One of the more tortuously embarrassing moments of my University life occurred early on. First semester, first year of Uni I had torrid, but thankfully brief, almost-kind-of-fling with an older man (who happened to have a pregnant on-again-off-again girlfriend). In a last ditch attempt to get my man I went over to his flat to argue my case. He pulled out the pregnant girlfriend card and that was that. In some ridiculous act of self-flagellation I accidentally locked my keys in my truck and so had to face the further humiliation of spending the night in said man's flat. He slept on the floor. I slept in his bed. Not how I originally intended the evening to pan out.
The next morning, walking back to my flat to pick up a spare set of keys, I rang my mother. I didn't tell her what had happened the night before and I don't remember most of the conversation, but I do remember telling her that I wanted to drop out of Uni, that I was being suffocated by the constriction of only being able to look at things in books that I wanted to see first hand. I told her that I was fed up and that I wanted to travel - to get away from everything. She said, as only one's mother can, that I was being an idealistic dreamer and that once I had finished my degree I could go and travel until I died. And finish I did, though I managed to make it to Europe and quite a few other places before I finished my degree.
Last night I went to an interesting theatrical phenomenon called Theatre in the Pound. The point of TITP is that it's a night of first come, first served performances. Each group performing pays £10, each attendee pays £1 and you get to experience a gaggle of interesting, if a bit rough around the edges, theatrical works in progress. I went to see The Boy and his merry band of men perform in their first gig in nearly a year. Of about six performances, The Boy's crazy George Orwell meets Jacques Tati performed entirely in the dark (with torches) sketchy play called "Dystopiary" was far and away the most interesting (and best performed - nicely done, chaps). Not to belittle their achievement, but considering they were in the company of an awful lot of students, two guys who had written a musical called "Motherland" set during "the epic battle of Stalingrad," and some poor chap who only had nine hours to rehearse his monologue, it might not be a fair comparison. Part of the point about TITP is that the audience is asked to provide feedback about the performances in an attempt to help the actors/writers/directors perfect their piece. This is how I know so many of the writers and actors were students - they volunteered the information.
I'm certainly not the first person to wonder whether art school or film school or any other creative education programme is worth it. If you want to make connections, get feedback, or have constant and regular incentive to practice or create, I can see how these reasons might justify spending the time and money. But wasn't it Epictetus who first said, "if you want to be a writer, write." Yes, some very talented and creative people have been nurtured through art schools or creative writing programmes, but it you want to be a writer, playwright, filmmaker, cellist etcetera, then write, make films, play the cello, take photographs, whatever. I also can't help but wonder whether someone like The Boy, who has a very unique and absurd sense of humour, might not have been discouraged rather than nurtured had he done a "comedy writing" course. I don't know. I don't really have a definite view on the issue - it was just sparked by the contrast in performances last night. The people who are a part of the school machine seem to be stilted and even a bit machine like themselves, while people outside the fold are maybe more able to develop truly original and innovative creativity. I think everyone needs support and maybe structure, but can you really be a true original if you're constantly surrounded by people all trying to do the same thing? Education or experience? No easy answers indeed...