Art Camp

April 20, 2008
By Julia Sippel, Wallingford, PA

It seemed like we had been in the car forever. I was curled up in the front, my feet on the seat because the floor was entirely jammed with maps and guidebooks, my backpack, and sweatshirts. A canvas bag overflowed with staple foods like bread, marmalade, cashews, and Chex-mix. It was a bright, clear day, and we were driving, home to Pennsylvania on the last leg of the pilgrimage all high school juniors make: the spring break college tour. We had visited campuses, had interviews, stayed with family and friends, and spent hours and hours in the close confines of our car.

“This summer you should really think about teaching art at camp,” my mom said, her voice making it more of a command than a suggestion.

“Yeah . . .” I said reluctantly. The number of things I “should really think about” doing was astronomical. Whatever happened to hanging around, enjoying my last official summer as a high school student?

“Hey, it will look good to colleges,” she explained.

I grimaced and squirmed inwardly at that. Lately, almost everything my mom said to me was followed by the inevitable, “It will look good for college.” Mostly, her ideas were things that spoke to my interests, like apprenticing with a painter friend, taking a ceramics course, or spending two-weeks at Penland School of Crafts. It wasn’t her ideas that rankled, it was her motivation.

To my way of seeing things, the point was not to make colleges “like” me. The point was to learn, to expand, to improve at things I love and have fun doing. I wanted to spend a summer meeting new people, absorbing what they had to teach me, and using those experiences to create art and develop as a person.

“Ma?” I said, “I get what you’re saying, and I’m not arguing or anything- I know it looks good on applications, but . . . I don’t do things to make people like me, I do them because they’re what I love doing, and . . . I dunno, to do what you love specifically because you’re going to get something out of it . . . just feels kind of wrong. It’s disgusting.”

A rather longwinded argument followed, in which my mom belabored the point that selling yourself is often necessary, especially when you are a member of the largest class ever to graduate from high school. I am straightforward; I am honest. I do not like dressing things up or making them appear different from what they are: Mom spent half the state of New Jersey trying to convince me that selling yourself is a very large part of succeeding in the world.

When I could take it no more, I exclaimed, my voice choked with frustration, “I think if you have something to offer, you should put it where people can see it, and they should do the rest. That’s the way things should be.”

“Well, honey,” she sighed, sounding worn down, “it’s probably not such a bad thing. I mean, you can use that.”

“Oh my God!” I howled. “You’ve just taken my idealism and turned it into a marketing point!” I huffed angrily into my hands, unsure whether to laugh or cry. “You know what?” I said, “We’re not talking about this any more.”

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