Surviving Art School Critiques

Have you ever had someone reach into your chest with a cold gripping hand, rip out your beating heart, then dance on it gleefully while staring you in the eyes?  If you have ever attended art school, the answer is yes.  It’s called “The Critique”.   Critiques in art school are simply par for the course, but they can be difficult.  Last week we experienced our first critique in painting class and the experience brought to mind the following tips:

Unhealthy ways of coping with harsh critiques:

1)      Respond to each criticism with “Your momma!”  or “Suck it!”

2)      Drown your sorrows in booze, food, tears, and/or reality television

3)      Blame the medium (bad paint, defective clay, a leaky pen)

4)      Blame the teacher

5)      Quit and become an accountant or a nurse, like your parents told you to in the first place!

Healthy ways of coping with harsh critiques

1)      Separate the sound and helpful advice from the subjective personal opinions or agenda of the critic

2)      Identify how you can apply the helpful criticism in future work

3)      Realize that artistic development is a journey, not a destination

4)      Know that your art means a lot to someone out there, even if that someone is only you; respect that!

5)      Realize that the person critiquing you has their own artistic struggles (Most art teachers are, or have been, working artists themselves, with their own collection of unsold, unloved work collecting dust in their studios.  And your fellow classmates, regardless of how talented, are just students themselves, some of whom may not even end up pursuing art after graduation, so that provides some perspective.)

6)      If push comes to shove, respond to each nasty critique with “Your momma!” and keep doing what you love!

Following are a bunch of pictures of the advanced level students’ presentation in Life Drawing and the first critique in my Painting I class.  The pictures don’t do them justice; the work is phenomenal!

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Art, Education, and Detachment

This week contained a great deal of ups and downs.  On the up side, I made a break-through in my Life Sculpture class; I found myself reproducing the model’s image more faithfully.  I also felt a greater degree of interest in my work because we were allowed to work on a personal project.  It is still very much “in development” , so I didn’t photograph it yet.  Basically, it is a type of totem, or ode, to femininity.  Hopefully that sentiment will come through when I am finished.

The lowest of the low this week was my Life Drawing critique.  Although I feel like I am doing well, the teacher grades very hard, is very exacting, and is extremely direct in his criticism.  I felt that there was little of anything positive to take away from our interaction.  I left feeling very hurt, deflated, and discouraged.  Fortunately I am my own life coach, so I reminded myself of how far I have come in a short period of time, and that one critique, or even one class, is not the end of the world.

It reminded me of the Buddhist teachings on detachment.  Practicing detachment is not meant to suck all the joy from life or leave us emotionless.  Detachment is a reminder that everything we experience on this planet is just a tiny part of the whole.  It is passing and fleeting.  The visible world is a world of effects, not causes.  What we experience is a manifestation of thoughts and plans that happened in the past.  Our future experiences will be the result of all that we think and do in the present.  And all time is One in the mind of the Infinite.  The only real moment is Now.  Everything else is in our minds.

So, what does that have to do with art?  Well, what I produce now is a culmination of the effort I have made and the training I have received over the past year.  What I do in the future will be a result of the time, practice, and energy I put in now.  The words and opinions of others, even very esteemed and qualified teachers, are only words and opinions.  Whether I receive praise or criticism, it is all the same.  I do what I do not to please and impress others, but to be faithful to the deep urges from within to create.  My responsibility is to continue to create; the quality is up to God; it will evolve as it is meant to evolve.

I hope that all of us remember to receive criticism and praise with equanimity and detachment.  Our responsibility is to do whatever it is we do with love, excellence, and humility of service.  Being a beneficial presence on the planet is its own reward.

Now, go follow your bliss…

Creatively Career-minded

My adventurous pursuit of a second career in art is still in full swing.  Every single week I learn something new.  I often wonder where art has been all my life.  It’s like meeting your soul mate after dating a series of duds.  Actually, I imagine that’s what it’s like.  My soul mate is in hiding and I’m still in the dud phase.  No, I’m actually in the nun phase (without the marriage-to-Jesus part).  But I digress…

This past week, we had a great speaker from ElCo’s career center.  He gave us the low-down on resume preparation, cover letters, and the all-important “30-second-commercial”.  I’m a little wordy, so my commercial is probably more like 45 seconds, but I’ll work on it.

We also divided up into groups this week and presented our portfolios to each other.  It was really fun looking at what other people had done.  It was especially exciting to see some of the work of students who have been at ElCo for a few years.   They’ve already taken some of the classes I hope to take next year.  A couple of women in our group had wonderful animated pieces and sample graphic design brochures.  A third woman had several high-school portraits of Janet Jackson and a mardi gras mask that was a lot of fun.

My own portfolio was modest indeed.  As a newbie to the school and to the world of art, I didn’t have much to show for myself.  But my drawings and portraits are pretty awesome and I was able to organize them in a very attractive and professional way.  I slipped a business card in at the beginning and a resume (anemic though it was) at the end.  Overall I am satisfied with my progress but keenly aware of how far I have to go.

Most of my art work this week has been playing with character-creation.  Although I feel pretty confident drawing realistic portraits in graphite, working with comic line drawings is different.  The shading is more suggested than actual, every line counts, and inking requires a lot more caution than graphite pencil.  In short, I’m out of my league.  But I’ve never been one to run from a challenge, so…it’s ON bitches!

Now go follow your bliss…