How High?

It was 1997. The band I was playing drums for had kicked me out in a backstabbing situation and my then-girlfriend had left me for another fellow. I was attending SVA Savannah (School of Visual Arts Savannah). There was political turmoil between SVA (which was new to Savannah) and the established SCAD (Savannah College of Art & Design). We were the underdogs. The new kids on the block. The administration at SCAD did not care for the healthy competition of another arts school in the beautiful and historic town of Savannah. So much, that SCAD even took SVA to court. Yes, SCAD officially sued SVA for “conspiring to take over SCAD”. I attended some of the hearings. It would have been laughable if it were not real and affected me directly. My fellow students and I were content with our professors and I was even good friends with students from the other school. It was strictly the higher-ups that were bickering. I was content, but not comfortable.

Finally, it all came to a head when the president of SVA flew down from the main campus in New York. He held a school wide meeting with students, faculty, and employees of SVA. Something in me knew deep down. I could feel it in my stomach. But it wasn’t butterflies. It was more like dying moths. I’ll never forget being on the second floor of the main building (which is now a bank) and hearing SVA’s president concede to SCAD’s wishes. That SVA would shut down and leave. The whole student body immediately erupted arguing with the president. The president had offered us to come to the New York school while chants of “Room for Two” echoed down the hallways and into the studios and classrooms. I did not utter a word. I simply walked out while the arguing continued.

This happened on May 5th of 1997. This is important because by May most application deadlines to transfer to other schools have past, as well as scholarship opportunities. I felt trapped, or rather that I had been tricked. I felt that the president did not just make the decision that morning. That he made the decision months before, but waited so that I and other students could not transfer to another school. It was a slap in the face, nay, a punch in the gut while I was already down. The obstacle was before me. How was I to move forward?

I walked out of the main building, drove to my little rental home on Maupas Ave. and I sat down for a moment. I stared at all of my nude studies, paintings of eggs, color wheels, and charcoal drawings lying chaotically throughout the house. Something deep in my gut surged. The dead moths burned and turned into ash. Ash that raised the pH of the soil to give birth to new life in my gut. It came over me like a breath of freshly cut grass. It was time to leave Savannah.

I immediately started taking slides of my work. I feverishly typed up my artist’s statement, requested transcripts, and asked professors for letters of recommendation. I then went to the school library to grab the big bad book of U.S. art schools. I looked up the addresses and other contact for a handful of schools all over the nation. Maryland Institute College of Art, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, California College of Arts and Crafts, San Francisco Art Institute, Oregon College of Art and Craft, and Laguna College of Art & Design. I called each one to find out their submission deadlines for the Fall semester and asked for their application packets. By the time the application packets had arrived, the slides of my art had been developed. I had an assembly line of application forms, checks for the application fees, transcripts, letters of recommendation, and slides all laid out on my bed. One by one, I put my applications together in tried & true manilla envelopes and sent them all out as fast as I could.

“Might As Well Jump” oil on wood © Will L. Eskridge

At the very least, maybe one, right? Surely, I would get into just one. Just one college so I could continue my studies of art. I would work harder than before. I’m a good kid. I brushed my teeth. I fold my clothes. And then it happened. Phone calls. I was accepted into every single school I applied. Top accredited art schools of the nation were calling me. I couldn’t believe it, yet I knew there was no way I was going to give up. I had to jump. I had to jump high, or at least try. Try for the pie in the sky.

Which school did I decide on? What direction was I going to take? Back then I knew I had to jump, but I wasn’t sure which direction. I wanted something new. Something fresh. I wanted the idea of exploration. The idea of moving on. Traveling westward gave me that feeling of leaving all behind. California, it was. And to further this idea with my studies, I wanted to attend a school that represented freedom. A school that would nurture and encourage, not the skill of the paintbrush, but the skill of the soul. A school that would allow me to explore all realms of art-making including filmmaking, sculpture, printmaking AND painting. San Francisco Art Institute was the school I attended and earned my B.F.A. I jumped and never looked back.