Serious inquiry and high achievement is what we teach at Princeton; anything less would betray those students who genuinely have the talent and ambition to succeed as artists and filmmakers.

Joe ScanlanWhen I came to Princeton six years ago I had made the conscious choice of leaving the top-ranked art school in the country. In deference to my friend and colleague David Dobkin, former dean of the faculty and the man who hired me, let’s just say I was teaching at a certain university in New Haven, Connecticut. One of the reasons I came to Princeton was the growing sense I had that teaching at the top art school in the country had become stale. More and more graduate students were arriving less with a desire to challenge themselves than with a desire to put the final touches on their personal brand before launching themselves, catapultlike, toward New York. It had become tedious.   

I am a complete believer in professionalism. Serious inquiry and high achievement is what we teach at Princeton; anything less would betray those students who genuinely have the talent and ambition to succeed as artists and filmmakers. Nonetheless, one of the most exciting things that happens for my fellow professors and me at Princeton is to be immersed in the bustle and chatter of a studio full of amateurs, students from all corners of campus who aren’t entirely sure what they are up to. And yet here they are, enrolled in “Introductory Sculpture,” or “How To Make a Film,” or “Graphic Design: Typography” because they have a gut feeling that whatever they might learn matters to their well-being.   

That well-being might be as simple as needing a change from books and language, a chance to “zone out” and let other parts of their brains light up. It might be that the student, still not interested in becoming a professional artist, knows that visual skills will complement their life work as a molecular biologist, an anthropologist, or an engineer. Or it might be something as great as young people discovering a professional talent they never knew they had, or more likely, a talent they suspected but never had the inclination to pursue until they got on campus.   

Some of the best young artists I’ve ever seen have been Princeton students. One is currently a med student at Mount Sinai Medical Center, another is an industrial design graduate student at Stanford, a third is a designer and social activist in Istanbul, a fourth is “going for it” in Los Angeles with a rented studio, a coterie of artist friends, and three part-time jobs. I take great pleasure in knowing that, whatever each of them ends up doing, deep down they will always be artists.