05.11.19 | Dear students: Commencement 2019
2019 CCAD President’s Commencement Address
Dr. Melanie Corn
I know you’ve heard it many times over the past few months, but founded in 1879, Columbus College of Art & Design celebrates 140 years of arts education this year. That is phenomenal enough that it bears repeating!
And as I pondered what it would mean to address the 140th class of CCAD students, I found myself not only thinking about our storied past and my dreams for the college’s robust future, but also of our current place in history. What does it mean to be graduating from CCAD at this exact moment in time?
Artists and designers are always culture-shapers, change-makers, and important contributors to society. But there are moments in history when the role of the creative is even more central—moments when an artist or community of artists create something so profound the world is changed forever more. In 1917, Marcel Duchamp created The Fountain. Simply a urinal turned on its side and displayed on a pedestal, this one act simultaneously enraged the public and irrevocably transformed the world of art. From that moment on, the artist was no longer just the master craftsman and maker of beauty—the artist was the proclaimer of art, the thinker, the theorist, the rebel.
In the 1930s, the New Deal and the Works Progress Administration gave artists a central role in rebuilding our nation after the Great Depression. An entire community of artists and designers not only filled our public buildings with beautiful murals celebrating the American worker, but they documented growing cities, partnered with civil engineers to build better bridges, and became administrators of arts centers across the country.
And the social movements of the 1960s that led to civil rights and equality were driven, in part, by countless artists, designers, poets, musicians. Nina Simone and Pete Seeger provided the soundtrack to the Civil Rights Movement. Stonewall Inn’s drag queen performers kicked off the LGBT Rights Movement—in high heels, no less. Judy Chicago, Cindy Sherman, and so many other artists depicted the fight for women’s rights. And I could go on and on and on.
But, I believe that today is another one of those poignant moments in the story of our country, of our world. In 2019, we exist in a world flooded by information and options—hundreds of channels to surf, hundreds of cereals to choose from, thousands of tweets per second. If not for artists and designers helping craft and decipher these messages, we would drown.
Some social scientists contend that in the U.S. we see 4,000 ads per day! And, others argue that almost 90% of all the information we take in is now visual. Gone are the days of immersion in one information source. For better or worse, few of us anymore are lingering over lengthy articles in the Sunday newspaper, reading scientific journals, or contemplating Tolstoy.
Instead, technology has us balancing many information and entertainment sources at once, and most of these data are visual. Instagram, Netflix, YouTube … and of course, fashion, products, and other visual art and craft. As consumers of the visual, we’re expected to comprehend, decipher, and make decisions based on messages that are coming at us in as little as two seconds time. As creators of the visual, you and your peers comprise the community that has the power to help the rest of us comprehend, decipher, decide.
And while the visual culture that surrounds us at times may seem frivolous, it is also the medium through which we change minds, start revolutions, and create our future. Today’s rapidly evolving world of business and entrepreneurship has recognized the centrality of creatives as essential partners for success. And no matter what the message, society looks to artists and designers to define how to process information, to inform our brains, to capture our hearts, to inspire us to take action. AND THIS IS WHY WE NEED YOU—WHY THE WORLD NEEDS YOU—NOW.
The leading artists and designers in any movement possess technical skill and prowess, but they also have a deep understanding of the culture and context in which they work. And in this time, in this place, those leading artists are you. You have passion; you have heart. You will take the skills you have acquired at CCAD and use them for good. And our society needs that good more than ever.
As artists, designers, and creatives, you've gained powerful tools here at CCAD. Tools that will help you to make waves and let your visions and passions rise up above the hubris of messages. I encourage you to wield your swords carefully.
But, additionally, take the time to slow down and thoughtfully take in the work of your peers, your community. As soon-to-be-alumni, you’ll have the opportunity to see your classmates also making waves around the world. And now you know the truth: behind every message is so much work, so much time, so much meaning. So, make meaningful work—whatever it is you choose to do next—and respect the work of your peers, because you’re now a creative class of makers, a community that exists not just here at CCAD but out there in the world you’ll create together. Thank you.