So it seemed a no-brainer, as I got older, to invest a little time in art classes, as part of my school curriculum. I'd always been decent with a pencil, and could work with reference photos easily enough, but looked forward to the opportunity to learn techniques, work with new mediums and stretch my creative wings.
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."
High school rolled around, and I figured I was done with art class and content to fill my sketchbooks in my own time and work with the medium that brings me joy. I was done with self-important, snobby art-critic teachers. Until I needed a class to fill my schedule and basic art was the only thing available. And you know, it was a good class. My teacher was impressed with me, she wanted to push me and didn't feel she had the tools in an introductory class to do so, so recommended to the school that I move on to the (already full) advanced class. They made room for me and I was chuffed with myself. But worried.
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.
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