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Didier William Offers Words of Inspiration to Scholarship Recipients

Painting Alumnus Returns to College to Talk to Next Generation of Leaders

Posted 05.04.10

MICA alumnus Didier "DJ" William '07 returned to the College on April 26 for the Leadership Awards Program, offering words of encouragement and motivation to scholarship and award recipients. At MICA, Williams was an outstanding student and leader and upon graduation went to Yale for his M.F.A. He has exhibited his paintings extensively and will be teaching at Vasser this fall.

These are the remarks he gave at the awards ceremony:

I want to thank you all for inviting me to this event.

It is indeed a huge honor to be asked to come back as your alumni speaker. I haven't been out of school for that long but in the short time since leaving MICA I've had a number of really great experiences, most of which Dusty mentioned. Experiences for which I would not have been nearly as well prepared as I was, had I not had such a full and robust undergraduate experience at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

Neither one of my parents went to college and my brother only made it halfway, so while I was in school I wanted to do as much as humanly possible. For me it was sort of a challenge to try and see how much I could take before I snapped, and sometimes I did. It was sort of a puzzle to sit down and realize, I have a 25 page paper to write, (Usually for Soheila-By the way, if you really want to prepare yourself for grad school, take a few courses with Soheila Ghaussy.) additionally, I need to have the Carnival budget ready for Megan, I have a painting critique in two days, and I have to send an e-mail reminder to BSU members all by 5 because I have to be at work by 6. You sort of don't realize it at the time but it's a really valuable exercise for your brain. You need to simultaneously figure out how much time each thing needs, in what order everything needs to be done, all the while making sure that everything also gets done well. It's a hugely important skill to have and this is the time to exercise it freely.

Personally I feel like undergrad is the place to actively try to learn as much about yourself as possible. In my time here I found out what my limits were, realized my strengths and began to come to terms with my weaknesses. After undergrad, I had a choice as to what to do with these four rather intense years of self-exploration. I could either take that knowledge on to the industry and try to find a job or continue on to a graduate education, but it's those initial four years that set the rhythm for the way in which I was going to deal with obstacles that artists have faced time and time again: having not enough time, not enough money, insufficient resources, too little supplies, a disinterested audience, unfair criticism, fair criticism, no criticism, all of which will undoubtedly continue to occur in different degrees of intensity throughout the rest of my career.

More broadly speaking, I had to become profoundly adept at negotiating a sometimes private and individual studio practice with a more public artist practice. If I have one criticism of art education it's that it is deceptively individual, but on the other hand it's also necessarily self-centered. It's a delicate balance of inward reflection and outward expression. You and your work will be communicating, negotiating and sometimes even compromising for the rest of your career, and those of you that have taken the initiative to make undergraduate leadership opportunities part of this experience have a profound head start in that direction. You will understand more acutely than most that the artist's process is much more collaborative than we think. At this point holding on to the perception of the lone genius whose "pure" esoteric expression must later be deciphered is archaic and rather silly. I think there is or should be much greater risk involved in being an artist as well as a much greater reward.

I would however agree that art is a wonderfully romantic endeavor, you're in the studio with your work, you've got the music going, and there's almost a synchronous relationship between you and your materials. It's great. But at some point both you and the work must leave the studio. Regardless of whether you're a fine artist or a designer there's a clear distinguishable distance between your creative impulse in private and what it "represents" in a more public context.
Personally speaking, I would not have been able to negotiate this distance without confidence, a thorough understanding of the difference between "MICA time" and real time, and the art of delicate compromise, all of which I developed here at MICA. This is what life is all about of course and we'll come up on these challenges repeatedly. But by taking part in MICA leadership, whether you're an RA, an orientation leader, a TARC with Pre-College, an SGA rep, etc, you give yourself a head start at learning what it's like to deal with real situations that involve real problems, with real solutions, and potentially very real consequences.

Visual art is by no means exempt from this. Now, more so than ever, there are many different art worlds out there whether you're on the East Coast with New York or Miami, the Midwest in Chicago, the West Coast, Latin America, Europe or Asia, or even the Middle East, the varied forms or making things that we call Art; are now not only more diverse than ever before, but the process has also become less about comodifying the object and more about figuring out how you'd like to situate art within your lifestyle. The same creative impulse that enables you to seamlessly move from a critique in the studio to an RA meeting with Resident Life staff, or SGA meeting with Fred and Ray, will also help you in understanding the very complex relationship between your art and the rest of the world. It forces you to understand that even though what we do as artists can be at times pleasantly individual not to mention grossly self indulgent we are by no means alone in the grand scheme of artists' praxis.

Everything you do as an artist has a relationship to world around you. That relationship is either marked by a deliberate or circumstantial employment of the traditional or historical techniques that came before you, or it's marked by a vigorous attempt on your part to personally add your own sense of urgency to a contemporary dialogue. Either way, what you do in the studio is invariably tied to what happens outside of the studio. My experiences at MICA greatly helped me in understanding what I consider to be a fundamental part of art making. The idea that the "Art" itself is only a byproduct of the process; a process that has the potential to bridge the gaps and fill the voids in a world that seems to be getting smaller by the day. Thank you all so much, and congratulations.