on classroom camaraderie

Let me set the scene: It’s 2018. I’m a freshman. I’m in a foundations class, the kind where we’d learn basic art student stuff- rudimentary color theory, composition, how to create a focal point. It’s mid-September. By now, a quarter of the class has distinguished themselves as Good Artists, a quarter’s revealed themselves as Artists So Bad We’re Wondering How They Got Here, and the other half of us are just… average. 

A few rows ahead of me sits this absolute whiz kid. Their work has style, it has voice. They use layers. They make digital art like it’s nothing, their Apple stylus sweeping over the current assignment they’ve started up in Procreate. Our professor, making laps around the classroom, takes a pit stop at their desk. “Great job,” he says, before going on to compliment their use of space. 

They are a Good Artist. 

I look down at my own paper filled with loose sketches. I think about Whiz Kid those few rows ahead of me. Their work is a Renaissance masterpiece and mine is incomprehensible. I feel the usual twinge of jealousy settle into my stomach and, in that moment, I can’t help but think, “I’ll never be on that level.”

a person watching a peer a few seats ahead.
Staring down the competition from afar…

Flash forward to 2022.

Whiz Kid is having a graduation party and I’m invited. When I show up, all the best students of the class are there, and we eat fondue and laugh and have a grand old time. It’s amazing. At one point, I say to them, not for the first time, “You know, freshman year, I thought you were so intimidatingly cool.”

They laugh. “Dude, I always thought you were so cool!”

The night goes on. We socialize, we party- we even do a few little drawing games (you can graduate art school, but you never stop being an art student). Someone brings up the idea of maybe starting a collective, doing big group projects, moving forward as a team.

As we celebrate the culmination of these four years, I find myself wondering: how did I let myself miss out on being close to such a cool group of people?

The answer is simple, clear, and ultimately unsurprising: academic competition. 

It sprouted in kindergarten, where I just had to be at the highest reading level for a five-year-old. It plagued me in high school, where an A- just wasn’t a good enough grade. So, of course, it followed me to college too. The thing is, it follows everyone. 

In a study done by Julie R. Posselt and Sarah Ketchen Lipson, the duo found that heightened academic stress and perceived competition had increased the rates of mental illness in college students (“Competition, Anxiety, and Depression..”). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 25% of college students were diagnosed with or treated for a mental illness- and that’s just the ones who could afford to see a therapist. When you’re surrounded by a myriad of great minds, it’s easy to feel like the least capable among them. Imposter syndrome is a very real struggle, and once it sets in and tells you that you’re not good enough, anxiety is swift to follow, because what if everyone else thinks you’re a fraud, too?

When you’re in the throes of feeling like the worst, it’s easy to forget there’s other people who feel the same way about themselves, too. 

There’s no catch-all solution to imposter syndrome and the pressure of academic competition, but therapy and peer support are a great place to start. In an article from the Journal of Food Science Education, Shelly J. Schmidt hones in on how friendship actually boosts academic success at the college level (“The importance of friendships for academic success”). Students were “approximately 16 times more likely to become study partners with a friend than a nonfriend,” which indicates not a preference of social life over academics, but a preference to learn alongside people that provide an environment of encouragement. They were ready to engage with new material; it just helped to do it with friends.

a pair of friends studying from a comically-large book titled "textbooks 101."
It’s easier to get stuff done when working through it with a pal!

By bonding with peers and developing a sense of camaraderie, students were able to foster connections that made them better learners. Doing work alongside people you care about makes it feel way less like work- it turns it into an opportunity to learn and grow. It’s scary to befriend the competition, but you’ll feel way better once you start building each other up.

From an art student perspective, it’s so easy to envy different abilities. But no one’s going to do what you’re doing. Just because someone else develops work with an amazing voice, it doesn’t mean yours is inherently worse- it just means you and your peers are doing different things. Do you in a way no one else can, and be proud of your peers for doing the same. Who knows? Maybe if you get really close to them, you’ll get to go to a grad party with fondue.

two different styles of art with the subheading "good... aannd also good."
Skill has so many different looks.

tl;dr: different isn’t always better or worse- don’t let competition stop you from making friends!

Wanna create some interesting new art with the cool peers you just learned how to approach? Check out Blick Art Materials! 

By presenting your student ID and your Campus Clipper coupon, you’ll score 10% off your purchase. Check it out- they literally have everything, and it’s always so much fun to poke around and look for new mediums.

By Ness Curti

Ness Curti is a freshly-graduated illustrator from the Lesley College of Art and Design. A part-time bobarista and full-time New England adventurer, they hope to one day tell stories for a living, whether through art or words. They enjoy doodling, procrastinating, and saying hello to the dogs they pass on the sidewalk.

For over 20 years, the Campus Clipper has been offering awesome student discounts in NYC,  from the East Side to Greenwich Village. Along with inspiration, the company offers students a special coupon booklet and the Official Student Guide, which encourages them to discover new places in the city and save money on food, clothing, and services.  At the Campus Clipper, not only do we help our interns learn new skills, make money, and create wonderful e-books, we give them a platform to teach others. Check our website for more student savings and watch our YouTube video showing off some of New York City’s finest students during the Welcome Week of 2015.


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