Friday, December 18, 2009

Final Crit: Fall 2009

"What is worse than being a suffering artist? Being a successful one. Either way there is judgment." - Catherine Cote

Okay then; the final happened (moved by consensus from the officially scheduled one that was supposed to take place Saturday morning at 8am) (yeah right) and we reverted back to the traditional way of critiquing: all the works up on the wall; each student weighing forth on another person's piece, then the creator chiming in + any additional comments from the rest of the class; then whoever was just critiqued would in turn discuss the next drawing, and so on.
That process took over an hour, and it was on to grading the heap of portfolios, which took an additional few hours. Along with factoring in the grade for the final, it's a time to check over and note any reworks, refresh my memory, document with photographs and get an overall impression of individual progress. I keep a copy of the portfolio checklist with all the assignments, critique pieces and in-class exercises to break down and tally up scores and make additional comments, which is placed into each student's portfolio.

Guy at Nightclub: You look like a clown in that stupid jacket.
This is a snakeskin jacket! And for me it's a symbol of my individuality, and my belief... in personal freedom.
Guy at Nightclub
: Asshole.
- Wild at Heart (David Lynch, 1990)

Prior to the critique I pulled a fast one by first by handing out blank index cards and having everyone jot down (anonymously) their own personal definitions of art, which I read one of aloud after each piece was discussed. At the very least it's cold-cocking everyone just to see what their revised and expanded criteria is for their own works and those by others. I throw an awful lot of information and concepts at them over the course of a semester, and it's interesting to see what sticks:
  • "Art is a form of expression & individuality."
  • "Art is a piece that an individual has created to be viewed by others."
  • "Art is visually stimulating."
  • "Art is good for relieving my stress, to escape bills, kids, husbands, jobs, for fun. It is relaxing and I enjoy it."
  • "(It's) the best way to express yourself. You can let the creativity come out of you."
  • "Art is an expression of feelings from the drawer's perspective, what he or she wants to express and show."
  • "Art is definitely a way to express yourself, an exercise for your mind, medicine, a release. It's utilizing techniques, composition. Art is my perception."
  • "Art is for the artist - if others like it, that's fine, if others find meaning that's fine. But most importantly it has to be for the artist, even if they just had fun making it."
  • Art is a form of expression, a picture of what you want everyone to know about yourself, a love and a passion."
  • "Art is a universal tool of understanding between people. For me it's the best form of expression not necessarily meant to tell a story but have some sort of meaning."
  • "Art is the ribbon of society tying together the loose ends and finally granting an aesthetic value to anything, perhaps everything."
  • "Art is a great time spent on sleepy Saturdays and draining Wednesdays."
  • "Art is what we can find anywhere, we can do it anytime and anywhere. What I enjoy through my life."
  • "Art to me makes emotions, feelings & ideas tangible to others and myself."
  • "Art - visual representation of an individuals interpretation of the world around them."
From the idealistic and grandiose to practical and functional, the self to society at large, naive, predictable, safe, entertaining or provocative: the answers are no different than art itself, and there are no real wrong answers, just weaker or stronger.
In retrospect an amusing observation was the total absence of any commercialization or career-oriented perspectives in this batch: perversely refreshing to know my own personal biases haven't taken root. Or on the other hand that might be depressing...
Regardless of instilling any sense of professionalism, the range (sometimes polar opposites) of working definitions illustrates the diversity of drawing; not just academically, stylistically, aesthetically or craft-wise - but what they found works for them.

"It's good to have a title that's not just one word. If you're gonna title it, you might as well try and say something."
- Damien Hirst

Also another distinction in this particular piece was the specific inclusion of a title. Comparing and contrasting the possible interpretive influence of verbage (juxtaposing image + text à la sequential art/panel captions) and how this last ditch opportunity to manipulate the viewer's reaction can be as much of a powerful tool as the image itself.
Entertaining psychological aspects of the pieces was much fun: playing out audience reaction before hearing the details and particulars about works from the artists themselves is sometimes revealing. More often than not it's as boring as the title and piece, unless you're a geek like me.

"Art criticism everywhere is now at a low ebb, intellectually corrupt, swamped in meaningless jargon, distorted by political correctitudes, anxiously addressed only to other critics and their ilk." - Brian Sewell

Ostensibly this one final piece was supposed to reflect the pinnacle of accomplishment after the whole semester. By that standard many still either didn't invest enough time or effort. Doesn't tend to frustrate me anymore by this point, as I've long since let it go and recalibrated relative expectations - but as the samuri says: "Expect Nothing ... Be Ready For Anything." There are many pleasant surprises, enough to engage almost everyone including me.
But one thing was clear: everyone in the room can draw, and draw better than before. That's the simplest lesson to take away - the ends did justify the means.

The distinguishing characteristics of a successful art student are identical in every way to that of an athlete, musician, cook, mechanic, accountant etc. in that discipline and perseverance are in fact the best tools. The final three images on this post were all from one of the couple "A+" students in the class: "A+" not necessarily just because of innate ability, but pure fortitude and sheer determination count a lot. Case in point - the charcoal piece above was what she put up on the review wall for the final critique. Outstanding in execution and use of medium (my comparatively crappy snapshot certainly doesn't do it justice here) the concept of doing a self-portrait reflected in the eye of a dog is a challenge to see through to successful completion, and she managed to pull it off. Thank god she didn't try it with a cat.

But what she didn't display were the two other additional pieces hidden in her portfolio; the graphite version above, and lastly the splendid 19x24" charcoal portrait posted below. Now that's the sort of above-and-beyond effort that will definitely earn you major points in my estimation. And probably a nice, humble gesture to not make the rest of the class weep and totally give up on the last day. There's something to be said about letting your work speak for itself (as opposed to certain loudmouthed cartoonist blogs): much of the drawings at this point are more than capable of standing - or falling - on their own. Don't need me or anyone else's opinion, informed or not, to justify their work.

"Without underestimating the value of talent, it's not the most important attribute you need to become a successful artist. It's not even second. More important than talent is desire." - Harley Brown

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