"Are you an art major?"
"Are you a VMS minor?"
"Are you studying art in college?"
No, no, and no. Although I've been drawing for as long as I can remember and took 2 and a half years worth of art classes in high school, I never thought I'd take an art class at Duke. Don't get me wrong - I LOVE to draw and I doodle uncontrollably. Put a pen in my hand and I'll be drawing without even realizing it. But I was never a big fan of "structured" art classes. My IB art class in high school was a free for all. I could develop my own style and draw whatever subjects I desired to, real or imaginary (although I did get some disdainful looks from my principal when my drawing of a nude woman was displayed at the senior art gallery). On the other hand, that art class had no structure whatsoever, so I spent most of the year slacking off and the last two weeks frantically starting/finishing 10 quality drawings. They probably would have turned out better had I used my time wisely.
After high school, without the outlet of a drawing class, my doodling increased exponentially. God only knows how many times I opened my notebook to study for a test and found nothing but strange doodles on every page. Yikes. My GPA probably would have benefitted from an art class or two just so I could get the restless doodling out of my system, but I just never thought I'd have the time to take another art class, and the prideful part of me thought I didn't NEED to take any more art classes. I had my own style and I knew what to do with it - what else does an art hobbyist need? It wasn't until Matt told me about this class (and I realized it could fit in my schedule) that I decided to give it a shot.
In this class, I was forced to draw things I wouldn't usually draw. Still life pieces and landscapes are not my forte. I would rather draw the human body (I'm obsessed with achieving anatomical accuracy and I even considered a career as a medical illustrator for 10 minutes back in '08) or work on typography, cartoonish figures, or whatever else my hand decides to draw. And I usually draw the same way I write essays - the night before, all in one sitting, without any of this "study drawing" or "rough draft" business. But the more time I spent on a piece, the more satisfied I was with the results. This seems like a no-brainer to most people, but I'm the type of person who starts and finishes a task in the same day instead of working on it a little bit at a time. This class also reminded me of things I already knew, like the fact that I HATE charcoal and prefer a plain ol' mechanical pencil over all other media. But being forced outside of my comfort zone has helped me grow as an artist, too.
Outside of this class, I will continue to draw because it's just a part of who I am. But to go back to the questions that opened this post - You don't need to study art in an academic setting to be an artist.
Be observant. Think differently. Draw. Repeat.