Arts at Andover Need To Be on the Mend at Andover

A few days ago, as I was curled up in my bed against a Squishmallow, a friend of mine knocked on my door to interview me for an Arts article on the Art 600 “On the Mend” Exhibition. One of her questions was, “What exactly is so special about this exhibition?” After she asked me this, I went silent for probably thirty seconds. It wasn’t because I didn’t have an answer, though––it was that I had too many. I could go with the cliché “it was so cool” or the usual “I’ve never been to an exhibition before.” But as I sorted through my thoughts, I realized that the truly outstanding thing about this exhibition was how much I admired the artists, not just for their amazing artwork, but for their ability to nurture their creative side at Andover. Andover’s culture emphasizes a strong profile for college, which necessitates significant achievements, and places academics and athletics above art. The fact that these artists in Art 600 had been able to transcend those limits and create touching art was what had awed me. But you shouldn’t have to be in Art 600 to pursue art. In order for more people to recognize and foster their love for art, Andover should provide more informal opportunities for artists to explore their interests outside of a structured class. The lack of these opportunities forces students like me to drop their love for art and consequently lose a part of their identity.

Before coming to Andover, I painted weekly at my local studio for a cumulative 6 hours per week. I genuinely derived joy from mixing oil paint until I had it all over my hands even though my paintings were truly quite weird. Yet, after arriving here, I completely lost my love for art because of the demands of Andover life and curriculum. The idea of grabbing a sketchbook and doodling for hours on end felt like a waste of time, especially when I had swim practice and a math test to study for. And when I took Art 225, the class evoked deep guilt in me for being so disconnected with who I was before coming to Andover. But I don’t blame myself for losing touch with my artistic side—instead, I blame the culture that Andover fosters. I can’t even enter Elson with my Blue Card if I’m not enrolled in an art class, which shows that there is very little opportunity for me to spend any extra time I have on doing something I love. 

Furthermore, the emphasis of having a robust résumé for college and only doing things if you’re “good” at it has also made me shy away from taking structured art classes at Andover. As I planned my courses for Upper and Senior Year with my advisor, I found myself searching for the “easy” arts classes to fulfill my Arts requirement. And you could say that this is my own problem, stemming from my own mindset, but it is hard to deny that students at Andover take classes to boost their GPA and improve their college profile. Andover as a college preparatory school attracts students that are extremely committed to success. It feels as though that this emphasis on college means that people involve themselves in specific commitments that they are talented at just to strengthen their profile, not because they care. In this year’s SOTA, only 23.7% of people said they don’t partake in extracurriculars for the sake of college. Moreover, people also often do things because they are good at it—not because they care—and people who are “bad” at things shy away from them because it does not contribute to their college profile. This is exactly what happened to me—the pressure of placing a physics test above sketching a figure coupled with the pressure that I have to be “good” at everything I do forced me to let go of my many loves.

In order for Andover to dismantle the negative effects of its culture, it needs to provide more free-form art classes for students like me—students who love art, but aren’t that good at it, and don’t wish for a high level of commitment. In addition to that, Andover should allow students to scan into Elson whenever. By making art spaces more accessible, students can balance their creative side with the academic demand of the Andover curriculum. Overall, I believe that by making art at Andover more accessible and flexible, students like me will be able to explore whatever their heart desires.