Thursday, April 9, 2009

Drawing the Line

“Thousands of people have talent... I might as well congratulate you for having eyes in your head. The one and only thing is: Do you have staying power? “ - Kristine Paton

Today was the in-class review of the critter spot-illustration assignment based on reference sketches from our field-trips to the museum last week. Everyone was supposed to do two, which, I explained after the fact, doubled their chances of actually achieving a decent piece. For some; a few earned incompletes by only doing one, or neither (fail), or the couple overachievers that did three - raising the bar for the rest of the class yet again. Most benefited from the little extra-help session on Tuesday - absolute before + after improvement by spending just a half-hour more on their pieces.

For the review I collected the pages and made a master set of reductions from which I xeroxed double-sided/stapled sets for everyone. This also has the added benefit of sending them each home with prime examples which to copy from while reworking their own drawings. Plus it's a handy way to critique their work since these are much smaller and more intimate pieces, so getting quality face-time with each one is crucial. Admittedly these were second-generation reductions, so many weren't the best looking, but for our purposes they did the job. And for more than half the assignments, while handing them back after grading, I went out of my way to individually recommend that they submit them to the approaching student art show (hint, hint). As you can see with the posted examples, there was some outstanding works!

Caught up on my own stuff, since my personal flat-file drawer was reaching critical mass as far as random late turn-ins, leftovers, extra copies, cd's and miscellaneous shrapnel accumulated over the semester. So the rest of class-time was devoted to either reworking on the assignment, critique pages (all three have to be at least penciled in on Bristol by today) and/or catching up on reworks of previous pieces. Not to mention the grading backlog and individual one-on-one time with students.

This is the desperate last-gasp chance at salvaging some of the folks who are in a dire situation, plus an long-overdue round of paying attention to the students who are doing so well that I’ve somewhat neglected them, as the assumption is that they are on a self-sustaining trajectory and don’t particularly require so much direct oversight and monitoring. The rift between the upper and lower 10% has usually widened significantly by this time in the semester, and I tend to focus more and more attention on the handful in the middle that waver on the edge, and could tip either way. Some students are “high maintenance” in that either constant reassurances, coaxing or admonitions (or sometimes a combination of all three) are needed to maintain safe cruising altitude, others are on autopilot, and there’s always the couple who are busy playing (with) the Red Baron.

A couple of perspectives are swung into focus for me also; one, is that I need to remind myself that this is in the end a beginning level class, and I occasionally have to reign in the same high level of expectations that have heretofore served to ceaselessly goad them into doing better and doing more. This isn’t an abandonment of principles by any means, just the usual recalibration with reality. Many will start to become increasingly unglued as finals approach – dealing with the stresses of multiple deadlines while meeting the criteria of quality work is part of the deal, and it doesn’t change a bit after school’s out.
The second subtle shift is taking a step back and really appraising the totality of the student’s output; steady improvement, personal breakthroughs, consistent effort – all of the factors now begin to assume a significant role in determining what a final grade will be. This is how and why some students whose skills might not be as developed or refined will get higher grades than someone who is comparatively better at drawing; there have been instances where the best artists in a class have flunked, and the worst artists have passed with flying colors. Life is funny that way - these little injustices carry through the rest of an art career when you wonder why you didn't get in to a show and someone else did, or the reverse situation.

Again and again, I'll still return to the basics: Just DO IT, do something, anything! PRODUCE! MAKE!!!
“Art” as a verb, not a noun: Art is a process, an act - the act of sketching, interaction with subject matter, both reflexive/unconscious and contemplative/conscious. Like some other notoriously big words – God and Love for example – Art has become “nouned” when it really should be “verbed”, not defined out of existence or arrested into stillborn dogma (“this is artthis is not”).

Not too many other beginning-level courses where the student is actually expected to both do and be what it they are studying; instead of an abstracted text-book scenario or formulaic memorization, it's real. Always thought it'd be more educational if 100-level courses got their hands dirty.

Read somewhere that above all it takes courage to do art, moreso even than talent, plus the opportunity, conviction & self-esteem … that's where I come in, and what this class should do and be for the students. Sometimes I wonder at the insular, myopic little bubble I inhabit; I come in off the streets, out of the woods, bearing my bag of tricks and a warped perspective on what really matters, regardless of the surrounding conditions and environments (other students, teachers, classes, departments etc.) - hey! this is important dammit! Like I sometimes couldn't care any less about how well you are doing in other classes, your job, your relationships and family life; I want to see the fur on that beaver - a fully rendered range of value through texture!!!
I mean, what else is there, right?

"Talent is not from some mystic natural ability. It is understanding that not perfect just means to do it better next time. It is the ability to move forward, and to imagine new possibilities." - Dwayne Davis

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