Cartoon and Illustration

Reminiscing about my days in college…the “borrower”

A series of recent events (posts, etc.) has started me reminiscing about my days at Southwestern Community College.

(back story…) I originally attended Southwestern for commercial art and advertising design when I was sixteen. I had left high school for health reasons, then gotten my GED rather than return to school a year behind all my old classmates. This was all so long ago that the school was known as Southwestern Technical Institute (STI) rather than the more recent nomenclature SCC. Anyway, I was a terrible student the first time around, convinced of my own superior abilities in art and unwilling to follow direction (not unlike the fellow that will later be described herein). I dropped out of classes after my first couple of terms.

I went back the next fall and re-took some of the classes I’d flunked or barely passed the first time around, and did a bit better until there was an unexpected re-shuffle of instructors that caused a lot of confusion amongst the student body. I dropped out again, convinced I would never again seek higher education.

Fast forward by about 10 years. By this time I had been published, had gotten married, and had worked full-time in the art department of a silk-screen printing firm for nearly two years. I was scared back into study by the publication of Batman: Digital Justice–a comic-book completely created using a personal computer (that actually looked good).

So I went back to the renamed SCC and began applying myself seriously (…end of back story for the moment…)

The first day of classes the art department was overflowing with students–so much so that there wasn’t enough space for everyone. By day two some of the students had begun to figure out that “commercial art” wasn’t the same as finger painting and might actually require some effort on their part. By the end of the first week there were desks to spare and only the stalwart few remained. Well, mostly.

There was this one kid who hung on a while. (Okay, “kid” is a bit loaded. But recall that at the time I was 26 years old, married, and published, whereas he was straight out of high school.)

I’m not going to give his name for two reasons: One, the following might be considered libelous (or slander–in print it’s libel, right?). And Two, I can’t recall his name anyway.

(Those who were there with me and I’m still in touch with may recall his name–if you are among those reading this, Please! DO NOT POST his name!!!)

I can, however, recall his attitude about art supplies. In spite of the fact that he allegedly came from a family of artists and illustrators (I never found this out as a fact, it was a rumor that went around class–remember this was the days before the internet, so we couldn’t do a background check on the guy to find out) he never bothered to buy art supplies, but always wanted to borrow this or that to complete his work.

(…more back story…) One of the things that “separates the men from the boys” in art school of any sort is the purchase of supplies. The first day of classes you’re given two lists–one of them is the books you’ll have to buy at the campus bookstore–the other is the list of art supplies you’ll have to purchase. Many of the students who drop out do so because they go out with every intention of buying said supplies and then, when they see the price of those items collected simply give up.

Back in 1990 I believe the total price for all the supplies we were expected to pick up was between two and three hundred dollars. That was on top of tuition and books–even at the community college level that’s a big chunk to drop all at once. (…end backstory for now…)

Those of us remaining after the initial “shake-down” were in a microcosm, a society of sorts, that little class of around a dozen or so students (marked down from about 45 on the first day). We were forming friendships with one another, and had an unspoken pact to generously let one another borrow art supplies from time to time.

A plan that worked fine except for that one guy!

That guy never did pick up any art supplies that I could tell. He’d show up for class with maybe a no.2 pencil in his back pocket and proceed to ask everyone else in the class if he could “borrow” this or that item.

(Keep in mind that I realize that many of us in the class were not paying for said supplies out of our “own hard-earned dollars”, but were doing so by the kindness and grace of our parents–but also keep in mind such kindness and grace had limits! We were aware that we were expected to complete our work with those limited resources, and to show some sort of results from the effective application of said resources.)

One day a group of us agreed, “If that guy comes around to borrow anything else from any of us, we all say ‘No!'” This was not a capricious decision for any of us. We truly wanted to be generous to everyone else in our class–but this one student had abused the system for a couple of weeks at this point, and we’d all had enough.

The first time he came to me after the pact had been made I just about caved. But somehow I hung tough knowing we were in this together. Of course one negative response did not dissuade him. He then went from desk to desk, expecting someone to give in. He got the same answer from all of them: “No! Go buy your own supplies. We’re tired of you borrowing from us.”

What I never understood was that if his family was supposedly involved in arts and illustration that he didn’t just go “borrow” stuff from home. Either that or just get a clue that art supplies don’t come free, or even cheap.

The flip side of this is that the guy who was abusing all of us by borrowing stuff was actually taken aback by our negative reaction as a group. He thought we were being mean to him–we were the “bullies” in his mind. And again, the first couple of times each of us had to say “no”, we felt a bit like bullies. But we weren’t bullies at all. He had been abusing our trust and needed to be set straight.

We didn’t beat him up. We didn’t lecture him. We didn’t demand restitution. We simply stopped letting him have free supplies.

Hopefully, he matured a bit after that and finally buckled down. Don’t know if he ever did. He eventually left the class part-way through the second term and we never collectively heard from him again. The rest of us stuck it out and made our way to graduation in the spring of 1992.

The point? The point is that there is a difference between charity and socialism.

In a charitable system we help people out because we care–understanding that there are limits to resources. I have need of some things, but when I have an abundance I offer others some because of friendship, respect, and mutual trust, etc.

In a socialist system a guy like “the borrower” goes to the bureaucrats and argues that he’s been treated unfairly–then they say something like: “okay everyone dump all your art supplies out in this bin and we’ll divide it all equally among everyone in the class.”

Never mind that each student had bothered to go out and select the materials and supplies best suited to his or her own project needs.

Never mind that each had done so with the money that they had either earned or gotten as a sacrifice from their own families.

Never mind that it’s impossible to equally divide a tube of Gouache among 11 people! (Not without ruining it, anyway).

Never mind any of that stuff– “we’ll just make sure to redistribute everything so that everyone gets his ‘fair share’. Oh, and by the way, since you were all so mean to ‘the borrower’ we’re going to make sure he gets a little extra…and we need to take some for our troubles as well.”

Human depravity is always going to get in the way of a system like socialism. The use of resources is better determined on an individual basis. It worked in art class, it works in government.