Storyboard: Sarah Ellis

Out of the Foxhole and Into the Fire

My mom was an ArtCenter illustration major who graduated in 1978. She took me to see the student galleries as early as when I was a year and a half old. By the time I was six, ArtCenter became a place I understood to be important in her life.

The possibility that it would play a role in my life was remote.

I came from a single-mother household where money was tight. As I grew up with ArtCenter on my radar, I knew that my mom couldn’t afford to put me through college and that – if I really wanted to attend this magical place called ArtCenter – I would have to do it on my own terms.

I’ve liked taking pictures ever since I got my very own camera at the age of twelve. I took it with me everywhere, from school to road trips with my family. Even as a kid, it was always about more than just taking a pretty picture – there was a larger, more abstract truth I was trying to wrestle with, one that I couldn’t fully put into words yet.

At a college recruitment fair during my junior year of high school, I got to talking with someone about enlisting in the Marine Corps. I just knew that I had to seize control of my fate. At the time, I wasn’t thinking about ArtCenter, though as I since learned, the school has a rich and well-documented history with its veteran alumni.

I was enlisted in the Marine Corps boot camp from July 10th to October 6th of 2006. It was often hellish. The toll it takes on you can be considerable. And yet, my fellow Marines and I ended up bonding off of the experience we shared – somehow, we had managed to graduate from this unforgiving place alive and in one piece. You tend to see people’s true colors with great clarity when you’re trapped in a foxhole with them, and there is no truer manifestation of that credo than the Marine Corps.

In the Corps, we ascribe very much to the philosophy of “one body, one spirit.” You are trained to look out for your fellow man or woman. It’s not easy, but no path to greatness ever comes from being selfish – nor does it come from convenience. I entered into the Marine Corps as a caterpillar and emerged a butterfly – albeit one who was coated in mud, sweat and tears.

A lot of that Marine Corps mentality has transferred over to my time at ArtCenter. Though I don’t make comparisons to military service with any degree of lightness, there is in fact, an overlap between the two pursuits.

Like the Corps, ArtCenter requires that you be orderly and disciplined, giving 110% of yourself each and every day. Throughout the various trials and tests of endurance, you develop a family of sorts. Maybe you don’t think about it as much while it’s happening, but as you get closer to graduation you start to think “I’m going to be calling that person at some point down the line and asking them for a favor.”

Through my output, I try to strike a balance between work that is both commercial and deeply personal. In many cases, the former helps to pay for the latter. In my photography series “Project V,” I examine the metaphorical concept of the “masks” that veterans must wear when they re-integrate back to society.

In the civilian world it’s hard to find an equivalent to the automatic brotherhood or sisterhood I found in the Marines – you’re on your own, and if you want something, you’re going to have to get it yourself. Civilians can’t really understand where we come from unless they experience it themselves.

The same is true of my ArtCenter community. There is a sacred connection that is only experienced here that the outside world may never get a full glimpse of. I haven’t even turned thirty yet and somehow I’ve managed to survive both ArtCenter and the Marine Corps. Some days, I can’t decide which one was more demanding.

Sarah Ellis
ArtCenter Student, Photography

It’s not easy, but no path to greatness ever comes from being selfish – nor does it come from convenience.

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