For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of art. All kinds of art, but drawing or sketching specifically. I used to sit at my kitchen table with my colored pencils, while my father cooked dinner, and sketch doodles of elephants and unicorns and fairies. Fantasy always appealed to me and I added fairy wings to everything. It's never just a frog or a cat because a frog or a cat that can fly always seemed a more sensible choice. While my mother was envisioning a career for me in nursing, I was sketching dragons.
Little did I know, 8th grade art class would start a downward spiral of negative experience with the "creative" side of the educational system. It begins with Mr. Stanley, whose bald head and pompous demeanor I still clearly envision and, if you can't tell, for whom I still hold a great deal of disdain.
We were learning to work with pastels. It was my first experience with the medium, and working from the still life of a fruit bowl (because those are always riveting, am I right?) and I was having a great time dusting all that chalky powder from my hands throughout the class. Mr. Stanley was making the rounds, looming over the shoulders of students, correcting perceived mistakes and pointing out bad technique. To 8th graders. Sigh.
I was proud of my work, and my fellow students were complimenting me. But, as the teacher rounded my table, he leaned in close and said "I'd like to enter this in the state school art fair, but these shadows need a LOT of work. Make them darker". I didn't think my shadows needed more dimension, but he was the teacher. He knew what he was talking about, right? So I worked those shadows, nervously, while he continued his circuit around the class. Eventually he made his way to me again and said (I kid you not) "That looks like shit. You ruined it." But he took it and shrugged and said he'd enter it anyway.
My junior high school art teacher just told an 8th grader their art looked like shit.
And you know what? My piece of shit won 3rd place. In the entire state. Out of hundreds of entries. I thought he was rude and pretentious and a snobby critic, but I brushed it off and brandished my winning ribbon proudly while he said "You could have won first place if you hadn't messed it up."
For good reason it seems, because I almost failed that class. I almost failed a class in which the content is 100% subjective. The techniques were ridiculous, the projects totally obscure (for instance, we had to make a place setting for a famous person, from the place mat to the silverware). Gone were the innocent days of using oil paints or acrylics or charcoal pencils, because apparently the classics had no place in modern curriculum. The final project was 40% of our total grade and absolutely ridiculous. We had to sketch our home. I lived in an apartment. Do you know how hard it is to sketch an entire apartment building without any prior knowledge or experience with DRAFTING? But I did it, and it looked good. Damn good.
But that wasn't all. We then had to add texture to our drawing. The door would have carpet on it, for instance, and the windows would have a sponge, and the siding would be popsicle sticks. We had to cut and paste textures to our drawing. Then we would paint the textures and print our homes on a clean sheet of paper. I was horrified. The idea of ruining my perfect, clean, crisp beautiful drawing was heartbreaking to me. And also hella difficult! Because my entire building was comprised of really complicated lines and stair cases and small details, that I now had to try to translate with texture.
Needless to say, my print was a muddy mess and I received a D on my final exam, and a C in the class as a whole. The only C I received in my entire high school experience.
So, what did this experience teach me? What did two years of ridiculous projects and pompous teachers reveal to me about my art?
That I don't need to darken my shadows to benefit the aesthetics of others, and I don't need to make a place setting for Merlin to be artistic (I got a C on that project, by the way) and, as the artist, I know when to stop and when to move forward with my art, and I will never not listen to my own creative instincts.
Because art is an expression of self. And no one knows me better than me.
So suck it, Mr. Stanley. I'm an amazing artist, and ENJOY my art, no thanks to your criticism.
And I hope those of you reading this take your power back from the hands of those who would tear you down. You deserve to enjoy your art.