Back to art school at 50

Back to art school at 50

Some might wonder, whatever possessed a 50-year-old woman with no money to apply to an elite fine art school?

Well, I like to think it was a belief in myself and my ability to create passably cool art. But to be perfectly honest, it was also a slow economy plus the fact that I'd been unemployed for, er, a while. That and a glimmer of hope that maybe I could get enough financial aid to attend.

If the Facebook ads are to be believed, Obama wants moms (and other women, I presume) to go back to school, right? Plus, having that BFA gives an artist "street cred." Not that I care whether or not someone thinks I'm a "real artist," but it helps. I might even go for an MFA later, too.

So I went to the college's information day for prospective students. In a sea of 18-year-olds and their parents, I was, apparently, the oldest prospective student there. I did meet a 30-something interior design student, and she and I sat together at lunch. And the guy sitting in front of me at the first session, who was dressed in Ducati leathers and wanted to study photography, looked to be in his late 30s as well. But other than that, the only non-teenagers in attendance appeared to be parents, faculty, and admissions counselors.

The session was led by the art department chair, a trim, tanned man in his late 50s. I was amused when he told us he was usually able to tell what a prospective student wants to major in by his or her appearance. The dance students, he said, were lithe and "in their bodies." The theater students were, well, dramatic. The interior design students were impeccably dressed and coiffed, with sleek leather portfolios.

He himself was wearing a white oxford shirt and black sports jacket, with blue jeans for that casual touch - although they looked like they'd been ironed. He made a joke about being a black-and-white photographer who was wearing black and white.

The fine art students, he said with a wry grin, were, ah, a little rough around the edges. Everybody laughed. It was true.

Admittedly I'm not lithe and "in my body" like the dance students. I'm way more "in my head," I suppose – head in the clouds, you might say. And I like to wear comfortable clothes, even well past the point of wearing them out. I may own an iron, but if I do, it's squirreled away in a box somewhere.

After the free lunch, which featured tasty grilled portobello sandwiches, it was time for the portfolio reviews. Along with the interior design student I had sat with at lunch, who, naturally, was impeccably dressed and groomed, I went to the room where students were lining up for portfolio reviews. It was already packed with students milling around, nervously clutching their portfolios.

I looked around for the black-and-white-attired art chair. My admissions counselor had told me to show my portfolio to him next. I work mostly in 3D, so my portfolio consisted of color prints showing my mixed-media sculptures.

While I was looking around to see what line to get into, one of the other admissions counselors, a woman who ironically was about my same age, barked at me that the PARENTS were supposed to go somewhere else. This session was only for the STUDENTS, she said. I told her I WAS a prospective student. I can only hope that she felt mortified by her ageist faux pas. Looking back, I can laugh about it, but at the time it made me feel even more like a fish out of water.

I spotted the black-and-white-clad art chair and took my place in his line, still a bit freaked out from the exchange with the admissions counselor.

A few minutes later the same woman handed out forms to people in line, but she overlooked (?) me, so I had to go up to the table and grab the form and get back in line. Filling it out, suddenly I couldn't remember my own phone number. No, it wasn't age-related dementia, I told myself – I just needed to take a few deep breaths and calm the hell down.

Luckily it was quite a while before I got to the front of the line. I struck up a conversation with the young woman in line next to me and the guy after her. She was planning to major in illustration, he in photography. He had flown in from California to look at this school, he said, and told us about other schools he was applying to as well, in New York and Rhode Island (yes, the famous "Rizzdee," where the art chair got his MFA).

I asked the young man why he didn't just go to the wonderful California College of the Arts in the Bay Area - he said it was too close to home. Can't blame him there! When you're 18, you want to get out and see the world. At 50, it's "been there, done that." Now I just want someplace where I don't have to move - yet again.

Anyway, we chatted some more, and finally I got to the front of the line. This was it!

The art chair seemed relieved to look at something other than manga or fantasy art. He said my conceptualizing ability was stronger than that of many of the younger students, which was nice to hear. He especially liked my mixed-media neon piece, Fractured Earth, shown above.

Then he offered me admission. I was in!

Next stop, financial aid.