Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Statement of Purpose

Statement of Purpose
Erin Devlin

In the fall of 2003, I was enrolled in Praxis, and given the exact assignment I am now writing, my statement of purpose. I didn’t realize it then, but it is not a coincidence that I withdrew from the University that same semester. The following string of events, which at the time seemed random, started creating a pattern of which I began to realize was anything but arbitrary. I also began to realize that earning my degree is only the beginning.
I headed to New Zealand for some time to myself. I stayed with a midwife in a small town in the North Island. At the time, I thought I was there to get away, not realizing I would take that trip with me for the rest of my life. What I have kept with me from that trip is seeing Jan, a midwife, a massage therapist, a nurse, a doctor of osteopathic medicine, and an acupuncturist going about her day seeing patients with an abundance of knowledge, wisdom and the most humble demeanor. I also keep with me my journal of my time there, filled with sketches of views and sketches of ideas, homeopathic recipes, lines from the Tom Robbins books I read, and my thoughts. I didn’t know how much I kept with me from that trip until I looked back at that journal. Everything is so clearly written out, by me and for me but I still didn’t connect all of the dots.
I traveled a bit more in the States when I returned, but I mostly worked. I began remembering a lunch I had with my mother shortly after leaving Appalachian. She was telling me about a local massage school and asked if I would ever consider attending? I set up an interview and I remember walking in the front door, looking around, smelling lavender and eucalyptus and knowing instantly I would be enrolling. I fell in love with learning for the first time in my life there. The human body was so interesting to me and massage school sure did get me over a lot of my insecurities. I was learning a great deal about myself, and how I work as a person. It was there that I became interested in nursing school. I wanted to learn as much as I could so I could help others in any way I was able. I learned that you could only help other people if you at first help yourself. So I was ready to go back to Appalachian to finish my BA.
I was planning on declaring as a philosophy major when I returned, but one dinner with my parents changed that. I remember telling them that I was finally ready to go back and finish my degree. I told them about my plans of studying philosophy and they nodded. My dad then burst out as if he had been holding it in for years, why aren’t you going back to get your art degree? For as long as I can remember, I have always been interested in art. When I was younger, I would beg my grandfather to let me play with a piece of wood and a hammer. He would reluctantly give them to me with a following warning, “If you hurt yourself girl, your Nan will have my hide.” I would sit and mold the single piece of wood for hours. As I got older my materials expanded and I began playing with whatever I could get my hands on. I loved creating things, but I never thought that what I was creating was good enough to do anything with, but I dreamed of the possibilities. So when my dad posed the question, I was a bit taken off guard, but I said I would at least apply. I was accepted into the art department and that was the beginning of putting an end to some of my self-defeating thoughts.
As I began to get deeper and deeper into my art classes I began to notice that art is how I deal with everything in my life. I have always used art as a way to explain and understand my experiences. It seemed so natural for me to be here, and studying something that I have always been interested in. I decided on a BA in studio art because I do not want art to be my main financial source, instead I want it as a tool to process my experiences. I decided to minor in IDS because it made sense of all my decisions in life and in school. It gave me the vision to see life patterns and a guide to see in the grey areas. My Interdisciplinary studies have been more of a natural progression than a strict plan of attack. My art degree, linked with my Interdisciplinary work has given way to a bigger picture of my overall lifestyle than just a four-year degree track.
To earn my degree, with a major in Art and a minor in Interdisciplinary studies I have had to take many classes that may not outwardly seem to relate, but they have all come together to give me a foundation for a lifetime of study. The art classes that I have chosen to take were very basically because of interest. However, paired with my interdisciplinary classes, those art classes taught me more than just the ability to work with a particular medium, they taught me life lessons that I will take with me forever.
A perfect example was my decision to take a ceramics class. I had always admired my fellow classmates who could work functionally and conceptually with clay, but more importantly I admired their patience with the clay. At that time I was apprenticing with a jeweler and my lack of patience was a common conversation topic. The retired jeweler was now working with clay and when I had some down time in the studio I would wander around looking at different pieces he was working on. I would always ask him about different surfaces he had created and he would always reply with the same answer, patience, you have to be patient. I enrolled in the ceramics course, yes to work with the clay, but also to slow down and be patient with a new art form. By no means did I master the art of patience, but when working with a new medium, you have to be patient. Through my IDS studies, I have been taught to see the different layers in which to view the world and my experiences. The ceramics class could have been taken solely for that purpose, of working with clay, but I looked deeper into the class’ potential. I not only learned about the material, I learned lessons about myself, how I work, and values that I believe to be important, like patience.
Besides ceramics, my art degree has taken me through two drawing courses, which have developed my skill of observation and given me the ability to sketch out my ideas. I have taken metals classes purely on the love of casting and the dirtiness of it. I have taken art history classes, which give me a basis, sculpture classes, which entertained my childhood imagination, a fibers course, and currently a bookbinding course to broaden my ideas and interests in art.
The interdisciplinary courses I have taken helped me to make connections where otherwise I might not have. The most helpful and meaningful course I have taken in IDS is by far Histories of Knowledge’s. It gave me the tools to be able to be comfortable in the sometimes-uncomfortable grey areas of life and experiences. I have taken a Chinese medicine course that taught me the philosophy and culture behind this form of healthcare. It also appeased my interest in acupuncture, medicinal herbs, and overall well being. Through IDS I have also studied at Penland School of Crafts. That month long experience changed my life. I enrolled in a bookbinding course and an oil painting/collage course. This was the first time that I saw the potential of education outside of the university setting that was validated. I learned that learning does not end once you’re out of school if you don’t want it to. This proves to be a very powerful lesson for me. Penland also taught me that there are many ways of accomplishing a task. You just have to find or create a way that works for you. All of my Interdisciplinary and Art courses have given me the validation that I have been longing for. They have shown me that education is all around, in many forms, and it lasts lifetimes.
I have chosen to approach my studies in this fashion because for me, education has been a natural progression. Learning is not a concrete structure. Instead, you follow the route that you think will get you to your specific destination. However, once en route, you may find you need to go this way or that way depending on what you have learned thus far. It is constantly changing, therefore I am dedicated to being a life long learner and my December graduation is only the beginning.

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