skip to Main Content
Back To (Art) School After 40 Years

When I was first in college, way back in the 1970s, I was an Art major at the City University of New York. Four years of drawing, painting and sculpture in the classic tradition – pure bliss. The day before graduation, you’re a young artist, full of potential; the day after graduation, you’ve got a completely unemployable BFA degree.

All I wanted to do was to make Art the way we were trained to make it. I didn’t want to teach Art, I didn’t want to do commercial Art (now called graphic design) and I didn’t want to be a gallery assistant. Sure, I toyed with the idea of getting an MFA, but I had no income. The thought of becoming yet another New York starving artist was not appealing. So, I decided to set Art aside for a while, get a full-time job and go for a Master of Science at night. It was in a totally unrelated field: Information and Computer Science, but one in which I knew I could get a good paying job.

A lucky break lead from one of my professors at Columbia University led me to a 6-month consultancy at the United Nations to set up a database and email system (remember this was 1984!). Somehow, I turned that short gig into a 30-year career in the international arena. They sent me all over the world and I even got to live in Kenya, Botswana, and Rwanda for a decade. The career in international informatics was fantastic and I loved the lifestyle and the financial rewards. But I had no real passion for computer science.

Upon retirement, my goal was clear: time for Art again!   But ouch!?!   I couldn’t just pick up a pencil and draw because my hand simply wouldn’t do what my mind wanted it to. I had to go back to STEP ONE.  I needed a flexible program to refresh my old skills and learn new skills. That’s when I discovered Montgomery College, both the Community Arts and the regular undergraduate Art courses. Even though I am noncredit, I basically undertake the same fundamental course of study in drawing, painting, and sculpture that the undergrads take.

I thought it would take 1-2 years to regain my skill level to what it had been when I was a 20-something. YES! It came back! And now, even better, I have a lifetime of experience and knowledge to bring to Art, which would never have been possible otherwise. If I had only done Art, I’d probably be burned out by now but instead, with the help of MC, it is all fresh. After I took just 1 or 2 courses, they published one of my drawings in the Community Arts catalog, and it was such a tremendous boost, encouraging me to submit work for shows. Now I truly feel like a re-emerging artist, and I’m moving towards my original goal.

Next week:   Can Art Be Taught?

Arleen Seed

Hi! My name is Arleen Cannata Seed and I’m studying Fine Arts here at Montgomery College in Takoma Park/Silver Spring. Originally from New York City, I studied Art as an undergraduate years ago, but chose to spend my career in a totally different field, working for the United Nations and traveling all over the world bringing technological solutions to global problems.

Once I retired, I had the time and mental space to practice Art again, but I knew I had forgotten the fundamentals. So, I enrolled in 100 level courses in drawing, painting, and sculpture at MC. This was just the catalyst I needed! The professors at MC, in both the Community Arts and the regular credit courses, provided a course of study and opened my eyes to the different ways in which Art is taught in the 21st Century.

This blog is about my journey, my transition from working adult to pursuing an earlier dream, and I’m hoping this story resonates with young people thinking about their career choices and older people yearning to rekindle pursuits which have always interested them.

This Post Has 7 Comments
  1. Thanks so much, I appreciate your comments. It is a difficult but rewarding path which I have undertaken. Over the Thanksgiving weekend I thought about this a lot, and wondered if I had made the right decision in waiting so long to return to Art (I wanted to have a secure financial future so I worked until normal retirement age) because now I wish I had more time to do Art. And more energy — when I see that the 20 somethings in Sculpture class are so much stronger than I am — I sometimes do wish I had returned to Art in my 40s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back To Top