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I Am Scared Shitless


It’s a cloudy and cold spring night. I am about to turn thirty years old in a few days. In less than two months, I am going to graduate from an art school. So, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to go out there and make art. I don’t know about you, the graduates of 2023 with a degree in Painting, but I am scared shitless.  


A Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting with a minor in Visual Culture sounds romantic, but it doesn’t mean anything to the “real” world. You know that question you always get from your relatives and friends outside the art bubble - “How is that art thing going?” Well, it is going alright.  


Almost a perfect 4.0 GPA. Remarkable. I’ve cared about all the assignments and deadlines since the first day of classes. I used to fear the embarrassment of getting a “bad” grade. But now, I am into really “bad” paintings. Nobody cares what your GPA is as soon as you have a college degree in Painting. 


Full of achievements CV: solo shows, group shows, a residency, talks, publications, and prizes. But the truth is no one needs that as an undergrad student. Because for grad schools, you will be overqualified. Don’t we all know that the main reason for going to grad school is the ability to teach? The hypocrisy of the art world is beyond limits. 


I remember some of the looks at my openings. They were Painters. I was Alex Vlasov, a student from the Cleveland Institute of Art, a nobody. “How the hell did this kid get into this gallery?” Paradox.  


I always thought that student shows are much better than the majority in New York galleries. There is a sense of freedom and experimentation the established artists of today completely forgot. But zero people talk about the student shows. No one writes about them. 


I don’t feel like I am that interesting. I am just going to my studio and making things almost every day. I talk about painting, I read about painting, I write about painting, I look at paintings, I think about painting, I dream about painting. But as my dad says, “it doesn’t pay for the bills.” 


I wanted to quit the painting program a few times and do something else. But I didn’t, thanks to my professors. I think they are the reason I still make paintings. And I will be forever grateful for that since making paintings is a gift.


Bob Dylan’s song “Like a Rolling Stone” has been frequently in my ears for the last four years. Dylan showed me how you should paint - honest and unpretentious, because “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” 


When it comes to the question that I posed in the beginning - “what it means to go out there in the world and make art,” the only word on my mind is love. Despite any circumstances, to make art every day is to love. Not a single person promised that it was going to be easy. If that were easy, there would be no Kerry James Marshall, Alice Neel, or Robert Ryman.   


Yes, I am scared shitless. But a fight is not a fight if you’re not afraid to fight. Let’s paint, as Cezanne said, “there lies salvation.” 


Happy painting, class of 2023. 


Alex Vlasov

March 2023

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