Why I Think Art School Is Not For Everyone-Or: Criticism and Gurus and more Criticism
Lets talk about criticism.
It’s a difficult subject, as we live in an age where we try to be more open, forgiving, positive and new age. We like to think- especially when it comes to arts- that anything is acceptable and that no one should be avoided of expressing one self however he or she would like, all mediums are legit, and the artist can choose the means to use them.
All rules are broken! Art is open for interpretation, so anything is possible! Right?
Art is a way of communication. It’s a language created by the artist, which chooses to lead the viewers to a point that is a feeling or an idea or the two combined together, chosen consciously or unconsciously, in the form of various mediums that will do the best service in reaching that goal.
It is the exact opposite of having the viewer interpret the work in any way he/she would like to.
It is the exact opposite of having the artist use whatever medium he/she would like to in that moment as matter of a whim.
It does not mean the artist should stop using his/hers gut feeling in the studio, but that they should judge their work after it’s done, and decide, by being most honest with themselves, if it’s good or not. If the “how” serves the “what” in the most interesting, awakening, thoughtful way possible.
This doesn’t happen most of the time as I wrote on part 1-It requires lots of practice to get to the point where you are accurate enough to have many of those moments, without thinking about it too much, and have it come naturally, as most of the people need to work their way to get there, and not born with this gift, which is the true gift!
Anyone can learn how to paint, or sculpt, or photograph and so on… But still not all will make it as artists.
That is the most cruel fact that you get to realise as a student, and I think that it what most teachers are trying to say when giving their critique on a students’ work, but I don’t think that is what’s actually gets out, and what the students really hears.
Your family and friends can cheer you for your painting abilities or your wonderful photographs, and that’s great, but it won’t be enough in order to really have a significant voice that will change- even if the slightest- something in the world.
You have to understand… You are trying to change people’s way of looking and by that, thinking about things, and you are trying to do it by the best means ever- through their eyes. Through aesthetics. It’s not easy. In fact, it’s very difficult, if not the most difficult thing to do.
That is why it is so important to have a strong basic believe in what you’re doing, even through all the self doubt you are experiencing.
You must own the truth. Not “your truth” but, THE truth.
I know, I know… I’m getting into a philosophic mess, where we can argue forever about what is the truth and who can decide on it.
So lets not go there, and just assume for a second there is one truth.
I want to be very clear here: criticism is good! Not only that its good but very much needed! It keeps the level up, and us as artists aware and awake to the option of failing even when having a solo exhibition at the Gagosian Gallery- That’s not the end of the road buddy! You gotta pass the eyes of the viewers and get right into their hearts! That is the most important thing!
And art schools are here to prepare the students to that situation, and to give them a simulation of the future, which again-I'm all forward the idea, except I don't think it’s happening in practice.
In practice what’s happening is that students get to know their teachers (that was my experience anyway- I don’t know if that’s what is happening for everyone), but only from afar, and it’s the same on the opposite side.
A relationship is created between a teacher and a student that does not happen between a critic and an artist.
Basically the teacher becomes a mirror to a relation of a curator, a gallery owner, a critic and in the end- a teacher, to a student which is not yet a formed artist, but a clean canvas for new ideas and voices.
So on one hand you get all in one, but on the other hand- all in one is usually a cheap product that lasts for one season till you’ll have to buy a new one.
There are no shortcuts on the road of an artist to create his/hers own language, so be ware! You will get out of art school, and you will have to go down that road anyway! No matter if you’ll get your shot right away… Even after a successful time, you will still have to go back to the studio and reinvent yourself, and be your own wicked little critic, and it’s going to be tough!
So there are actually two problems with the critique students get from teachers:
First, is that the teachers get to personally know you, and that has an effect on their critique- something that doesn’t happen between a critic and an artist… Well… not until the artist is very famous at list.
Second, is that the student becomes reliable on the teachers’ critique, which may cause two things: The lost of self judgment, to the point of needing some else’s opinion all the time.
And with a straight relation to that one: Hearing the voices of your teachers instead of your own.
Among those voices there will always be stronger ones, those are usually the voices of the teacher that mentored you, and had the most impact on you.
In the next section I’m gonna get into my own personal experience, so please take this to mind when reading:
There’s a line from one of the most beautiful songs ever written ‘Being Boring’ by the Pet Shop Boys, that always makes me think about that feeling, even though the song is entirely meant for something else. It goes: ‘ When you’re young you find inspiration in anyone who’s ever gone and opened up a closing door’… For me this line sums up exactly the experience of having my mentor, opening doors to ideas and views of the world in a new way.
It’s great in so many levels, and I never regret having that experience, as it developed me as an artist, but this mentor was not only my mentor, but everyone’s mentor, which finally made him into a small Guru.
Art schools are a wonderful environment for growing gurus, as they are usually white males with a very charismatic character, owns a successful career meets a group with the capacity of 80% young females, looking for guidance and someone to look up to.
He was our own personal jesus, giving us an honest, caring and loving hug, and then turns to give you a slap in the face, in the form of harsh, and very personal critique.
So when I say I developed as an artist, I really mean that, but my growth as a person slowed down enormously, as my confidence was harmed gratefully.
I actually grew down.
It becomes a great problem if you have that kind of a gap between who you are as a person and who you are as an artist. It doesn’t match. The artist is the person, and when one grows on the other, you loose your a significant part of your personality.
I am writing from my own experience, and some might not relate, but I know there are many who went through the same thing. Many good artists that were left with the thought that nothing they create is good enough, because they could not hear their own voices anymore, telling them what THEY want to do and how, considering all they have learned and what they now know about art, thinking that when they send their portfolio to a gallery or a curator, they will get the same critique, when it’s not even the case, and chances are it won’t get to the point where a curator takes a look, and even if he/she will, it will be judged only by what he/she sees in it, and not nothing more! It’s not based on a personal familiarity, how you look, how you talk, how you dress, etc… it is strictly about your work, so what is left for you to do is go with what you know is right for your work, do the best you can, and send works that presents your ideas and views in the best way, and that’s it! That is all you can do. You can’t change yourself to fit in, and the option of not doing anything is just not an option because it means you will never be able to fulfil your true self.
So go ahead, work hard, listen to yourself, be honest, be honest with your work, listen to it, really look at it, because that, and only that, can tell you what it needs, get to that point where you know its good so that even when someone will criticise it, you will be able to truly listen to that critique so you could answer it in a thoughtful way, and learn from it, wether you agree or disagree.
This subject is very complex, and I only managed to cover an inch of it, but I hope it helped some of you to read it as much as it helped me writing it.
Here is the full song 'Being Boring' by the Pet Shop Boys and most wonderful video by Bruce Weber, I mentioned before. This song for me a small, sad heaven.
Right next to it, yet again, Nick Cave with the “Red Right Hand” presenting the devil and its gurus with their alluring ways to your mind.