As promised, the Maryland Institute College of Art gave Baltimore writer and filmmaker John Waters an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree during its commencement ceremony today, in recognition of his “body of work across creative disciplines.”
Waters was one of two honorary degree recipients, along with Ruby Miriam Lerner, president and founding executive director of Creative Capital, an organization that supports artists around the country.
Lerner gave an inspiring keynote speech about the importance of arts in society. Waters was sort of her warm-up act, giving a three-minute talk about his view of the art world and how he might use his new degree.
Here is a transcribed version of his talk to the graduates:
Thank you, President Sammy Hoi, faculty members and graduates. Well, you finally made it through. Was it Warhol or Marshall McLuhan who said art is anything you can get away with? I think it was both, and you all have pulled off the ultimate heist. Congratulations.
When kids used to tell me, ‘I am an artist,’ I’d think to myself, I believe I’ll be the judge of that. Though, actually, history will be the judge of that. But I was wrong. You have to be the one to call yourself an artist first and then get the rest of the world to agree.
Art is a magic trick and once you accept that, you learn to see in a different way. The art world is like a biker gang, a secret society with scary destinations and impenetrable language and a severe dress code. I am so proud that today you have officially made me a member of this club.
I’m thrilled to receive your honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree, but what does that mean? Can I now legally prescribe medicinal marijuana? Triple my speaking fees? I ask you, should I be ruthless? Should I start demanding tenure starting today?
I think, most importantly, how can I officially help you with my doctorate? Do I suddenly have magic powers? Let me try them out: Bibbity bobbity boo. The Whitney Biennial wants you. See? It works! With this document I demand that you should see, Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious, Larry Gagosian [art dealer], you finally approach us. I can tell your dreams will come true. And now as they say in Baltimore, I got papers to prove it!