Everything changes: AJ Jones

AJ Jones.jpg

AJ Jones

Everyone has a moment in life when things change. Sometimes we know it right away, other times we only recognize it looking back. With the turning of the year, we're taking some time to listen to people's stories about the moments that changed them, and what they've learned.

Many of us think there are things that we're good at -- things that are for us -- and things we're not good at. Those things are for other people.

AJ Jones is a student at Hudson Valley Community College. He started there as a home-schooler, working toward a GED, and then began working toward a degree in English. He was always a writer. Everyone said so. And he had no talent for art. He tried. He just wasn't good at it.

Then he took a chance and learned a lesson he shared with us.


I grew up in this sort of technical family where everyone was solidly on the STEM path. I latched on to creative writing very early because it was something that no one else around me was trying to pursue -- so I could excel at it without competition. At the time that didn't occur to me -- I was just doing it for fun. But in retrospect that was probably the reason.

And so, by the time I got to like 16 or 17, I was in this sort of glum state where I'd been doing it for so long and I hadn't really thought about why. There was suddenly [this question]: What could I be doing that I hadn't tried?

Having attempted visual arts and drawing before, and not having any success at it, I was convinced that I could not do it. I always wanted to draw or paint or something and I'd never thought I had the talent. I was tapped out with the classes that the two-year school was offering, so I tried a photography class and discovered a passion for that. Then, in the will of a family friend who passed I was left some phenomenal film cameras. And so I got really into the art side of it. I learned how to use them. And I liked learning about the techniques. That led me to take a drawing class.

The first day the professor had us draw a table with a cylinder on it. Deliberately, as vague as possible. And if you don't think about it it's kind of like a simple request -- you know what that should look like. Yeah, but then you try and do it. And there's so many things wrong. And you don't really realize that fully until you've been drawing tables with cylinders on them for four months up to eight hours a day.

So at the end, after we had finished like a 40- to 50-hour still-life drawing, he pulled out all of the drawings from like the first day of class. And I remember when he got to mine he mentioned this was a personal favorite because it looked like it was upside down. There was no physical way for the table to exist in three dimensional space. I had honestly completely forgotten about it.

And that was the moment where I was like "maybe I can actually learn this thing and take it to the next level."

AJ Jones final project.jpg

Within the space of eight months I switched from not wanting to be an art student to wanting to get an MFA. And the kind of eye-opener was taking a class and realizing that I could actually learn something that I had no talent at.

The reason I was proud when I finished the drawing class was not because I had done well, but because I had started out as one of the worst in the class and ended up in decent standing. I think somewhere along the way I developed the attitude that I am not good at certain things and I am naturally good at others. But after I had kind of picked it up, by the practice of doing something that I had always thought I was bad at, a core principle was shaken down in about three months.

Practically, I don't think it's changed that much for me, but I definitely feel like I can learn things that I would not have tried before.

There was a quote on the wall when you walked into the art studio at Hudson Valley. It was by Chuck Close. It said: "Iinspiration is for amateurs. The rest of us just show up and get to work."

So, you don't wait for the muse to strike -- you create the muse by going to work. There's no longer the attitude that I can't do it, just that I won't do it. If you want to do something it's not about waiting for the inspiration.

Go to everything, collect everything, read everything, do all the work all the time and eventually you find something.

Everything changes

+ Rachel Person

+ TaĆ­na Asili

+ Michael McDermott

+ Robyn DeSantis Ringler

+ Jonathan Lajas

+ Alicia Lea

The Scoop

For a decade All Over Albany was a place for interested and interesting people in New York's Capital Region. It was kind of like having a smart, savvy friend who could help you find out what's up. AOA stopped publishing at the end of 2018.

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