Breaking Ground, by Anne Quito
Change is a wrecking ball, or in my case, a hydraulic excavator.
Before coming to SVA, I lived in Washington, DC and held a stable job as an art director at a non-profit, working with organizations like the United Nations, USAID, and the CDC. I founded a practice called “Design Lab,” and along with a team of like-minded designers, immersed myself in the world of public-sector design. I lived in a lovely three-story townhouse and was blessed with a delightfully rotund Maltese pup named Pooches Gracias. To everyone around me, it seemed that I had achieved the so-called “comfortable life.” I had an established route and routine: wake up at five, get to work by seven, go home at six via GW Parkway to Connecticut Avenue by way of Memorial Bridge. It seemed that all I needed to do was submit to the catatonia and everything would be fine. I was set for retirement in my twenties.
I remember sitting one morning in our taupe-colored kitchen and thinking, “Wow, I can’t think of anything I want or aspire for right now.” No craving, no curiosity, no itinerary. I was rooted and pale.
Edith Wharton once said, “Life is always a feather bed or a tight rope. Give me the tight rope.” Comfort lulls us into a stupor whereas friction, tension, and imbalance keep us alive. The irony in our universal aspiration for the comfortable life is this: We struggle and toil at work and school to achieve some sort of financial stability. But once we reach the summit of our ambitions, there is a chair—a warm, overstuffed easy chair with 401K and benefits. Naturally, inevitably, we take the seat and sometimes we never get up. We sink into the plush of our accomplishments and fade into the beige of our mediocrity. We become suburban, provincial, or maybe even parochial. I realized then that I wanted to live a life raging against the featherbed. I want to rage against the trap and tether of comfort.
The change happened rather quickly. After seven seasons in Washington D.C., I felt a great northward momentum. Within a couple of months, I had signed a lease, and packed a few things. The night I signed my lease, I received an email from Alice offering me a spot at SVA MFA Design Criticism. I immediately, perhaps intuitively, accepted as I have willfully uprooted from the stability of a former life. It was a long incubation process, but it had to be—as painful to think about, as it still is sometimes. Moving to New York and coming to SVA was my Big Dig and it could no longer wait.
Being in D-Crit feels like finding a home base for my intellectual and personal inquiries. Corralling my thoughts into words and imbuing critical rigor to my opinions, for example, feels thrilling and new. I’d like to discover my voice as a writer, or try out a few—humorous, reflective, argumentative, ambitious, nostalgic, romantic—in search of the most resonant. I am most excited to learn the tools and methods of thinking, writing, and presenting design in the most engaging and relevant ways. I aspire to write and talk about design that mirrors my own re-definition: present, porous, open, vivid, and meaningful. Design criticism is the silt, sand, and clay of my re-engagement with the city and the world. It’s thrilling to finally be here, to be on the precipice of a yet-to-be-determined blossoming into something yet-to-be-defined.
Application essay written for the 2014 Maria Popova Scholarship for Homecoming to Purpose.