I met Jingdi Ma at the gym where I work out in New Paltz. She is at the front desk on the weekends working two back-to-back shifts and studying. She may have a book open as she takes hand-written notes in her precise, artistic hand-writing, or she may be using the computer. People come and go, she pays attention when she must, or answers the phone, but she is often studying. Though she is shy and soft-spoken, I've gotten to know her a bit over this past year. Adopted from China at the age of two, she grew up near Walden, NY, and went to public schools. When she arrived at SUNY New Paltz, she did not take anything for granted, least of all her acceptance into a prestigious BFA program.
Jingdi is graduating, a daunting prospect for any artist, or any young person these days, and moving to Indiana to join her boyfriend. How will she support herself? Will she be able to continue her studies? These are serious and difficult questions. And though the future is unknown, her determination to remain an artist is not. Here is the artist statement she wrote for the end-of-term BFA candidate show at the Dorsky Museum on the campus that opened this week:
"Some people may think you don't *become* an artist, you just *are* an artist. I really do not have a straightforward answer as to why I chose the life of an artist. I am sure part of it had to do with wanting to enjoy my four years of college. Sometimes it is still strange for me to say I am an artist because of the context behind it. I would say I am just taking the time to create. That is what an artist does."
I can say with as much conviction as Jingdi, that the same holds true for writers. Writing is what writers do. No matter what.
Like the other young artists I met at the gallery opening, Jingdi is formidable and her experimental, striking work is as accomplished as any I've recently seen in high-end galleries in New York. I had expected paint on canvas, but she has moved into video and has even produced a small multi-media book with images and words.
And all of this, let us remind ourselves, dear reader, with a federal Pell Grant and other financial aid at a public university. It's a telling reminder of the importance of investing in public, loan-free education.