A Great Attempt: My Quest to Fulfill the Visual & Performing Art Gen-Ed

In order to graduate from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I have to fulfill a couple of general education requirements. Most of them were pretty easy to knock out: I took Archaeology of Food to fulfill “World Before 1750,” Intro to Southern Studies for “Literary Arts,” Water and Human Rights for “Philosophical and Moral Reasoning,” and a number of other courses in order for this institution to feel like I cultivated a range of skills and knowledge. However, one gen-ed has been the bane of my existence during my time here: “Visual and Performing Arts.” To be honest, I thought that was going to be the easiest one for me to fulfill. I have been a dancer most of my life; I play a couple of instruments; I was in chorus; I love to be center stage. The odds were not against me, but for some reason, things were not working out in my favor. For a little while, I was very worried I would never fulfill this gen-ed and “Visual and Performing Arts” would be the reason I did not graduate.

My first year, I decided to take Roman Archaeology and Art History. My great aunt is a retired art history professor, so I thought I would just channel her and it would be fine. Apparently, you cannot just decide to channel someone and automatically know about art. I read one page of the textbook and dropped the class. Then I decided to enroll in a class about Broadway Musicals. I could probably do a one-woman performance of Hamilton and Mamma Mia, so I knew this would be great. I read the syllabus, did not understand a single word, and dropped the class.

The next year, my roommate and I decided we would take Intro to Country Music together. I have been a Dolly Parton fan since before I was even born. I can serenade anyone with a classic Dolly song and often think “What would Dolly do?” as I navigate this life. (Dolly, if you are reading this, I love you). This class was destined to work. We even made it to the first day of class, which is farther than I got with any of the other classes. We sat down in the lecture hall and pulled up the recently uploaded syllabus. Dolly was not on the syllabus, but I was still willing to give it a chance. The professor played some music before starting class, I guess to set the tone of the class. Bailey and I looked at each other and without saying a word, we packed up our bags and walked out one minute before the class started. We dropped the class on the walk back to our dorm. Was I ever going to fulfill this gen-ed?

By the start of senior year, I was feeling pretty desperate and was willing to do just about anything. When I got an email about a pilot “Study Abroad from Home” program, I knew this was my chance. I decided to take a watercolors class online from the Universidad San Francisco de Quito. I got all my supplies and was actually pretty excited. This was a chance to try something new and a lot of people have said that painting with watercolors is relaxing; I can always use some relaxation in my life and thought that maybe this could be my new quarantine hobby. I quickly determined that those people are liars.

I tried so hard to “go with the flow” and let the water do its own thing like my professor said, but water can be a jerk. I spent hours and hours working on each piece, but it still looks like I threw paint on the paper for ten minutes (my roommate would make me hold up my “art” and say “My name is Brynn Garner and I’m in 18th grade.”). I would concentrate so hard and furrow my brow for so long that there would always be lines on my forehead for the rest of the day. I worked so hard, but the only thing I can say is that I am apparently untalented. The pet portrait of my cat Mercy was a “great attempt.” My mom tried to give me some drawing tips and feedback for the piece I have named “Naked Lady” because I called her crying late one night because I could not draw a human figure. My professor told me that my drawing skills hurt me worse than my watercolor skills (my mom is still salty). I don't even want to talk about the farmhouse.

The final project was a portrait of someone. My roommate volunteered to be my model, but I was worried our friendship would not survive my attempts to paint her likeness. I made the initial thumbnails and she just looked at me and shook her head. She did not think it was funny when I told her, “I don’t know what you want me to do, that is exactly what you look like.*”

Thumbnails for the portrait of my roommate Bailey

The final portrait was supposed to have a visible light source and we were supposed to use some other watercolor techniques to convey a hidden meaning. I was pretty proud of my final portrait. I thought it was a powerful social commentary on life in the United States; my professor thought the “face could use some work.” EXCUSE ME? THAT IS A SPITTING IMAGE OF MY ROOMMATE! IT’S LIKE THERE ARE TWO OF HER IN THE APARTMENT NOW.*

Portrait of my roommate Bailey

It’s ok, I’m over it and … I passed the class!! I am going to graduate!! And now I have all this beautiful art; all of my pieces are available for purchase, so if you are looking for something to really tie a room together look no further.

While you ruminate on whether or not you need a new piece of art for your work from home set up or zoom background (imagine the compliments you would get), please enjoy this recipe for chicken casserole. You might be wondering, “What does chicken casserole have to do with fulfilling a gen-ed?” Well, I tried a bunch of different things to fulfill this gen-ed, and in the south what do you do when you have a bunch of different things? You put them in a casserole! This is my dad’s recipe and I can personally attest that it is delicious. I never thought the words, “All I want to do is watch my programs and eat my casserole” would come out of my 22-year-old mouth but it is that good. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

I want to hear from you! What arts & crafts have y’all been getting into during quarantine? Drop me a note in the comments section!

Actual photo of my roommate Bailey (left)

*Disclaimer: my roommate/best friend is actually beautiful and does not look like my art, but she is a great sport. I gifted these pieces to her parents and I do expect to see them displayed next time I visit.


Chicken Casserole


1 pound boneless chicken breast

1 bag classic stuffing mix

32 oz. chicken broth

1 can green beans

1 can buttered corn

1 box scalloped potatoes

2 cans cream of chicken

1-pint whipping cream

1 bag cubed stuffing mix


  1. Cook chicken breast in pressure cooker until tender. Shred.

  2. Mix classic stuffing mix with 12 oz. chicken broth. Place in the bottom of a pan with high sides

  3. Heat green beans and corn on the stove. Prepare scalloped potatoes as directed on box.

  4. Mix cream of chicken with the whipping cream. Stir in shredded chicken.

  5. Layer green beans, corn, scalloped potatoes, and chicken mixture in pan.

  6. Mix cubed stuffing mix with remaining chicken broth and cover casserole.

  7. Bake at 350 ℉ for 35-45 minutes.

  8. Enjoy!