If you think this will be a post filled with praise about my teachers: Nope. This is the real deal. The heavy stuff. The frustrations. All of it. But to make things more clear: this is a post about graduating high school, not college/ university. In Belgium education is so much different from USA. If you are interested in how it all works here, I suggest you read this wiki page. So. I was 17 and I had one year left for graduation. I regretted the choice I made (cosmetology, I mean, really?) and there were only 2 things I could do: spend my last year in cosmetology and after that, graduate. Or do my year all over in another field of study, which means spending 2 years in high school before graduation. I picked the last one and went to Fine arts.
The first moment I met my teachers, they were like: You know you have missed the first 2 years of Fine arts, yes? So you probably know you have a lot to catch up. Well yes but same goes for all the other fields if you decide to change your mind the last few years. That’s Belgian education: if you know your dream job at 14, you can go ahead and spend all those years studying the right path. But if you are like me and thousands of other students, you will change your mind and go a different direction. (In my case 4-5 times) And you will be able to join in last minute. It will be tough, but not impossible.
So I was ready to go and catch up. My sister, who decided to follow Fine arts too, was more lucky, she joined at age 14 and graduated with much more skills compared to me. But we both graduated. With anger issues. I guess once my sister will read this post (hello sis!) she will laugh with agreement.
So, what did I learn?
- About learning new skills: they don’t follow the book. Maybe other schools do, but this one didn’t. In the first years you learn how to draw/paint a bit. Composition, color mixing, stuff like that. I missed it and well, the teachers didn’t care about that. In the 3rd year you learn all about anatomy. In the last year you have a graduation project. Fact: I join the 3rd year with NO background in arts at all. I even didn’t know how to hold a pencil! Ah, that’s my problem, not theirs. Also, I didn’t really -learn- stuff. I made a painting, they said it was bad but didn’t say why it was bad and certainly not how I could fix it. We had to make copies of photographs. Make a clay copy from a statue…just copying. All the time. It could go 2 ways: they liked the result or they didn’t. The results were based on how good your copy skills were. And color combination, composition; things I haven’t learned and they were not planning on teaching me. According to the book we had to see the full human body by the end of the year. Did we? Nope. What did we learn? How to draw 1 arm. And it was not a how-to but same like our other exercises: here is a picture, draw it. 1 arm of the whole F- body. That’s how far their anatomy goes. You know why?
- Culture projects get priority. They don’t care about your skills and development. They care about their name. The advertising possibilities for the school. As a result we worked on 2 giant projects. One of those we weren’t able to finish and had to continue in our last year. As a result we missed half a year (!!) of anatomy lessons and months for our graduation project. Our class was totally freaking out, we were almost halfway our year and we still had to start our graduation projects. But what could we do? Nothing at all.
- It’s a race against time. If you are stressed out, want to graduate and don’t have much work yet, you work as fast as you can. Quantity above quality. Because at the end of the year we had an exhibition and we really needed to have some work. It’s better to make 10 pieces so the teachers can select a few good ones than make a few good ones which the teachers will maybe hate. I made dozens of paintings, working on them for a whole year. The teachers hated it. By the end I made a pastel drawing. The teacher said: If you want to graduate, make 10 of those and you’ll be fine. I made another 3 and told him I would make his life miserable next year if he won’t let me pass.
- Your dictionary expands. Specifically cursing words. How many times I had fights with the teachers, I lost counting. I’m not an aggressive type at all but there were times when I threw stuff (glass jars or what not) to my teacher. Or we talked about strangling each other. He enjoyed it much. He saw anger as a wonderful art expression.
- The popular one wins. Why bother working hard if you know Miss Popular will win the game? I was one of the few who knew from the beginning this was going to happen. Some of my classmates didn’t. Friends became enemies. Some criticized others, hoping the teachers would think the same, hoping this would raise their own points. Discussing our art in group was never fun. You never knew who’s gonna hit you next. All our teachers were men. And they were, eh, sensitive to compliments from women. Especially from those with the deepest cleavage and short skirts. Guess who was the first of class and got 90%. No need to make a drawing here.
- They do anything to protect the school. If that means failing you so you won’t try the entrance exams for art college, they will. They don’t want a bad student to enter because if college would found it you came from this school, oh no bad advertisement! When they found out I wanted to study Illustration in college, my points dropped to 35%. As soon I said I changed my mind and wanted to study dietetics, my points raised to 68% and I graduated. I lied. I entered the exam anyway. But as soon I had to talk to the jury, the whole drama repeated. I failed lots of theory questions and when they asked me about it, I told them about how many lessons we’ve missed because of the cultural projects. “You have no right to say it’s the teachers fault.”, they said. I cursed, got up and left without saying goodbye. (And of course I got a letter later to let me know my application wasn’t approved. Obviously)
- You don’t need talent to graduate. Maybe I was one of the students who lacked good skills but I was very good with words. My teacher of art history loved my poems and even though my work sucked lots of times, there was always a good story behind it all. The teachers literally said: Her explanation saved her life. I was no longer the worst student of the class. Who was? The guy who blurted out he was actually not really interested in art. Brave, but some times it’s better to be quiet.
- Don’t expect all classmates to be friends afterwards. Too much damage was done in the competition. Some were so happy to leave the school, they hoped to never ever see the others again. There was no time for friendship back then. Some were too busy criticizing your work. One girl in particular would go to any lengths, even if that means damaging others. (7 years later, some still call her a b*tch. Actually there were 2 of those) Besides, we were all SO different. I’m happy to say that, many years later now, 1 classmate became a friend. But honestly I’m glad I never cross the others.
- Expect an artist block and a huge drop in your confidence. I know lots of people who studied arts and most of them (of not, all of them) didn’t enjoy it. If teachers don’t like your painting, you take it personal. If you are sensitive (like me) you will think you’re not good enough. And this mantra will repeat itself many times. If you are not the arrogant type with an elephant skin (hello cleavage girl), your confidence will be hit. When I graduated, I went to the local art academy. That’s where I learned to work with oil paint for the first time. It was difficult because I combined it with college and had to skip lots of lessons. But as soon the year was done, I got into a creative block. It took me years to get out. I started art journaling and as soon the art journal was finished, another creative block. That’s been going on for many years. Until I was able to sell a few paintings, got lots of feedback at my video’s and art journal spreads (my biggest fans are at Tumblr, love you guys!), the confidence grew. Bit by bit. I’m not where I want to be yet but I’m working on it.
- You learn what art is all about. But you won’t thank the teachers for it but your own curiosity. I’ve learned about artists like Bacon and Turner (2 of my faves) but many times I made the teachers speechless with my questions. Why was Picasso great? What do you like about The Scream? Why did everyone went to see the horrible horse statue while I was the only one interested in William Blake’s books? I guess my teachers didn’t know much about art. I mean, they memorized every detail in their books, year in year out…but did they really understand what they were teaching? After all, if they get it, their paintings would sell for much more, no? Some people say: Art school teachers are failed artists. In some cases (but not all) that’s true. (Not talking about academy and online courses, this is a total different world! I’m happy to say I have great experience with teachers in this niche) You learn the stuff at school you need to learn. Even if the teachers don’t get it. And sure they will try to give you some personal advice. Ideas. Their opinion on artwork x or y. What they think is great about Cubism and weird architecture. But if you have a total different way of thinking/expressing/living, being an outstander so to speak, you will disagree many times and craft your own truth about art.
When you graduate, you will learn it’s hard work. The competition is mean. It will affect your confidence (one way or the other). Storytelling can save a lot. But the most important thing I’ve learned in school? Never ever listen to criticism unless it’s given in a respectful way to make you grow.
“You suck“, doesn’t count.
“I think you forgot a bit of shadow here” is acceptable.
“Why not try a total different style instead?“, nope.
“I think if you use more white, her eyes will look more realistic if that’s what you want to achieve.“, yes.
“You’ll never be an artist.” Get the hell out of here.
“Everyone can be an artist.” You’ll need this one as a poster.
How about you? Did you study Fine Arts in school? Experiences you wish to share? Feel free to leave it in a comment below.