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Student Success

Artfully overcoming imposter syndrome

Hear how Zoë Neubig ’23 overcame imposter syndrome to embrace her true calling as an artist

Student Success

Artfully overcoming imposter syndrome

Zoë Neubig ’23 creates personal works of art that circumvent the elitist mentalities often found in the art world. Her work also focuses on the experiences of growing up as a woman in today’s society, and her exploration of art history is helping new generations of artists and historians bring difficult topics to light. We’ll also talk about overcoming imposter syndrome, and about embracing new opportunities wherever and whenever they present themselves.

Featured Majors: Studio Art, Art Therapy, Art History

Featured Organizations and Internship: Miami University Art Museum, College of Creative Arts Student Advisory Council

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Disclaimer: [00:00:00] The views and opinions expressed in this podcast by the hosts and guests may or may not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Miami University.

Speaker 2 [00:00:08] Freshman year, I came in undecided.

Speaker 1 [00:00:11] I'm finance, entrepreneurship, anthropology.

Speaker 2 [00:00:13] I'm a senior architecture student.

Speaker 1 [00:00:14] I'm involved in the blockchain club here. I'm very passionate about studying abroad. Classes are going great.

Speaker 2 [00:00:19] And then obviously very involved with my sorority.

Speaker 1 [00:00:21] I'm thriving.

Meredith Aliff [00:00:26] Hi, I'm Meredith Aliff and this is major insight. This is the podcast where we talk college life with amazing students about how to find your place and purpose on campus. Zoe Neubig is an artist whose work often focuses on her experiences growing up as a woman in today's society. As a studio art and art therapy major with a minor in art history, she uses found or thrifted materials to create personal works that circumvent elitist mentalities often found in the art world. Zoe has already sold work at exhibitions on campus, and her research strives to inspire a new generation of artists and historians by bringing difficult topics to light. We'll also talk about imposter syndrome, about overcoming fears and doubts, about finding pride in your accomplishments, and about embracing opportunities wherever and whenever they may present themselves.

[00:01:23] So I'm going to ask you the question that I ask everybody at the beginning, and it's Who are you?

Zoë Neubig [00:01:28] My name is Zoe Neubig. I am a studio art major and I'm an artist.

Meredith Aliff [00:01:33] I love it. I absolutely love it. Okay. So tell me about your majors and kind of why you decided to go that route.

Zoë Neubig [00:01:40] Yeah. So when I started high school, I took a bunch of, like, college credit plus classes because I was, you know, trying to kind of get ahead. And that was sort of my whole deal when I was in high school was like being ahead of the game and prepping for college and like pushing myself academically. So I think at that point I was sort of forced to make a decision really early on about like the classes that I was going to be taking and whether or not they were going to be relevant in my college career. So I took a bunch of psychology classes because that's what I was really interested in at the time. And when I got here for orientation, I was freaking out. I was like, I don't know if I want to be a psychologist anymore. I don't know if I want to do all this research. And I don't know if I'm the right type of person to be a psychologist. And orientation was a super stressful time for like my mom and I. It was just new territory for both of us. And tensions were a little high and we got separated at some point. And I was supposed to meet her for lunch and I was losing my mind. I was lost and I was like, Oh my gosh, I'm like freaking out. I was sweating. And Armstrong, like, no idea where I supposed to go. And I, like, pretty much turned around and ran right into the visual arts table. And when I mean right into I mean, like smashed into it and I... They were like, Are you okay? Like, where are you supposed to be? And I was like, Honestly, I think I'm supposed to be right here. Like, right here. Everyone was so nice and they handed me all these pamphlets and it just clicked in my head and it should have clicked a little earlier, I think. But it clicked that I was like, This is what I'm supposed to be doing, and these are the people I'm supposed to be with. And, you know, these professors are who I'm supposed to be learning from. And right when I got out of the table and got to where I was supposed to be, I was like, I need to change my major. Yeah, this is what I'm supposed to do.

Meredith Aliff [00:03:26] And I think, like, it's interesting that you say you kind of came here and just started to question everything. Like, I think a lot of people don't really consider the literal identity crisis that freshman in college have, where they're like, What am I doing? Does this make any sense to what I actually want to do with my life? And then it's simple, like running into tables or meeting one professor or one advisor, and then all of a sudden it's like your whole trajectory is changed. Yeah. So officially, Majors and minors, what are they?

Zoë Neubig [00:03:59] Officially, I am a studio art major. I have a dual concentration in painting and sculpture. I have an art therapy co-major, which sort of brings in the psychology side of my education and then an art history minor.

Meredith Aliff [00:04:13] That is a lot of art, but all kinds of different avenues of art, which is really interesting. So what does art therapy consist of?

Zoë Neubig [00:04:21] Art therapy, at least by my own definition, is just sort of finding ways to kind of heal through art and, you know, sometimes like physical activity and just using your hands as a way to kind of get emotions or energy out. And sometimes it's a little more introspective, like making an artwork about an experience that you had or working through some trauma or... You know, But honestly, sometimes I think a lot of us can relate to this is that you just need something to do to get yourself out of a bad mental state. And sometimes art is that thing that can really heal you.

Meredith Aliff [00:04:52] Definitely. What do your classes look like?

Zoë Neubig [00:04:55] So Monday, Wednesday, Friday I do drawing and sculpture from like noon to about 530. Every day is my technical... Like, that's how long I'm really in there. And then if I stay over, which is most of the time, because like 90% of your work is done outside of the class time, I'll be there from about 10 a.m. until like six at night, and then I go home. Right now I'm taking an advanced drawing class, I'm in advanced painting and I'm taking a really awesome art history class right now called Women in the Art World. So yeah, the studio classes are just that - studio based. I'm kind of on my own timeline. There's obviously deadlines I have to meet, but I'm kind of like working independently. And then the art history is like a lecture based in a classroom.

Meredith Aliff [00:05:42] Are there any classes in particular through your whole experience or professors in particular that you want to shout out today or that made a really big impact on you? 

Zoë Neubig [00:05:50] Yeah, well, first I want to say that the professors here have really made a difference, you know, like running into that table. And I just knew from the second that I was talking to the faculty that they were going to be huge role models for me. And it's just so nice to, coming from a small school, like, it's so nice to be able to find that same intimate interaction and like developing relationships that are meaningful at a college level because that was something I was super afraid of. I was like, I have I see my teachers out at lunch. Just like, you know, on a Saturday, like, I don't know. I don't know what that's going to look like. And those are relationships I really valued. And coming here, I was so happy and felt so at home that all these people just really care about me and they care about my work and they care about making me the best that I can be. So I will shout out some of my favorite professors. Dr. Annie Dell’Aria3, who is an art history professor, has been a super big role model for me. I took her intro to Art history class my freshman year and fell in love the second that she was done talking. She was just so passionate about everything she was talking about and lecturing about, and I never thought that our history was going to be my thing until I took her class. Dr. Jordan Fenton is the same way. I just feel like these people's passions for their field are so contagious. Like it's really hard not to be excited about African art, which is something I had no experience with. When Dr. Fenton's teaching it. My studio professors Dana Saulnier, Rob Robbins, Michael Stillion and like all these people are just so great to have in your corner as an artist because they have amazing insights and connections and advice. Like just I really feel like I've like built a little family here and I am so grateful for it.

Meredith Aliff [00:07:35] How important do you think those professor student relationships are in your college experience?

Zoë Neubig [00:07:40] Super important. Coming in, I don't know that I had nearly as much like faith in my own work and my own ability. Even starting out in studio, I always kind of had an ulterior goal that wasn't just making art as my job and making art as my main career. But these people have pushed me so far that like, I just feel like that's the only way that I can keep doing this. Like, this is what I'm supposed to be doing. And these people just really, like, reassured me of that and have built my skill level to a point that I don't even think I would have imagined as a freshman. 

Meredith Aliff [00:08:16] Yeah, And I think it's people that have that ability to push you. Yeah. Whereas with peers, they're kind of along the ride with you and you're like, Should I? And they're like, I don't know. Whereas professors would be like, Yes, right. So outside of class, what do your days look like?

Zoë Neubig [00:08:32] I watch a lot of TV. Okay. Most of us, I listen to a lot of music, a lot of audiobooks. I collect vinyl, which is a little fun hobby. I'm interning right now at the Miami University Art Museum. I did it last spring as a curatorial internship, so I did a lot of like, research and writing object labels and planning exhibitions.

Meredith Aliff [00:08:54] What's an exhibition?

Zoë Neubig [00:08:56] So an exhibition would be like the shows that you would see at an art museum. A lot of times it'll be like connected by like a theme or a sort of a goal. And so exhibition preparation would be sort of like framing artwork, installing artwork on the wall, and the preparatory internship, which is what I'm doing right now, is basically like exhibition preparation, handling, like things that are thousands and thousands of years old, which is so scary, but it's so cool. Yeah, it's sort of like holding somebody like a newborn baby, like you're holding an ancient statue in your hands and there's so many thoughts of like, Oh my God, what if I drop this? But, like, it's so cool and such an awesome experience. And the faculty at the art museum is amazing, too.

Meredith Aliff [00:09:40] You mentioned something about research, so do you want to expand on your research a little bit?

Zoë Neubig [00:09:45] Yeah. So in the art history area of my studies, I tend to focus my research in areas that are a little controversial, a little hard to talk about. So one of the things that I'm really passionate about is sort of researching artists with like problematic histories and kind of uncovering, you know, wrongdoings, and in today's culture of like canceling people and things, like, I hate to say it, but I'm jumping on it a little bit from from the art history perspective because I feel like there's so many of these people that we look at from a strictly academic lens. You know, it's like the greats of art history, you know, Pablo Picasso, Paul Gauguin. Those are two people that are pretty terrible, honestly, Like as human beings, if you, like, dig up their past a little bit. And for me, I think that so much of art is who we are as people. So it's hard for me to separate those two things. So a lot of my work has been digging in to people like that to kind of parsing out those arguments. And really I'm a huge proponent of like truth all the way through. And I think if we're not teaching the truth about our history, then, like, what are we doing here?

Meredith Aliff [00:10:48] Right. Right. It's not the most organic learning experience. You were talking about how exhibitions, there's like a theme. Have you noticed in yourself that maybe there's a theme with your artwork, like your artwork in particular?

Zoë Neubig [00:11:01] Yeah, I tend to make artwork about having a body, specifically having a woman's body in a society that honestly has not been super kind to women and just sort of the experience of that. I do a lot with themes of like vulnerability and just the physical sensations of having a body. So I make a lot of, obviously, like, figurative sculpture. I make a lot of, like sort of expressionist paintings. I use a lot of different materials that are sort of like found around. And I think that that has a lot to do with like my upbringing and like, not wanting to waste things and kind of elevating materials that might otherwise be like cast away. So I use like rope and plaster and like things that like literally just fine lying around.

Meredith Aliff [00:11:47] That's so cool. That is so cool. So what it sounds like is with your art history and with your studio art that you're doing a lot of awareness. Would you say that that's a common theme with the art majors that you're working with, or does everybody kind of have their own thing going on?

Zoë Neubig [00:12:05] Everybody definitely has their own thing going on for sure. But I think there's sort of themes that are just naturally present with like the time that we're living in back in like the minimalist days, people were talking about like these big steel sculptures are really important and this is what I'm going to make, and also all of my friends are making these too. And right now, it's ...I think that awareness is the theme that's circulating of being kind of self-reflective and self-critical and critical of like the society that we live in. I think a lot of people are making artwork about that. And for me, I feel like so lucky to be able to work with people so closely like that because that's really like a different perspective to have on people. Like, I get such an intimate view of who these people are by the work that they make and, you know, looking into their personal lives and their family and like just things that they decide to make artwork about really just tells you what is important to people. And I love that connection.

Meredith Aliff [00:13:02] That's super neat. Are there any organizations that you're a part of outside of all of that? 

Zoë Neubig [00:13:08] I'm not unfortunately. I'm not really that into clubs, and I think that that would be one of my biggest, like regrets maybe, or advice that I would give because I'm such an academically focused person that I struggle to separate my work from my life, if that makes sense. Because art is so tied in to like who I am as a person. And that is like what I feel like I need to be doing all the time. So that's my piece of advice to a freshman coming in is like, say "yes" to being a part of groups because, oh my God, I wish that. I wish that I was.

Meredith Aliff [00:13:39] Yeah, I mean, that's what I was just about to ask you next is like, do you think that your experience was lacking or that it would have benefited from that? Or do you think like ... I mean, it sounds like you have a ton on your plate, too, so maybe like picking and choosing clubs versus academics and not like loading up on all of it?

Zoë Neubig [00:13:57] Yeah, I think that would be for sure to find a balance of that. But honestly, I don't feel that my experience was lacking because of that. I feel like I found connection and community in so many ways. The art department here is a community and I feel so connected to them. So a join a club if you want to, if you're that type of person. If you're not, that's also okay. I don't want to tell people not to join a club, but I also don't want there to be this like fake pressure for you to be so overly involved and to think that if you don't, then you're missing out on something like your experience here is really just what you make it. And it's all about your your attitude toward things. And I feel like mine has been a good experience so far.

Meredith Aliff [00:14:37] Yeah, so. You're a senior now, right? You're finishing up? Yes. Where are you going after this? What's your plan?

Zoë Neubig [00:14:47] I would love to continue to work in museums and galleries, talking about art working with art. Teaching people about it is really my passion. So I think that working in a museum space is really like the path for me. As I get farther into my senior year, though, I'm starting to like fall in love again with just making art. And I think that like it's taken me four years to really, like, have enough confidence to be like, I'm an artist and I'm going to make art and I don't really care what you think about it. That's that's going to be my job and that's going to be my hobby. And in any capacity, I will always continue to make art.

Meredith Aliff [00:15:24] And I love how you ....I mean, that's how you introduced yourself, you know, like you are Zoe, and you are an artist. What was coming to that realization like and kind of overcoming that? Who in the world am I? And then kind of realizing like, Hey, it's okay to call myself an artist?

Zoë Neubig [00:15:41] Yeah, it was very difficult. I think a lot of artists can kind of relate to that journey of, you know, realizing that this is something you really want to do, but, you know, am I good enough to do it? You know, can I make it? Can I do this? Like the pros are doing it? And I think that that was and still is my biggest obstacle right now is recognizing that I deserve to be here and I deserve to be making art and I deserve to be doing something that makes me super happy. I think that there's a lot in the art world to be said about the type of art that you're making. And, you know, some people think that other types of art are better than others, and it's, you know, like a hierarchy of somebody that might be like painting is the best thing or sculptures the best thing, or this is what you should be making or this is what you should be talking about. And really, it's just for you. And I think that my whole time here has just been like reassuring myself that I am making art. And whether it's bad or good, it's important. And there's a lot of stigma, I think, about choosing art as your career. Also, it's definitely not the most well known area of financial gain for sure, and I think it scares a lot of parents hearing that your kid wants to be an artist. And I think that because art is so wrapped up in your identity, failing at it is really hard because it feels like you're failing as a as a person, a human. Yeah, and I think it took me a long time to be able to take that risk and put all of my effort and all of my time into my art and really, like truly believing in it. I think part of me thought that if I didn't take it super seriously, then it wouldn't hurt so bad if I failed or it wouldn't hurt so bad if somebody didn't like my painting. But to really get everything you need out of it, you have to do it. And you have to keep reminding yourself that, like, you and your classmates are in the same boat, your faculty on your side, you deserve to be here.

Meredith Aliff [00:17:37] Yeah, and I love how you said like taking the risk. And part of that risk is overcoming this like giant that is the kind of imposter syndrome that you would feel.

Zoë Neubig [00:17:47] Yeah.

Meredith Aliff [00:17:48] That was a great answer. Love. Looking back once again, what is the single best decision that you have ever made in college? One thing?

Zoë Neubig [00:17:58] I feel like me just deciding one day at the very last minute to change my major at the time, that was most inconvenient for pretty much anyone that was trying to help me was probably the most important decision of my life. I think that if I would have continued down that path, I would be a completely different person. And that's not to say that I wouldn't enjoy my job or enjoy my major, but I think it would have always felt like I was putting a real part of myself aside. And I think that making that choice and just slowly kind of coming around to recognizing that, like, you can be an artist and that's all that you have to be, you don't have to justify it to anybody. You don't have to explain it to anybody, like just taking yourself seriously enough to to devote all of your time to it has been the best decision of my life.

Meredith Aliff [00:18:52] I love that answer. That's a great answer. Last question, and you talked a little bit about advice earlier, but pieces of advice that you would either if you could talk to yourself or just anybody, end of senior year, beginning of freshman year, what would you say to them about college in general?

Zoë Neubig [00:19:08] I would say talk less, listen more. And every aspect. This is such a wonderful time for you to be able to get to know people and to learn. And honestly, I come across a lot of people in college that want to be the smartest person in the room. And one of the hardest things is realizing that, like, you're here to learn, which seems like it might be an easy answer. You're literally here for school, but I think a lot of people kind of try to come in and know everything already. And I think one of the best things that you can do is just be open and listen to what people have to say. And that's true for your classes and that's true for friendships and that's true for making really valuable connections for your career. Like just be more open to learn from other people and they will teach you everything you need to know. 

Meredith Aliff [00:19:58] Yeah. And I mean, at the end of the day, that's why we're all here.

Zoë Neubig [00:20:01] I feel like too something that's super relevant to my major in the arts is like anymore and into like kind of this rush around capitalist culture right now that we're in, everything needs to be monetized. You know, everything ... I need to be able to make my art into a job, to make money. And it's like, well, slow down for a minute. You know, you can get your job, make money, make art. Sometimes things need to just be for you. And the things that are most valuable in your life don't have to really make you a lot of money. Yeah, and I think keeping those things safe and keeping them for yourself is is also super valuable, too.

Meredith Aliff [00:20:41] I love that. I love that. That's all that I had for you today. I've loved getting to know you and your experience. It's super inspiring and you had some really great advice for everyone. So thank you so, so much for coming on today.

Zoë Neubig [00:20:54] Thank you!

Meredith Aliff [00:20:57] Zoe Neubig is a studio art major with a minor in art history. After graduation, she plans to work in the museum, exhibition and programing industry while continuing to create and sell her own work. And thank you for listening to Major Insight. If you enjoyed this podcast, share it with your friends or anyone interested in navigating college life. Many more episodes are now available wherever podcasts are found.

Major Insight is a roadmap for college students who wish to find their place and purpose on campus. Each episode features real stories with real students who are successfully navigating 21st century university life.