And here's the deal with this post. I graduated from BYU in Film in December 2012, but walked early at the graduation ceremony in August. Then I was asked by the Film Department to speak at the graduation ceremony in April, which December graduates usually attend. So, I had two fake graduations. My first one was fake because I still had a semester to finish. My second graduation was fake because I'd already graduated and attended a ceremony. It was a big surprise and a huge honor to be chosen by the people I respect the most, my professors and advisers, to represent the department at the ceremony.
This is what I said at my second fake graduation.
Life is Art, You are the Artist
Like many of the graduates here today, I finished my course work in December. So, I’ve been out in the professional world making a living in film art direction. Art Direction or film design is the process of creating the sets where the story is filmed. Most of the people I work with have not gone to college. One of my co-workers has been pretty vocal that he feels it would be a waste of time to get a film degree. Perhaps some of the graduates have had similar discussions with some members of the audience. In my discussions at work, I kept quiet until I felt it would be appropriate for me to speak up. I think I surprised everyone when I said, “I wouldn’t trade my education for anything.”
It may be true that you don’t need a degree to furnish a film set. But it’s also true that my BYU education has been much more than just learning how to create and interpret films.
Professors and classes expanded my mind in ways I could not have done on my own. In history classes I was challenged with abstract films whose visuals read like poetry or international documentaries that made it clear there are usually more than two sides to every story. In theory classes I worked hard to wrap my mind around the metaphysical side to film interpretation and creation. The art that professors had us view, read, listen to, and discuss brought new insights that I’m glad to say have stretched and reorganized the way I see the world. I would be a very different person if I had skipped all of this and gone straight to working for a living.
Another major part of my education was collaborating on student films. These 15-minute “Capstone Film Projects” are created entirely by a crew of students. I was fortunate to be the Production Designer on three of these projects. Working on a student film is simultaneously the most fun I’ve ever had and the hardest thing I’ve ever done. That hard work changed me. Nothing could have taught me better to think creatively, communicate clearly, and support others in times of need.
My university education was not a waste of time. I became someone I am glad to be. Here’s my philosophy. Our lives are art and we are the artists. Go ahead and plug your favorite type of art into that analogy. I like to think of myself as the producer or the director of my own movie. Maybe you’re the composer of your own song; perhaps the choreographer of your own dance; or even the writer of your own book. Today I chose not to share any of my student or professional work because you are looking at the most important work I’ve done--me.
What an empowering thought this is! I have creative control over my life. I get to decide who I am now, who I will become, and how I’m going to get there. On a daily basis I am painting the picture of myself. Nobody else is doing this. The responsibility is mine. I am what I make myself to be. It inspires me to think this way. Like a musician with an empty page of staff paper, I can write down any melody I dream up.
This power and responsibility can be challenging, even daunting. Whether I am an award-winning filmmaker or not, I am responsible. But that’s part of being an artist, part of being alive. Nothing to do but pick up the paint brush and start painting again.
Part of the “Film of Sarah Swan” was choosing to come to BYU. Now that part of the film is over and, as the creator of the ever-changing film, I’m facing a whole new set of challenges. Where do I send my main character next? How does the next verse of the song go? What color should I put on the canvas now? These are questions I haven’t yet answered. To be honest, I’m currently in the middle of deciding on a new direction for my emerging story. After I began working in art direction, I was surprised to find that it wasn’t what I thought and I might not want that storyline for myself anymore. I’m trying to decide where in the film industry I belong or at least what the next step is to help me figure that out. And that’s okay. Art is experimental. Art is about trying things out to see what works the best. Sometimes we erase the pencil marks, scrape the paint off the canvas, or delete a scene. But no matter what happens we keep creating, we keep working, we keep living. We don’t succumb to writer’s block or dancer’s block or songwriter’s block. We keep moving and trying new things until we succeed. All the while remember the intellectual and spiritual foundation we’ve been given here at BYU. That’s where I am in my life and I suspect most of the other graduates are there as well, or soon will be.
So, to myself, the graduates, and those of you in the audience I would say: Life is art and you’re the artist. Create a life worthy of you.