Is College Important for Artists?

>>With the ever-increasing costs of higher education, some of us are asking ourselves, is it worth the investment? What if I just started doing what I wanted to do? According to Mother Jones back in 2014, attending college cost 12 times higher than it did 35 years before. To go along with that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics stated that the average student debt was hovering around $30,000. While the average starting salary for college graduates in 2015 stood at $50,651, those figures included more lucrative STEM fields. So what is a Liberal Arts major or a Fine-Arts major supposed to do? Numbers are important but for this interview, we decided to get a personal account on the impact college has had on Travis Johansen, who might be better known as the guitarist from Rochester’s own, KOPPS.

Krit: Hey Travis! You want to tell us a little bit about what you do during the day?

Travis: Sure, in my other life, I do a lot of library work. I’m the Exhibits Manager for River Campus Libraries at the University of Rochester. Today I spent a lot of time running around town working on a community collaborative exhibit.

Krit: So today I wanted to spend a little bit of time talking about college. I’m a photo student at RIT and I’ve been thinking, as time goes on, if my degree is actually necessary later in life. Like, do we really really need it? How has your degree had an effect on your life?

Travis: Sure, this is pretty loaded question in a way [laughs] but I think back to down moments when I was at RIT when I sort of thought, what am I doing here? I guess it was weird being asked at a young age to decide what you want to do. If you want to be a lawyer or an artist or whatever, and hopefully when you’re sixteen, you have a pretty good idea of who you are. I was lucky enough to stumble across art when I was in high school and I’ve never relinquished that sort of interest. Basically, I was being a musician and also doing graphic design. My degree at RIT wound up being multi-disciplinary studies because I bounced around so much. I actually took an extra year because of that. I was commuting my first three years and I found it hard to find a community within the school that I fit into. Eventually, I wound up hanging out with the photo majors…

Krit: The cool kids [laughs]

Travis: I think the art students are all cool! One of the important things I got from RIT was that connection to my friends. You build a network with them and you never know who’s going to be in New York or LA or Chicago or somewhere else. I know there’s that anxiety that happens where it’s like, “Why am I taking these classes? I feel like I can learn this through the internet” but what I really think is important to take away from your college degree is sort of this, skill base, that you get from your classes. I was learning Photoshop and I was taking in influence from the community and out in the world but that sort of base skill level is important for going into the workforce. My first job was working at the George Eastman Museum as an unpaid intern and I sort of didn’t know what I was getting into but working through my classes, doing that work, it gave me a drive. You’d really be surprised to see your classes come back to help you.

Krit: Do you have a message about the overall college experience for a student?

Travis: Hang on for education reform or student debt reform? [laughs] Really, you should find your passion and roll with it. Chase it. Let it engulf you. Keep moving forward [through school]. There’s always some light in the darkness that you can keep your eye on. Sometimes it seems tough but you just have to look for the good in everything. <<