07 March 2013

exhibition fears

my art degree was split into two very different stages. i began a fine art degree at a university because there was freedom to work in any media and you didn't have to specialise. but it turned out to be very academic and conceptual course. i completed a year and had to get out. i swapped across to a much more hands on design-based textiles course at the art college across the road for the remaining two years. i didn't enjoy that either. i scraped through my degree and received the piece of paper which confirmed it. and in combination with some other reasons, i gave up art in a very final way, which i thought would be forever.

the fine art course was academic, theoretical, placed more emphasis on written and verbal critique, ideas, concept and analysis than on the work itself. tutors actively discouraged and dismissed drawing and painting as being out-dated, old fashioned and unprogressive. they loved the words "cutting-edge", "innovative" and "london". the textiles course was practical, you got to do and make things but it had to be done in their way, their logical linear order. design work was to begin in the sketch book showing your "inspiration". this involved filling your work space with cuttings and samples and objects - drawing them, changing them, manipulating them, taking them through different processes and media to create a "finished design". the more transparent and coherent this process from written brief to final design, combined with a high quality of work, the more accomplished you were considered. you were deemed safe and consistent as a designer and ready for work in the industry.

what both courses had in common were weekly crits - on your own with the tutors and once a week with the rest of the class. on both courses we were encouraged to hone our analytical skills and told that a personal opinion such as "i like it" wasn't helpful or valid. on the fine art course we were asked 'why, why, why?' we were urged to express and justify our work using long and impenetrable words and phrases of art jargon - the more obscure, elite, esoteric and confusing the better. in fact if you had no practical skills of artistry but were able to 'talk the talk' you could still get a high mark. and on the textiles course we were asked 'why, why, why?' we were banned from saying "nice" or "like" and pushed towards constructive criticism. we were told that "liking" something isn't helpful unless you can say why you like it. but more important was to "help" someone by telling them what you think they could do better, what they've missed out.

so last year, having not exhibited my work since my degree show the thought of my exhibition at the poly felt like a daunting prospect. unlike most galleries where there are staff and distance from the artist and the public, i was going to be there in the gallery with my work on my own for the whole week.

i had geared myself up for criticism. was i strong enough to take it and still continue to do what i loved? i was expecting the big 'why?' why birds? why 100? what's it all about? what does it all mean? i hoped there would be some affirming comments to balance it all but i was anticipating strong criticism and psyching myself up to be equally strong to deal with it.

i work intuitively. i often don't know the 'whys' either at the time or in the future. sometimes years later they become crystal clear, sometimes a misty understanding is partially revealed and sometimes they remain buried never to meet me in this life time. this is fine. this is me, and i don't feel the need to know. if i wanted to know i wouldn't be doing this.

but the surprising reality of the situation at my exhibition was that nobody asked me 'why?'. nobody even criticised my work. the general public, it seems, are not hung up on the 'whys'. no one felt the need to dissect, pull apart and scrutinize at the mercy of my deepest form of self-expression. people took my work at face value. most people liked it, some loved it and some really loved it. and i'm guessing that those who didn't just looked and walked away without me knowing. they didn't feel the need to give feedback - so-called constructive criticism. 

my art is personal and subjective so how can another person's criticism be constructive? they are not me, i am not them. how can they know what is in my heart? it was great to chat and share ideas and make connections. to be honest, most of what i ended up talking to people about had very little to do with what was on the wall in front of them.

so it seems a shame that i felt so much anxiety and fear of something that was never going to happen. and so i strongly question the validity and interrogation of those art school crits. how does that instill confidence and why are art schools preparing students for the world of art critics instead of real people? who cares what an art critic thinks. they are just one person. and why should their opinion matter more than your next door neighbour or granny? 

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