Jenna Riedl

The following pages contain three essay prompts. Please choose all. 

Prompt 1: Please explain to us why you deserve to be here. 

Definitions of “us” and “you” are not provided. 

Us: a term used to describe the faceless entity that sends emails signed “Visual Arts”. Members may or may not include faculty, students, administrators, that one guy who wrote an art book once, every potential future employer, your favorite artist, and the world.

You: a term used to describe the girl with curly hair and bouncing knees currently sitting in a white-walled room, wondering if it is socially permissible to walk out of her own critique.

The room is white and two-dimensional

The walls have all collapsed

I can feel my knee bouncing and am suddenly filled with a sharp and pointed hatred for this body

This bone-filled parachute that lets me down when I need to appear sure of myself

I wonder, briefly, what would happen if I ran out of the room

(If I walked, calmly and certainly, out of the room. 

If I slammed the door on my way out. 

If I stood up and said, this critique has been entirely unhelpful and I see no evidence

That it will be anything different in the next twenty minutes

So I’m going to leave and you can all dissect my personality without me.)

In conclusion, “you” does not deserve to be here

Does anyone? 

“You” paints dots on cardboard and “us” thinks cardboard is tacky

“Us” thinks cardboard is not intentionally tacky, and this is the real issue

“Us” likes to forget that no one has ever, in two years of critiques, 

Asked a single person about their intentionality for working with oil on canvas

“You” would like to move the fuck on from talking about the fact that she works on cardboard

But “us” pounds the words “archival” and “environmental” into the ground like hills to die on 

(You know, she’s so conscious of waste. 

She should make environmentalism a more deliberate part of her practice.)

Does it even count as doing something if you’re not doing it 100%? 

If I paint on cardboard with watercolors from Amazon, am I a hypocrite? 

“You” does not deserve to be here because she doesn’t care if her work lasts for centuries

“You” doesn’t need her art to exist in museums, in galleries, as powerpoint slides

For a new generation of caffeinated, careless art history students

“You” made an error in judgment and entered a space where only certain rules were meant to be broken

And she picked different trip wires to snap

No one is wrong

Wouldn’t it be easier if someone was wrong? Then someone else could be right. 

They say contrast is an essential element of successful paintings

In conclusion: “you” was supposed to be part of “us”

And neither “us” nor “you” deserve each other

There is no fault

I simply did not fit into the fluorescent-lighting studio box they so courteously provided

I did not try very hard to fit

The most important thing I learned in art school was not how to paint

It was not how to push through when I had no inspiration

Or how to contextualize someone’s work

It was not even how to decipher what I meant by splattering phthalo blue on a wooden panel

The most important thing I learned was this

Someone’s criticism only matters

If their vision of you succeeding is the same as your vision of you succeeding

Whether they mean well (and they almost always mean well) is irrelevant

If they are trying to make you better

But their version of better is too tight on your skin

Sags in all the wrong places

You don’t have to listen to them

They are not mean or wrong

They are just humans, living on the surface

Unable to imagine that the jellyfish of the deep sea might not mind the pressure

Don’t we all live unimaginable lives? 

Telling someone to become more like me is not necessarily telling them how to improve

We were not all meant to breathe air

In conclusion, deserving does not come into it

I am here

More specifically, I am

Prompt 2: Where did you get the fucking audacity? (Please list at least 3 examples)

(Firstly) from my anger

Sophomore year, I started flipping men off on the street

As long as they were far enough, old enough

The street crowded enough, my legs ready-to-run enough

No socratic seminars about the ongoing movement for women’s rights could educate me

As clearly as the man who rolled down his windows and told me to get in, sweetheart

The difference between a law and a theory: we know why a theory works

A theory: it doesn’t matter what my grades are or how many miles I run or how angry I am

It doesn’t matter that I, in that moment, would be willing to kill

I will always be 5’2” to his Something Bigger

I will always be smaller than my rage

I am not strong enough to win, but –

Revolutions have happened in the space after that word

(Additionally) from their apathy

I stopped going to church two weeks after coming to college 

Did I mention I was president of the Christian a capella group?

Did I mention I grew up spending so much time in the choir room, they almost got us a bed?

I could not separate the gentle prayers and microphone feedback

From man and woman God created them

From gay people have been given a great burden, to resist the temptations of their flesh. 

We must honor their struggle to remain pure. 

I committed the gravest error a statistician can make

I allowed the outliers to represent the whole

I know that I am wrong, but I know that I am also right

If [silence] given [devaluing of queer people’s humanity], 

Then [get the fuck out, girl, they only love you because they don’t know]

How many outliers are too many?

When does coincidence become correlation?

(Furthermore) from necessity

It took twenty one years and seven-ish months to articulate what I experienced 

First in third grade when I looked up from the church floor and fell in love with a girl:

Second when I sat in the doctor’s office as the nurse told me it

Wouldn’t hurt to exercise a bit more… and drop down to a healthier weight:

Third when three boys asked me out as a joke

And no one asked me again:

If my community won’t even pretend that I will be unconditionally loved

I need to believe that my worth does not depend on people’s good opinion

Or I’ll believe I’m worthless for the rest of my life

Group test: how can you believe you deserved to be wanted when no one wants you? 

(empty space encouraged)

Maybe I was lucky that it was so clear the world wouldn’t love me

I would have clung to the pretense if it had been offered

I would have built my soul around good opinions if someone had ever told me

You’re so close… if you could just –

But I was born in the deep end

They say that’s where you learn to swim

(Ultimately) from love

Does it make you uncomfortable? 

Does it make you squirm to know that I love you

Even if I don’t know, as I write this, who will read it? 

Does it hurt to imagine that I could love you 

Because you’ve learned to experience the love of a stranger 

As expectations waiting to be disappointed, a bowling ball balanced on a spiderweb

Do you believe that knowing you would shrivel my love? 

Would it provoke terror or envy

If you knew I could not help but love you

Because now, I believe so completely in my own value

That neither your success, nor your scorn, nor your disappointment could threaten me?

Prompt 3: Prove that higher education is worth something. List all primary assumptions at the top of your response. 

We can assume that human beings deserve to live in a state of active security rather than absent danger. We can assume that competency is not the automatic byproduct of certifications or admiration. We can further assume that the author of this proof is honestly pretty over higher education on both a personal and conceptual level. That being said:

Higher education is most certainly worth something

Here, I will solve for the unknown quantity which higher education might be equal to. 

If the value of higher education is equal to the amount of job security it provides after college

Than higher education is worth four job offers

Two of which pay almost, but not quite, 

Enough to cover rent in the overpriced city where the office building is located

And one of which ends up being a scam forwarded from your impressionable Aunt Margaret

It is worth a checked box for most white collar jobs

60% of which do not require information learned during college

And 30% of which require a PhD and twenty-five years of relevant experience

(Breaking News: parents campaign for internships in embryo)

If the value of higher education is equal to the experiences it offers

Then it could be worth two lifetime friendships and breathless laughter late at night

Inside jokes and quiet mornings in a sunlit cafe

Five scheduled sobbing breaks per week and a guy who wasn’t really trying to harass you –

He’s just not good at joking around

I could have drowned in the experiences they offered me daily, delivered to my inbox

Like small bombs of possibility and guilt

Last chance to apply! 

Take advantage of this incredible opportunity!

How does one calculate the worth of infinity?

You can be buried alive under too much gold

If the value of higher education is equal to the self-actualization that it provokes

Then it is worth a therapist, I suppose

And a crisis line that shuts off after 10pm

We’re sorry, breaking down should only occur during business hours

It is worth getting so used to not having approval that I learned to live without it

(Approval: society’s unicorn

Sure, we should all get to see some if the world was fair

But who the fuck ever said that?)

Higher education is a reagent

And I was an existing solution that was primed to thrive because of and in spite of it

But I cannot claim much universal value for higher education

In conclusion: we fail to prove the alternate hypothesis

There is insufficient evidence to prove that higher education is worth anything

In conclusion: a single experiment, when successful

Requires replication

But how many successes are required? And how many failures are acceptable?

(definitions of “success” and “failure” remain unclear)

About the Author

Jenna Riedl (she/her) is a standard New Englander who pretends to be from Boston and insists that winter isn’t really that cold. She recently graduated from Boston University after studying Painting and Statistics, so naturally, she works in Events Planning while writing on the side. Her work has been published in Aisthesis and Kaleidoscope. In addition to writing, she spends a lot of time hiking and drawing small dinosaurs. You can see Jenna’s artwork on her website:, or her Instagram page, @dotproductsbyjenna.