When I taught in the studio I'd start the first day by telling my art students two things.
The first is that many students come feeling the pressure of having to be the best, make the best work or having to always be "right" or "perfect." As art students, I encourage you to simply leave those pressures at the door as you enter the studio. Those issues really have no place in the studio learning environment.
Rather than focusing on achieving those objectives I challenge you to answer a different question, namely, were you genuine?
- Were you genuine in engaging the concepts of the assignment?
- Were you genuine in exploring the materials?
- Were you genuine in challenging yourself?
These are the questions that matter. If you stay focused on the question of being genuine rather than always being right or perfect your work will grow exponentially.
Seek the uncomfortable
The second thing I'd tell students is to seek the uncomfortable. This may sound contrary to usual thinking but if you are never uncomfortable in the studio then you are never pushing yourself to new levels. Being comfortable as an art student means you are simply relying on your existing strengths and repeating past successes.
Being uncomfortable is the trigger that should inform you that you are extending yourself into new areas of exploration. These areas may be in working with new materials, exploring a wider set of influences, and in mixing ideas and materials into new combinations.
The courage we speak of in art is the courage to leave the familiar in favor of the new. This requires that you allow yourself to be vulnerable in showing your ideas, concepts and techniques which might be unformed and less than perfect.
I often tell students that I prefer the grand failure over the safe success. This means that students who continually produce work within the safe confines of their existing strengths only repeat themselves. This indicates that they are not being genuine in their exploration of content, media and form.
The grand failure
The grand failure is more desirable because within that failure are fragments of other possibilities. These possibilities provide you, as an art student, with options and new ways of thinking that in time will develop into new strengths. The ability to continually leap into these grand failures will propel you into learning how to continue to learn long after college is over.
Marc Torick is Academic Dean at Pennsylvania College of Art & Design. These comments were from his address to Foundation Year (Freshmen) students during Orientation last week.