like. And he uses those to express his thoughts.
He told me:
"I'm still interested in the questions raised by philosophy: How do people organize? You do you ensure justice? How do you make sure people's voices are heard? Those are subjects I work on -- institutions vs. individuals. Philosophy is pretty core to the work I'm into. But that's pretty common in the art world. (Some artists) spend as much time reading philosophy as they spend in the studio. Most people may not see the philosophy-art connection, but there's a lot of crossover."
And of course, he's no idle latte-sipper.
In addition to his 18 credits-a-week of school, he puts in 10-15 hours a week in a work-study program, 5-10 in free-lance work, and 10 hours as an intern at the Walker Art Center. And he's a resident assistant in his student-housing block, which tacks on another 5-10 hours a week.
That makes for a mean schedule. He's up at 6 or 6:30 -- nothing compared to the 4 a.m. wake-up during his coffee-house days -- and in bed around 12:30 or later.
He told me:
"It's exhausting, but I really love what I'm doing."
MCAD hosts a fair amount of nontraditional students and transfers like him, and he has no problem fitting in. Most students hold down 15-20 hours a week, he said, and most tend to be a bit different. So at 28, he told me:
"...I don't feel all that old. Most people here have something about them that makes them nontraditional at other schools. So many students were weird in high school."