Art is subjective, along with almost everything else in this world. Art can build walls and completely obliterate them. It has the potential to be the creator or the destroyer, all at once. With that power comes not only responsibility, but criticism, sometimes from those whose opinions we value and other times not so much. As an artist, I have learned to appreciate the critique process, but the separation between constructive criticism and harsh evaluation can be quite blurry at times. In the school setting we are often expected to listen to what our teachers tell us because, well, their job is to teach and our job is to learn. However, when it comes to creative expression, the artist deserves full rein over their art, whether they are inside or outside of any learning institution.
At Berkeley High School (BHS) we are extremely privileged to have access to high quality art supplies and dedicated art teachers, but putting a grade on an art piece is probably one of the most impressionistic things a teacher could do. So, at what point should you stop listening to your art teacher? When is your own judgment worth more than anything anyone else could tell you?
In order to critique art thoughtfully one must acknowledge the artist as their own being, not simply a human representation of the pieces they create. The separation between art and artist is an important one. Many may assume that a sad person can only create somber work, or that the party queen that draws on the weekend will always and only be that. This is not true in the slightest. BHS shows this better than any other school I have attended.
One thing that is often forgotten during times of stress and regret in an art environment is that the painting, video, photograph, or whatever it is that you are passionate about, does not define who you are as a person. The artist should forget all about others’ subjective interpretations while displaying their own art and exposing their inner-self to the world around them. Many artists ultimately disengage due to the amount of pressure art-based classes can create. Whether that be in a drawing, painting, or ceramics class, being told your work is inadequate never feels good.
Inadequacy aside, making art and showing it to others is undoubtably stressful. Before the critique even begins the inner dialogue can weaken any traces of hope or pride. Some would rather not listen to the opinions of others when it comes to their own creative expression for the reasons mentioned, while others desperately need it in order to feel validated.
Either way, no one should be able to evaluate art to the point where it could negatively impact the artist. BHS art teachers should consider a change in their grading tactics. What’s more important, art that provokes or art that follows guidelines? Artists are there to express themselves and experience the world, not to be judged and graded. The process of art itself leaves no room for harsh evaluation; there is only room for feedback and support.