Tuesday, March 4, 2014

the bleeding hearts and artists make their stand

When I broke the news to my parents that I decided to go to art school (and they subsequently didn't give a rat's ass), I was very discerning in my selection. First and foremost, since I was such a terrible student through twelve years of public school, I sought a curriculum that was purely art — no math, no science, none of that useless shit that I struggled with and would never, ever reference in my adult life, save for the random viewing of Jeopardy!. Second on my list was... well, I really didn't have a second... or a third, for that matter. All I wanted was art-related classes and nothing on which I would be tested.

After researching art programs at area universities and stand-alone art schools, I settled on the Hussian School of Art. In 1946, respected Philadelphia commercial artist and lecturer John Hussian founded the school after encouragement from the prestigious Philadelphia Museum of Art (long before Rocky ran up the front steps and ruined the regal mystique for everyone). Mr. Hussian hoped his school would assist returning World War II veterans in securing more career opportunities. Soon, the school earned national recognition and respect. Hussian offered an array of art classes — both fine and commercial , eventually being approved by the Pennsylvania Department of Education to offer graduates an Associate Degree in Specialized Technology. That's right, despite being a four-year school, its lack of academic subjects barred Hussian from awarding a Bachelor's Degree. Nevertheless, Hussian was my choice. I'd be damned if I was gonna sweat though another calculus problem or tinker with vials of sodium bi-who-gives-a-shit ever again.

In the summer of 1980, along with 79 other fresh, budding artists, I was accepted to Hussian. By the time four years passed, the class was whittled down to a mere 43, many of whom (I learned later) didn't pursue a career in the arts — fine or otherwise. I obviously did follow my dream (or goal or...whatever you want to call it... curse, perhaps), although, after 30-plus years, no one has ever asked to see my diploma or inquired about my degree. My ever-changing, ever-evolving portfolio has always been my qualifier.

Hussian tradition has been to have the seniors host a showcase of their work one evening just before the May commencement ceremony. Members of the local, professional art community are invited, as well as alumni. I have attended nearly every one since I graduated (except for that conflicting date in 2001 when Ken Griffey Jr. made his National League debut with the Cincinnati Reds in a game against the Phillies — it's baseball, for goodness sakes!). I love to see the work on display, especially new takes on projects I, myself, was assigned thirty years earlier.

At last year's showcase, I ran into a teacher who taught when I was a student. He was going to announce his separation from Hussian at the end of that semester. He explained that the school had been purchased by two entrepreneurial brothers as an investment, adding it to their roster of restaurants, bars and other non-educational businesses. Without exact words, he expressed his dismay — nay, anger — at the situation. He also hinted that, in his opinion, Hussian's days were numbered.

This week, I received a solicitation postcard from Hussian. In a burnt ochre banner (I still remember my colors!), spanning the card were the words "NEW BACHELOR'S DEGREE!," in a reversed-out bold, sans-serif font (look at me, using cool graphic arts terms!). For 68 years, Hussian sent scores of artists into the world, some more successful than others, but not a single one wielding a Bachelor's Degree. And they all seemed to do just fine.

Sadly, it looks like Hussian is grabbing for a life preserver and possibly going down for the third time.

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