We Are Explorers

Elissa Tenny | August 28, 2016

Welcome to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago! You are at the beginning of an amazing journey at one of the premier institutions of art and design in the world. And you are here because you’ve worked hard for it. You’ve spent hours in the studio; you’ve cultivated the uniquely interdisciplinary mindset we prize here at SAIC; and you’ve distinguished yourselves as among the most promising young artists, designers, and scholars around. Give yourselves a hand!

I’d like to begin this morning by sharing one of my favorite definitions of art. It’s by John Cage, a renowned American composer and artist in the twentieth century. “Art,” he said, “is a sort of experimental station in which one tries out living.” I love that… “a sort of experimental station in which one tries out living.” I like it for two reasons.

First, it does a great job of expressing what it’s like to be someone who’s devoted to making. The phrase “tries out living” jumps out to me in particular—how it conveys the insatiable drive individuals such as yourselves have to be creative. You all know the feeling—sometimes you just have to make something. That’s why you chose to come to SAIC.

The second reason I like this definition has to do with Cage’s description of art as an “experimental station.” There’s a sense of adventure, a movement into the unknown, that describes the journey that each of you is about to embark on.

You see, SAIC students crave adventure – always eager to experiment and innovate, always searching for that next great moment of inspiration, and never shying away from confronting the new and engaging with the world.

In short, SAIC students are explorers. That’s why one of our School’s Core Values, is precisely that: “We are explorers.” In the coming days, months, and years, your explorations and your adventurous spirit will be fueled in myriad ways.

One way is through your engagement with this magnificent space. YOUR museum. For 150 years, we have grown to be one of the most dynamic school-museum campuses in the world. Remember that the Art Institute is yours to explore—in fact, we hope that you’ll think of it as an extension of your classrooms and studios, as an essential part of your toolkit that is crucial to your growth and development as artists, designers, and scholars. As you explore the museum, you will experience again and again the stunning and provocative collections and exhibitions that will inspire, incite, and inform your creative practice.

A second way is through our deep connection to the great city of Chicago. For those of you who are new citizens of Chicago, you will, undoubtedly, spend a great deal of time getting to know this city in all its beauty. Chicago is a remarkable place featuring a rich array of cultures—over 40 languages are spoken here—and communities, each of which has its own vibrant history to learn about and experience for yourself. And, representing 43 different countries from around the world, you, our new students, hold a special place in the diverse tapestry that is Chicago. We like to say, “SAIC is Chicago.”

Just as much as we learn from Chicago, SAIC’s influence is felt all over this city, from Millennium Park across the street to the DuSable Museum of African American History to the south, from our community arts partnership in North Lawndale to the west and to the dozens of public works of art by SAIC alumni spread throughout the city. Soon you’ll find that Chicago offers limitless opportunities for you to expand your creative boundaries.

One final way in which we support our Core Value, “We are explorers,” is by surrounding you with an absolutely extraordinary community of peers. Look around you—together, you and your new classmates are among the brightest young artists, designers, and scholars in the world, and as you embark on this next great journey, I am sure you will find that those who you meet share a similar passionate commitment to their practices. You are each other’s greatest assets and means of support—individuals with whom to share ideas, and perspectives. It is this sense of community that has enabled generations of SAIC students to thrive as daring and fearless explorers throughout the past 150 years. Among these intrepid explorers include renowned SAIC alumni Georgia O’Keefe, Archibald Motley, Jr., Grant Wood, Ray Yoshida, Emily Pilloton, Clare Rojas, Nancy Spero, Halston, Ed Paschke, Sanford Biggers, Thomas Hart Benton, Paul Chan—the list is endless. You are now an important part of this legacy, so get to know as many of your classmates as you can in the coming days, and get exploring. The experimental station awaits you.