MCAD Commencement Speech 2006

Journal - Sightings

Minneapolis College of Art + Design

Commencement Speech: Dec 2006


Ten years after I was able to give the commencement speech at my own graduation from the Minneapolis College of Art + Design, MCAD asked me back to be the guest speaker for the fall semester graduates of 2006.


Fall semester is usually a bit overlooked, and gets the short end of the stick -- hence the reason my graduation had a Nobel Laureate speak, and these guys were getting ME.


That didn't mean I didn't take it seriously. This is a chance of a lifetime, and I wanted to make sure that it meant as much to the graduates as it did to me. Did that actually happen? I sure as hell don't know, but I tried. You can judge the words for yourself, as here follows the speech, in it's entirety.



What the HELL is an art degree?

There, I said it. It was what everyone was thinking. That 500lbs elephant in the room.

Of course everyone here has their own idea. An art degree? "It's a mile marker on the road of life". "It's the next step towards taking complete responsibility for my future". "It's about time I start looking at Grad Schools" -- or for some of you "…again".

In the audience, they know what an art degree is: It's a second mortgage. It's that sports car I promised I'd buy myself after the kids were grown.

Of course these ideas are synonymous with any college degree wether it be art, physics, law, medicine… but what is the difference with an art degree? What does that mysterious word mean? 'Art'?

Scott McLeode, the comic book illustrator who I understand has also lectured here at MCAD, defines art as "...any human activity which doesn't grow out of either of our species' two basic instincts: Survival and Reproduction". And let me tell you, I can contest to the fact that an art degree truly does not aide in either of these things. Just a heads up for those of you who went through all this trouble just to get chicks.

We human beings are not as directed by internal instinct as much as other animals. We search for those moments of external validation. We throw out ideas, and those around us make those ideas their own, and an idea is thrown back. That's called communication. Humanity and all of its cultures are completely dependent on communication, because our nature is dependent on validation.

Let me tell you a personal anecdote:

Los Angeles is inundated with people trying to be celebrities. To be famous. To be recognizable. To be validated. I regularly see a guy around town, who is always wearing a hand made shirt that reads: 'Future Hollywood Star'.

This obsession with notoriety also creates an environment to want to recognize notoriety. People trying to find validation in recognizing celebrities -- wether they really are celebrities or not. So every once in a while I'll be walking down the street...

'Hey, aren't you the singer to Metallica?' 'No' 'Are you sure?'

'Hey, you're that one guy from TV' 'No, I don't think so' 'Yeah, I can't remember his name -- you know, that one white guy'

'It's AJ From the Backstreet Boys!' 'Oh my God, No' 'Will you sign my face!?' 'Do you have a sharpie?'

'Hey, you're that guy from Karaoke!' 'Why, as a matter of fact…'

Yes, it was true. I was 'that guy' from Karaoke. Legitimate validation!

You see, true validation is not based on sheer communication. Mr. Future-Hollywood-Star is constantly communicating his desires. His motives. He is putting so much effort into what he thinks he needs to be doing, that he is ignoring what he wants to be doing. He is ignoring expression, and he is not receiving validation.

I know you guys, graduating today, you know what I'm talking about. You all had that self loathing roommate who sat in their room all day listening to Morrisey. Wearing all black. Trying to shock everyone with photos of their crotch for photo 1 class. They were doing everything they thought was expected of them to 'act' like an artist.

Well, let me tell you, when you get in front of that Karaoke mic -- the Karaoke Mic of life -- you don't want to sing Morrisey. Even if you think you should, no one WANTS to sing Morrisey. When you get up there, you cannot worry about what is expected of you because this is your chance to express yourself. No matter how un-cool you think other people may think it may be, you just have to throw caution to the wind, be yourself, and you just have to sing Journey, man.

Who doesn't want to sing Journey?

That is where validation is going to happen -- when you stop doing what you think is expected of you, and you start expressing yourself they way that you truly want to express yourself. You're not doing it for survival and you're not doing it for reproduction. That is when you begin to become an artist.

In 1687 Isaac Newton wrote the 'Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy'. This volume of work has been called, by some, the single largest expression of creativity in the history of mankind. This is where he explained his theory of universal gravity, laws of motion, and thereby solidified himself as the most influential mathematician in history – and an artist.

Artists exist in every corner of creative thought, and the one thing that binds them is their belief in what they are doing. They believe, even for selfish reasons sometimes, that it is a necessity that ideas are constantly challenged and used to challenge.

Sir Isaac Newton was inspired by ideas. He painted his own ideas with words, and his aesthetic turned those words into inspiration. Inspiration that eventually used his Newtonian Physics to put a man on the Moon 300 years later! How is that for validation?

Exactly 10 years ago, I had the honor of being elected class speaker for my own commencement ceremony, here at MCAD. Right now I'd like to repeat a quote that I used in that speech. A quote by John Adams:

"I must study politics and war, that my sons may have the liberty to study mathematics and philosophy. My sons ought to study... navigation, commerce and agriculture, in order to give their children a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture..."

John Adams -- one of America's Founding Fathers -- called studying painting and poetry a right. If there is anyone from any group of people who would know about defining rights, it would be John Adams. But this isn't a right set forth in our constitution, or our Bill of Rights. It is an unwritten right, and one that does not know the boundaries of nations and cultures.

Art is universal, and it is hard fought for. It can take generations and sacrifice, and it is built on the backs of all those that came before. Or, put more simply in Sir Isaac Newton's own words: "If I have seen a little further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."

Everyone on this stage, including myself, is standing on the shoulders of giants, and has been granted the right to study art. And with that right, comes it's own responsibility.

Art school is the opportunity to spend the time to study art. Your responsibility was to make the most of that time. Your responsibility was to make the most of a community and vast resources that you may never have access to again for as long as you live.

Every graduating class of every college have those that are unsatisfied, even bitter, about their experience in school. And I want to let you all know, that especially in art school, it is entirely your own fault if you feel that way.

It's not going to get any easier, and it is going to take even more responsibility if you truly want to become an artist, because when you step off this stage tonight, you will begin to grow into the giants that those after you are going to be looking to stand on.

And that is why I am here tonight. It is difficult to maintain that right to study art, and I sure as hell don't want to end up with an orphaned degree because there is no support for aspiring artists coming out of MCAD. Now that is your responsibility too.

In the Galleries of MCAD, as I speak, are a collection of ideas that are so well articulated, that they will be described as: "beautiful", "Unnerving", "Hilarious", "I don't really get it", or that old standard: "I could have done that".

Sure, even you, in the audience, YOU could have done that. But then why didn't you?

It is believing that you could do that, even before you ever knew it could be done. It is believing that you could paint light before seeing a Rembrandt. It is believing you could illustrate a story before reading a comic by Frazetta. It is believing you could use words to instill serenity before reading Whitman. It is believing you could transport imaginations before seeing a film by Spielberg. It is believing that you have something to say and that it is worth while to express.

Well, each one of the graduates here today, DID do it. They did that and more: Graduates, you decided to pursue an artistic education because you believed in your aspirations. You spent years of time, money, and effort because you believed in your ideas. You accomplished goal after goal and sit here on this stage because you believe in the importance of what your ideas mean.

I am here tonight, because I believe that you represent the victory in the right to study art. And every person, sitting in this theater, is here because they believe in you.

It is belief, belief, belief! It is what makes art, science, and innovation go on. And it must go on when you leave this stage, it is your right and your burden. So the final bit of advice that I am going to give to you, is one last quote: from Steven Perry, the lead singer to Journey. "Don't stop believin".

- BILL! Rude

December 15, 2006