Monday, November 20, 2017


by Adam Thas
Sometimes a movie comes around at the right time, and everything in your world just comes together.

For those of you who may not know, I’m an art teacher full time. I love it. I love the kids, I love my co-workers, and most days, I love going to work. That wasn’t always the way I felt, though. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I didn’t want to teach, I just thought that I needed to finish a few life agendas before I settled down to what I was going to spend the rest of my life doing. I wanted to get my Master's Degree in painting. I was good at painting, so I figured I could get into any Master's program I wanted fairly easily. My first try was a bust because I didn’t realize how competitive it was. I tried again, but still didn’t take it seriously enough. Then in 2006-07, I decided that if I was going to try this, I was going to go all in.
I spent the next year spending every spare moment painting. I would get home from work, paint. I would wake up on weekends paint, I knew I had the talent and all I needed was the drive. After a year, I sent out a bunch of my submissions, visited colleges to show them I was serious, and I failed. I don’t know if any of you reading this are in the arts at all, but it’s impossible for me to put into words the gut punch that comes when you spend a year of your life putting your heart and soul on a canvas and having people tell you it’s not good enough. There isn’t a word for that type of heartbreak. I was in a bad place. The final gut punch for me came after I had made an appointment to talk to the department head for painting at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC). I was talking to him about my art and I could see the arrogance in his eyes as I showed him my work. I knew I wasn’t getting in. So I left Chicago and just started driving. Before I realized I missed my exit, I’d driven an extra 45 miles out of my way to DeKalb, Illinois.

Art was bullshit. The entire art world was bullshit and was more about the letters of recommendations you had rather than your talent. Your hard work meant nothing next to someone with a good story. It was all a load of crap, and I felt like I was the only one who noticed it. Like I said, I was in a bad place. Then after a while, I just felt like maybe I was bullshit. Maybe I just wasn’t very good and trying to find excuses for it, falling into my own self pity and blaming others.

Then I watched Art School Confidential.
Art School Confidential is an above average movie with some genuine funny spots in it, but if you went to art school it’s a fucking work of genius. It's all there -- everything I loved and hated about art school is in it. The movie follows Jerome (Max Minghella), a talented artist who wants to be the next great artist. He works his ass off and, deep down, is a hopeless romantic. He's joined by his in-the-closet roommate, his super opinionated roommate who makes documentary films, and his best friend Bardo, who is the only one from the beginning of the movie who sees art school for what it is. If you’ve attended art school, you’ve met every single one of these by the end of freshman year. The incident(s) that drive the plot, though, is that there is a serial killer somewhere on campus, and while this lurks in the background for much of the movie, it becomes the major plot point.

It’s hard to talk about Art School Confidential spoiler free, so I’m not going to. It also gets very repetitive and boring for me to just talk about the characters, but as I sat there watching it for the first time in 2007, fresh off of my art school heartbreak, two things in this movie spoke to me. The first were the older characters in the movie. John Malkovich plays Professor Sandiford, a “washed up” artist who is still trying to hold on and make a name, who also has some of the greatest lines in the movie. The second is the Art History teacher played by Anjelica Huston, and the last is Jimmy, played by Jim Broadbent. I saw my possible future in all of them and asked who I wanted to be. Did I want to keep going to art school and try to make it, knowing I could wind up as Malkovich, never knowing when to let go? Maybe I wanted to be Jimmy, an underemployed former grad who is angry that it never worked out for him. Or did I want to be Anjelica Huston, a teacher who loved her work and, despite her frustrations with teaching, gave it her best?
The second thing, and probably more prevalent, was that this was a movie that felt the same way I did about art school. Now, I don’t want to have this come off as me bashing art school. I loved all the time I spent there, I had some great teachers, and came out of it with a lot— but it was bullshit. Again, I don’t want to spoil it for you, because if you haven’t seen it, I hope you do. But I felt less alone. Somewhere in the process of my wanting to be in graduate school, I lost sight of why I do art. I do it because I love it, and it made me go back and look at the paintings I had done in my attempts get into grad school. I was proud of them. The best part about Art School Confidential is that it’s a comedy, it made me feel better, and made me laugh at the same time. I was so happy that I had gotten to experience art school, but happy that I wasn’t going to go back. I sat there thinking about the three adult characters and I decided I was okay being Anjelica Huston. I was going to be a teacher, and I was pretty happy about that.


  1. i thought i was the only one who remembered that movie. i actually bought it again on DVD a few weeks ago (can't remember what i did with my first copy). i really hope this gets a blu-ray release soon.

  2. I have not seen the film but know all about the "gut punch" you mention, Adam. My graduate school experience, even though I finished my program, ended with disillusionment. It takes a while to recover from that. Whatever happens, life goes on and our guiding passions remain.

    1. Yeah, I was in bad shape for a while. It took me a while to realize it wasn't a judgement on me, but on the industry.