State of the Art: I owe the person I’ve become partly to this column

Shutianyi Li/Daily Trojan

The hardest part of a story to write is the conclusion — just ask any journalist. We’ll lazily tack on an articulate quote to do the work for us or spend hours composing a punchy closing line that lingers in our readers’ minds. As my time as a USC student and Daily Trojan columnist comes to an end, perhaps it’s why I’ve been dreading writing the ending to my own story, my final column.

Coming to USC, I knew I was on a mission to identify my passions and chase the life I wanted with reckless abandon. The trouble was, I didn’t know what those passions were yet. A starry-eyed freshman, riding the buzz of studying abroad and starving with blind ambition, I became obsessed with making lists and planning my future (only later would I realize how futile that is). My Notes app is still stocked with catalogs of goals, reminders, assorted passwords and checklists of organizations to join — now relics of my former self.

Over the years, most of those dreams have been discarded for grander ones. I didn’t end up minoring in business or becoming the president of the pre-law fraternity. I never interned at NBCUniversal or covered breaking news on-air. But that’s OK, because those were the bygone dreams of a girl who didn’t know who she was or what she wanted yet. Now that I am that person, I couldn’t be more grateful for the opportunities this newspaper and this column have given me to become her.

The only thing I was as sure of then as I am now is that I needed to join the Daily Trojan. I applied to be a staff writer on the first day of classes and relished seeing my words in print every week. My editors unremittingly sent me across campus and across town to exhibitions and shows, leading me to inadvertently catch the art writing bug. After one fateful afternoon spent badgering curators and praying my iPhone photos would suffice, I was hooked. It was love at first byline. I haven’t looked back since.

All of a sudden, my passions made sense, and a new set of dreams bloomed before me. And since then, I’ve done things and published stories freshman me would never have dreamed of. I eventually added a minor in visual culture — a subject that enchants me every day more than business ever could — and embarked on freelancing gigs, some of which brought me face to face with contemporary greats like Ai Weiwei. From profiling emerging artists to reviewing major exhibitions in L.A., it’s been a thrill to gradually grow into my own skin and document it all in ink.

Aside from being the reason I’m jokingly called an art hoe every other week, this column has been everything to me. I remember feeling like a fraud two months into writing it because I was afraid I’d run out of hot takes (alright, maybe they were lukewarm at best) or that I’d realize I was hardly qualified to preach about the complexities of the abstruse art world. But week after week, my ardor for the topic propelled me to keep wondering, learning and writing. I was driven by my fellow editors who supported me unconditionally, the professors who assigned my columns as course reading much to my bewilderment and the thousands of untold stories throughout art history that beckon and intrigue me. Looking back, “State of the Art” is one of the best things I’ve done at USC.

It’s the reason I sit wide-eyed in every art history lecture, probing the words and images on the screen for a spark of inspiration (roughly 900 words worth). It gave me an excuse to spend hours scouring museum websites and allowed me to effortlessly keep a pulse on contemporary arts and culture. It’s grounded me in my passions and kept me sane when my GE and communication theory classes felt cursory by comparison. It’s why I challenge myself to dig deeper into every concept or phenom and search for meaningful connections between art and my own life. It has given me a cathartic platform to air my grievances and process my own psyche when I felt like I’d surely implode otherwise.

Staring down the prospect of graduation, two weeks out and one year early, I am possessed by an odd, hollow nostalgia (as well as an equal and opposite lack of motivation to complete my remaining assignments). My time at USC was a five-semester blur of deadlines and laughs in the Daily Trojan newsroom, spontaneous field trips to the Arts District and more blissful nights with friends spent chasing our youth than I can count or recall. I’ll even treasure all the Monday nights I spent procrastinating and later panicking over this column.

Interestingly enough, there is one list freshman me created that I have completed. Armed with my lifelong zeal for museums, I planned to fall in love with Los Angeles through its arts institutions and cultural hotspots. Slowly but surely, I checked places off my list over the semesters and never would have imagined that I’d be employed by some of them. That ache to discover and engage with art set me free and gave me a sense of purpose heading into the next chapter of my life. I knew I was onto something back then — and look what it’s led to.

Catherine Yang is a senior writing about art and visual culture. She is also the digital managing editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “State of the Art,” ran every other Wednesday.