When Beth Berg graduated high school, she didn’t know what career to pursue.
“It felt like so many of my friends had their educational and career paths clearly set out before them, but I still wanted to do a little bit of everything,” she said. “I couldn’t imagine going to a four-year university and graduating without knowing where I felt like I fit in the world. College of DuPage was the first school I submitted an application to, because I knew it was a place where I could try out all kinds of specializations. COD has so much variety in their programs, it felt like I could become anything there.”
While she always had an interest in art, Berg spent much of her time at COD looking elsewhere, although every subject she focused on had an element of art in it—screenwriting, marketing, the humanities, library science, communications, graphic design and even astrophysics.
Finally art shook everything into a new light for Berg, who considered herself a jack-of-all-trades student.
“I’ve taken classes on the creation of art and art-making, which was such a fantastic experience—to be so immersed in a space with so many creative minds, putting themselves into their works, their questions, their ideas, their dreams and their hearts,” she said. “The vulnerability in the act of creation itself, the bravery it takes to share a piece of yourself with the world—artists are incredible in so many ways.
“I also took art theory and art history classes and was fascinated by the sheer amount of cultural influence art has and vice versa, and how history is interwoven through all of it and how much art has to say, even without language, even without color or narrative or even meaning. Learning about art is like looking through a kaleidoscope: With each new thing you learn, your perspective changes and everything shifts.”
Considering the various paths she took, Berg felt like she lived several lives during her time at COD. She also participated on campus, working for the student newspaper and Tutoring Services, serving as president of the Astronomy Club, and participating in the library’s annual research symposium.
Berg earned three degrees—Associate in Arts, Associate in Science and Associate in General Studies—and was recognized by the Art faculty for excellence during the annual Celebration of Academic Excellence. She is now at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and knows art will be a part of whatever she does in the future.
“To be able to make art accessible to everyone and challenging to the ideas and paradigms of our society—whether it’s within an institution or traveling or teaching or something entirely new—that’s what I want to do,” she said. “A part of me would love to become a professor. To be able to share ideas on art and theory, in a way that’s understandable and complex and gleaming, wonderful and exciting and critical, is a dream. Even beyond the classroom setting, I want to speak about art in a way that’s tangible, accessible and malleable, where there’s room to mess around in, get your hands muddy and tangled in theories and dreams and ideas.
“I do think that it’s important to speak about how tricky it is as well. There’s a long, problematic history of gatekeeping in academics and institutionalism that frames art as something above us, out of reach and out of time, stuck behind gallery walls with specific margins and degrees in the way of understanding. But it is one of my core beliefs that art is already yours. Art is everywhere, and you are an artist right here and right now. Everyone has their own story to tell through their work, and you can see it, always, bursting through the medium. I dream of speaking about and making art that says, ‘I see you too.’ To do this feels like warmth and comfort and even a little bit of a roller coaster drop. How could I not want to wrap my life around a feeling like that?”
Because of her extended journey at COD, Berg is grateful for the number of people she met and their continued influence on her.
“I’ve learned so many different things that fuel my art and my thinking, and I’ve become so much more with everything that COD has offered and extended to me: the community I’ve gathered across a myriad of different degrees and the professors I’ve been lucky enough to have who put their all into their classes, as well as making sure that their students are seen for everything that they are, as well as bringing to light everything that they could become,” she said. “These experiences gave me a broadening of who I am, what I’m capable of, and exposure to many different kinds of responsibilities.
“Art is a two-way street, it’s you giving your own unique perspective based on who you are in that moment of meeting, which is something only you can give. There is a shared individualism that makes art so reachable. I can’t see a future for me where I’m not constantly learning new things and reassessing old ideas.”