Sometimes the shortest distance between two points is not a straight line–at least not when it comes to art.
Clay Allen, chair and associate professor of the Department of Visual Arts at County College of Morris, was raised in a home where art, music and dance were encouraged. His sister went into professional ballet. And while other parents urged their sons to study something practical, his parents enthusiastically supported his desire to pursue art. In 1982, he enrolled at the Maryland Institute College of Art to do just that.
“I thought I would major in painting,” he says, “But when I got there, I looked at the other painters and I realized that I wasn’t one of them. I thought to be an artist, you had to be a painter and didn’t have a fallback position.”
He left school to work as a landscaper. All the while, he continued creating artwork and submitting it to shows. One of his mixed-media pieces was accepted for exhibition by the prestigious Baltimore Museum of Art Biennial Show.
Eventually, he won a scholarship at the College of New York to study English literature. Little did he know that he would meet the vocational love of his life there.
“I decided to keep my hands in art, so I wandered into the art department, took a ceramics course–and was smitten.”
He finished his bachelor’s degree and then followed his passion with an MFA in ceramics. “It just seemed very natural to me. Working with my hands was something I had done from early childhood.”
He adds that artists intuitively know when they’ve found their medium. “You get drawn to a medium that you feel an affinity with, whether it be watercolor, oil, acrylic, whatever. For me, it was ceramics.”
His journey has helped him to counsel students. “I do a lot of advising,” Allen says. “I tell students that education is not so much a straight line. You don’t know where it’s going to go. You’ll change your mind and your major. That’s normal. If you follow your passion, you can’t go wrong.”