Is This What It’s Like? (Junior Reviews & Disciplines)
Wesley Haaf '18
My friends had their Junior Reviews last week. “If you don’t know what a junior review is, you either don’t study VA or you don’t know anything,” a senior once told me. “You put up all your work you did Freshman and Sophomore year and a bunch of faculty critique you and tell you what you’re doing that’s stupid and what works and where you should go from there.”
At a time, that time, the yesteryears, I studied film/video, and I knew there was no way I’d do a Junior Review. It was fearsome. It seemed to imply an initiation into, finally, the collegiate level of artistry, like I’d be finally labelled an art student, and how isn’t it funny I ended up being an art student? And how interests change when you’re in college and you just sort of go with the flow and study what you feel and see where you end up! It’s Bennington, very unique, self-designed, streamlined. But declaring myself a student of the VA, reflecting on my career which I’m greatly ashamed of, was too absolute, and critical of a minor, functional area of my interests.
Two years later, I see my instinct was wise, working in my best interest. With all the changes and epiphanies and grey-areas of my education, getting a Junior Review would’ve turned me back into the 8th grader who made a parkour video with his athletic friends. The way I appear in my own half-baked documentaries, in mirrors, voice off-camera (all conceptual, triple-removed concepts and sentiments) isn’t far off from the few guest stunts I had in my parkour vid.
If I’d had a Junior Review, all I’d think about are the twelve other videos I automatically chose not to exhibit, and my mind would not be at all focused on the, what, three? videos I’m proud of… Maybe if I’d thought of my videos as projects and products when I was making them, instead of exercises, maybe I’d have been comfortable to take the step in being a film/video kid.
And thus, I am no longer a film/video kid.
I worried that if I’d gone in, maybe they, the authorities, the judges, teachers, would have made fun of me: “So you think you can take a couple VA classes, make absolute trash, meanwhile you take all lit classes, and somehow you think you’re making cogent work? This just doesn’t seem very cogent to me. (turns to face me) Wesley, do you think your Plan is cogent? I’d be interested—what do you think?”
Maybe it’s not just a matter of cogency (whatever that means). Maybe it doesn’t matter how flush the lines between disciplines are. What cross-disciplinary Bennington students do you know have made perfect, indestructible, professionally-arranged Plans?
Does the VA faculty see you as an artist, a painter, photographer, muralist, sculptor, etc.? And do they think of you as an artist studying literature, or science, or whatever other discipline?
Or do they talk about you like a lit student making art? Which comes first, they ask.
How are you thinking about your education?
That’s a funny thing to say, I think. I fell in love with the liberal, everything-is-interconnected mentality—it’s what I thought Bennington was.
Hold on—everyone’s thinking about why they’re doing what they’re doing, right? Everyone’s freaking out about the order they structure their disciplines, how they communicate with each other, how it all needs to be arranged to form the perfect Plan.
We’re obsessed with ourselves, right?
Why would the faculty doubt us? Don’t they trust us?
Do they trust us to keep going?
Do they believe?
Do they believe we can do it?
Do they know who we are?
Do they tell the truth?
Are they truth-tellers?
Are they our friends?
What’s the line between our mentors and our priests?
Where is my art if it isn’t in my heart?
Where is my art if it isn’t in my Junior Review?
What is it then?