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Pushing Past the Passivity


I used to sometimes fantasise about doing nothing. An indefinite escape from the world of deadlines and responsibilities. I imagined a series of blank boxes marking out the months of the future. Unlimited time to take life at my own pace.

I suppose on the 12th of March 2020 my wish was granted. Every morning that week I would roll over to check my phone, anticipating the email from NCAD announcing the college’s closure, I began to have email-themed dreams, leading me to double-check my inbox once conscious. Finally on Thursday at 11.39 am, the email came;

“NCAD’s campus will close from 6 pm tonight. All Today’s Teaching is Cancelled with Immediate Effect – this is to allow you to pack up the things that you will need in an orderly fashion”

There remained a generally relaxed feeling about the whole thing, students sifted in and out of the Design building throughout the early afternoon with boxes and portfolios of their things. I spoke with one of the department’s tutors about how long this could last, I thought maybe two or three weeks, he said he thought we wouldn’t be back until maybe summer, which seemed extreme to me at the time. The day ended as many days in NCAD end, students hung around the red square drinking and laughing, departing gradually for home as the night got colder.

That ended up being the last time I saw many of those people in person, my last experience of ‘normal college’. My academic life did, however, continue digitally for a few months, an experience consisting mostly of sitting at my laptop in my bedroom with weekly video calls from my personal tutor. Thankfully I had become personally invested in my final projects, which all centred around the theme of political communication. This focus and routine kept a certain level of sanity throughout the first few strange months of the lockdown.

I finished my Illustration degree on the 26th of June sat in the same room I had spent most of the last four months in, clicking upload on a Google Drive folder. There was no celebration, no degree show to prepare for, no classmates, no party, no hangover. The wave of relief I had anticipated never really came. I was proud of the work I had submitted but this wasn’t exactly the feeling I had expected four years of college to end on. My endless weekend fantasy was now here, and it wasn’t particularly exciting. Where before there was daily to-do lists, scheduled Zoom and hours of drawing, there was now nothing. Every morning offered another opportunity to lie-in. I could watch as much movies or TV as I wanted without the nagging feeling in the back of my head that there was work I should be doing.

As the weeks went on, the novelty of my new reality began to wear off. I became hyper-aware of the passive nature of my daily life. Whether I was watching TV, movies or Youtube videos, I was ultimately just sitting in different rooms of the house, consuming content. It’s not really entertainment if you’re not entertained. For the first time in my life since starting in NCAD I was not being remotely creative. I realised the structure of college, with tutors, seminars, and assessments, that had structured my life, wasn’t coming back.

It became clear to me the responsibility was now on me to take the first steps in my creative career, to push past the passivity and become more than just a consumer. The satisfaction I was struggling to find from media was only going to be found in the work I was avoiding. I needed my own space outside of the room that I had existed in for months, luckily my old bedroom in my Dad’s house was available. I started writing to-do lists again, looking over my previous projects and deciding if I wanted to take certain ideas further. I contacted my old tutors and approached designers in the industry, feeling the spark of connection and potential once again.

Finishing a design degree in a global pandemic is certainly a daunting proposition. While it’s not a situation I would have voluntarily chosen, this alien new world does bring its own new creative problems and opportunities, problems and opportunities I’m now excited to take on. I definitely don’t want to do nothing ever again.

Insight by Cormac Byrne, illustrator, graphic designer and 2020 graduate of NCAD.


View Cormac’s work here.