Friday, September 21, 2012

Create (vs. make) art that is Successful (vs. unsuccessful)

During the summer I took a painting course at the local community college in order to satisfy some credit requirements for my graduate program. (I am working on my Masters of Arts in Teaching for Visual Art - Secondary Education) One of the big things my professor pushed us to do is provide constructive feedback and commentary during peer assessments and when examining masterworks during lectures. The phrase was this...

"This [insert type of artwork OR specific element of the artwork - ex. line, shape, color, etc.] is successful/unsuccessful because... [insert specific details to support your belief of WHY it is successful or unsuccessful]"

Is the above confusing the way I just presented it? Sorry about that. Allow me to explain how it as I offer analysis/critique of an awesome caricature of Bob Ross I found via Google Images on Deviant Art by user AOK02. Here is the image and below find an example of the aforementioned sentence start in action:

This caricature of Bob Ross is successful because the use of the line to illustrate his hair - both on his head and on his face/within his beard - strongly realistically suggests how Bob's hair actually looked. On his head it was definitely kinky and curly and his beard has more straight hair that laid down a little bit more neatly. 

Do you see how the sentence starter works now? I hope I did a better job explaining it!! Definitely it's a very formal way to explain something and it takes a little getting used to but it's worth using simply because it wholly employs disinterested pleasure in order to analyze and critique art and it ELIMINATES the type of feedback that goes a little bit like this, "I like this painting because it has purple in it and I like purple."

Did you just get that? Let me pull that (dreaded) THING out and highlight it for you. It's something that I hear all too often when I hear people evaluate artwork and what it says usually has NOTHING to do with the artwork that is being evaluated/critiqued in the first place. Here it goes again...

"I LIKE this [insert a type of artwork] because
I LIKE purple and this [type of artwork] is purple!"

GRRRRRrrrrrrrrrr... even just looking at it and reading it annoys me.

Now. I know, I know. Not everyone is an art critic and not everyone is meant to be an art critic. That doesn't mean that I (as an art teacher) shouldn't attempt to teach my students how their work of art could be "read" or interpreted OR that I shouldn't attempt to teach my students how to better CREATE work (rather than make but I will get to that) in order for it to be such a thing that is worthy of being evaluated and "liked" solely because it utilized the a color that happened to be the favorite of the person who was looking at it. Really? I mean REALLY? If this were really the way paintings were critiqued and evaluated, think of all of the amazing masterworks that would be considered "bad" because someone didn't like blue or purple [Van Gogh's Starry Night] or they didn't like "a lot of color" all at once [Kandinsky's Painting with Three Spots] or even they weren't really a fan of caves because of a bad spelunking experience [Lascaux Cave Art].

(I understand that I am presenting some ridiculous reasons why people might call a certain work of art "bad" but I can't say that I haven't heard some of these preposterous reasons before. *shrug*)

In my art classroom I have officially BANNED the use of the phrase "I like..." or "I don't like..." when we are doing critiques and analysis of both masterworks and peer work. By doing so they are automatically forced to use language that more fully employs art vocabulary as well as fully explaining how that vocabulary works within whatever they are looking at during the moment at hand.

Something else I have banned in my classroom? The students are no longer allowed to "just make" things and I am REQUIRING them to INTENTIONALLY CREATE works of art. The dictionary defines make and create as being one and the same of each other but I have presented the idea of the student that they are not that at all! I have instructed them to think of create as being much more intentional than making something and creating being an action that isn't just an action but is also an  inspiration or even something that provokes real thought or emotion to erupt within someone or even it forces someone to "stop and stare" a little bit longer in order to understand what is before them. I have said to them that artwork that is "just made" is often easily forgotten after it is experienced initially or it is so not noteworthy that it isn't even noticed to begin with! I have pushed them to realize that if they have created something that it will be something that is a visual communication so much that someone will be able to look at it and READ what it says just as easily as if it were actually words on a page.

So there you have it! This is the talk that we have been talking in my classes and despite the fact that it has really challenged me to break a lot of old habits of theirs, it has been SO worth it when I see them talking amongst themselves and then holding up their work and saying things like, "I think this/that is SUCCESSFUL because you can really see the speed of the line and the integrity of your marks are very strong and authentically spontaneous looking the way they were made." Amazing? Seriously. My student artists are talking this talk and PROVING that they know something about visual art! And their artwork is sure showing it too!!! It, too, is talking just as much and saying even more than what my student artists are saying about it.

Don't forget to enter the contest 
of this blog's first ever giveaway of my "favorite things!!!"

REMEMBER: You have to leave your comments on the blog post that announced the contest found HERE VIA THIS LINK in order to be officially entered and considered in the final count to be randomly chosen for the prize package. Don't forget that there are TWO ways to be entered in the giveaway and the cut off time/date is Tuesday, Sept. 25th at midnight EST!!


  1. Side note that really has nothing to do with your post....did you know Bob Ross permed his hair to stand out from others?!?!?! His hair was naturally straight!!!! Fun Facts with Mr. E ha ha ha

    1. My mind = officially blown (because of what you just informed me of)

      Really? Wow... REALLY? I mean, I can't decide if that kind of upsets me or it fills me with awe. Have you ever heard of that myth that Bob was a sniper in some highly classified military operations? It (of course) is not true (similar to the same rumor about Mister Rogers) but still. I like to believe it is true because it only makes him (Bob or Mister Rogers, I guess) even more of a bad Mamma-Jamma.

      BTW - Did you see my posting about the giveaway I am having? I wanted to contact you directly before it was over (next Tuesday at midnight) to see if you were interested especially since my stats tell me that I got a lot of traffic from your blog specifically - thank you so much for that!!! The details of the giveaway are here - and it is not a sponsored giveaway and one I am doing purely on my own to say thank you to all of the folks of the interwebs who have been inspirational and encouraging to me with keeping up this blogsite.


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