Friday, October 5, 2007

Gettin' My Art on with the Big Wigs

I took two classes yesterday at Art and Soul - a 3-D polaroid collage construction class with Michael DeMeng and a bird nest jewelry class with Stephanie Lee.

I'm going to admit right here and now that I had never heard of Michael DeMeng before I took this class. About half-way through the class, though, I realized that there were people at this retreat wearing Michael DeMeng aprons and that his color knowledge and paint mixing techniques provoke "wow's" from the students (along with a line of color mixing cards - though he's the first to admit you don't need them if you take good notes). I'm also going to admit right here and now that his stuff was pretty darn cool. I got a lot out of the class: I was reminded of some color theory I'd forgotten, and picked up a few new tricks that I swear I never learned. I also got some great practical tips on how to create texture and 3-D compositions. And I ditched the polaroid concept and the tunnel effect most of the other students went for (and who did some AMAZING things! So bummed I didn't get photos . . .) Here's the piece I worked on - using color photo-copies of a series of photos I did about 10 years ago mixed with lotteria cards - from the side, and from the top.

It was all going well until I learned that he does a critique at the end of the class. My heart rate went up and I got a little queasy. My competitive streak reared it's ugly head. What if people poo-pooed what I did for not being DeMeng enough? Too flat? Not using his palette? Keeping it too visually simple? Not incorporating enough rusty found objects? What if he doesn't like it? What if he does? What if my piece was really the best because it was so different? What if someone else had a piece more different than mine and theirs was really the best? What if I could get my head to shut up and just work on the #@*! piece?

I finally managed the latter. And I shouldn't have worried. He gave the artists a chance to talk about their work, and then he found something unique and valuable and intriguing about every single piece and talked about it. You could see what others had done successfully, and ponder whether or not you might want to incorporate it into your work and how you might adjust your own piece.

And I still don't think I'll be incorporating critiques into any of my classes. Logically, I know that competition can be non-violent, that it can be used in a positive way to inspire and push people beyond their self-imposed boundaries. Yes, I see wonderful beautiful things in every piece of art my students make. And I just hate the way that urge comes up in me - and in some of my students - and tries to turn the artmaking into a hierarchy. "Better than." "Worse than." "More talent." "Less talent." "Right way." "Wrong way." I want each student to listen to their own voice when it comes to their art - not mine. And I want those students to be free from the need to please. To dive into making for the experience, for what they might learn, not what they might earn in the way of praise. Maybe I'm projecting too many of my needs onto my students - maybe I need to find a way to give feedback full of juicy possibilities to those students who want it.

More food for thought.


Ann said...

Okay, "DeMeng enough" cracked me up. I had a life drawing instructor (commandant) in college whose sole criteria seemed to be,"Is it like something I would do?" Glad the DeMeng turned out to be a good experience.

And I'm with you, I think, on critiques - particularly in workshops or one-time classes. Long-term instruction would be different, though, right? Because then you're in it for the critique, plus you still accept or discard whatever you find useful or not.

And PS - I was young enough to cave to that stupid son of a bitch in college. My class portfolio was a derivative joke - and he loved it. Never again.

Bridget Benton said...

In long-term instruction, sure, critique can be a great thing. Even in a workshop, if someone has feedback or tips that will help me get where I want to go - BRING IT ON! Part of my job as a student is to be open to new ideas - If someone can see the possibilities in my work, and can get me working on how to address the weaknesses so that I can get the effect I want or an effect I never imagined was possible - AWESOME! I think I get frustrated when the instructor assumes that my goal is the same as theirs.