I Think I'm Going Crazy! (Frustrated Student)by Kalene
I thought I'd find you here! Well I know what you're going through and trust me, even though you will always be very frustrated you will find things much easier in your upper years in University. My first year was the toughest... it was made easier thanks to the very long strike at York but basically I find in first year they are trying to hah... make you think outside of the box... basically break you into the whole Modernist way of thinking. Only problem is they don't really explain even that very well. It was mandatory in my school to take a Critical Issues course where we studied performance art, installations, and read theoretical texts about feminist theory, semiotics and Magical Realism... all of this no one could even begin to wrap their heads around. What a huge lump of yucky medicine that was to swallow! Meanwhile in the studios the Profs would spout things like "It needs a leprechaun!" or "You need to loosen up and go crazy with it" - none of it helpful. They were just trying to seem like they were challenging you... they criticized and pointed out all the faults of any of my figurative work (and I was in a figure drawing class!) but didn't explain why. Nothing made sense, and we had no idea what was fueling any of the comments the profs made so none of their critiques ended up being very constructive.
Coming out of high school no one knew anything about the all encompassing modernist movement so we all tried to get a hold of the basics, proportion, form, colour... and when we did them well we felt good, but of course an instructor would tell us it was all wrong. See, that's the way it is. Always backwards. Everything you think is right is wrong, and everything that is wrong is right in their eyes. The students with the least technical skills going into it somehow are more advanced! Smarter! Even when they wish they could draw like you! They are doing the right thing unintentionally. I don't know about you but I just can't intentionally choose ugly colours. I could not intentionally fub up the proportions. I could not intentionally mess up the shadows! And it is not finished until I get it all pretty well right! I know about colour theory, perspective and comparative measurement... not using them would be like regressing to my five year old self. Those things come so naturally to me finally after so much hard work! I want to move forwards, not backwards. I don't think it's even possible. See, the thing is you had an amazing teacher in high school like I did (hah! your teacher taught my teacher! I can't get over that!). But we are rare... most going to OCAD or pursuing art school elsewhere don't have any technical training before entering university. They are taught that technical skill is too hierarchical, only people with born natural ability and elite training have that. Art is for the masses and so no matter what your skill or ability you can make art with anything and at any skill level. One of my profs even convinced one of the students once that he was a naive artist and would do very well in the galleries. That student came up to me and asked me if I could teach him how to paint like I did! I destroy everything that is an embarrassing failure. I don't hang it on a gallery wall.
See, your idea of art and their idea of art are at opposing ends of the spectrum and they are going to shove their idea in your face for the entire first year if not longer. The trick is to ask questions... soon as they critique your work, or say something like "it's too cold," just say I don't know what you
mean... that you don't understand. Either they will fall over their own comments or actually explain why. Just keep asking... even if you know the answer. (Isn't Modernism supposed to be cold and distanced anyways? Weird that they would even have a problem with that.) Or even learn more about Modernist theory... even as much as you might hate it, it's good armour! They are counting on you knowing nothing but once you ricochet their own crap back at them you can use it to defend your own figurative works. Seriously, read Odd Nerdrum's On Kitsch. It will give you an idea of where you might start and explain so perfectly why institutional education has gone so amuck. Fight fire with fire and win. So get your degree maybe and go do your Masters at The New York School of Figurative Art. Become a prof and break their system down from within! You could be the amazing prof I never had but always wished for!
See you at MJAS,