Journey of an art student post-Bellevue College

Bellevue College is commuter college that caters to people of all ages and backgrounds, hosting Running Start students as young as 16 years old, to seniors who wanted to go back to school after decades of absence.

Though some students are ready to declare their major starting their first day, others consider the campus a valuable tool used to explore different interests.

Justen Waterhouse, a former BC student, first came to BC for a basic transfer degree. She considered attending BC to be a “very utilitarian decision because it was a lot less expensive than many other universities,” she said, which is a sentiment appreciated by a vast majority of students on campus. “I got my life change at a very discounted price,” she said with a smile. “It’s an invaluable service.”

“I had done art for a while, but my intention was to transfer to UW and major in philosophy or logic or something that would allow me to go into law school eventually.”

Waterhouse credited Dale Lindman, who has been an art instructor at BC for 21 years, with asking her vital questions that helped her choose her life path:

“What are you going to do, what kind of decision are you going to make so you are able to sleep at night? What are the things that still nag you at the end of the day?” To which she responded to, in hindsight now, with “Oh, okay, great. I’ll major in art then.” “I think it was also a lesson in life direction, life choices and actually committing to something even though I didn’t really know what I was committing to.”

Justen Waterhouse graduated from UW with a BFA in Painting and Drawing. Each spring the University of Washington hosts a graduate show for the School of Art. Work by BA and BFA majors are featured in the annual exhibit, and Waterhouse’s work was shown in April.

Lindman has been an instructor at Bellevue College for 21 years. He said the best thing about his job is interacting with people who are taking art classes, whether they’re taking them for fun or are planning to enter the field professional. “Both are extremely rewarding to be around,” he said.

As Lindman was thinking about his history with art, he referred to an employment interest test that he took in school. His results claimed that he would make a good forest ranger or nurse, neither of which he became. However, he does like helping people as a nurse does, and he loves nature as a forest ranger does. But he feels most at home with painting, so that’s what he has focused on.

Over the years, Lindman has seen a number of his students go on to be successful artists— to whatever degree they measure their own success — and said, “I think Justen is going to be one of those. She is already successful in what she does,” Lindman said, considering the featured work she has displayed and her passion and drive for art. But as a recent graduate, she does identify to an extent with the starving artists often mentioned within and outside of the art scene. She’s looking now for ways to navigate within the field towards careers that support her financially.

“The path to being an artist is extremely long and difficult, and I’m only now just finding that out for myself,” Waterhouse said.

“I don’t think that anybody really knows why they are driven to make art when they start doing it. They feel like they have it, and that’s probably a good thing because that’s what keeps you going. By this point in my life, I like doing it because it’s so much a part of who I am, and it makes me feel connected and real.

After having graduated and had her student work featured at BC and UW, Waterhouse looks at this with totally different eyes. “I can just see the cracks and the seams.”

As a recent graduate, her top priority is to support herself financially. “The hardest thing for an art student coming out of any university is simply to survive.”

I had a very steep learning curve after I graduated,” Waterhouse said. She said she was thankful to be lucky enough that the gallery director at UW, Jacob Lawrence to allowed her to stick around after graduating to work and volunteer at the gallery.

Considering the great lack in revenue-creating opportunities for new artists, Waterhouse said she is now “trying to pursue a career in the arts in terms of aligning myself more to arts organizations and institutions.”

“When you go into art school, I think there’s some unspoken expectation that students will just come out being producers of art,” she said. “I rarely found instructors who teach me about the people who facilitate art, who fund art, who curate art, who negotiate art — and that’s a big part of the art economy.”