Art World

Giving Validations

Sometimes you can do your very best at your art. You can work your ass off to bring a vision come into the world and you are so proud that you actually did it. Sure, maybe you didn’t quite have the skillset to get it exactly what you were originally wanting, but the important thing is that you really put a lot of effort into it. It means something so important to you and although you don’t want to ever admit it, validation from others really means a lot when you are in this place.

A couple of weeks ago I was part of a 3 person team of judicators for high school student art bursary distribution that included several local high schools. I was invited to be a judge because of my background as an IB Examiner several years ago (a fun gig, perhaps I will write about that some day). In the panel with me were two retired art teachers, they knew each other well and knew quite a few of the students whose work was on display. They had been doing this jurying for several years, they had a process fully worked out and filled me in on it as we started.

The art display was set up in a local mall, and temporary display walls were marked clearly so that we knew which schools and which students were part of the bursary application process. We had files submitted by each student who was in the running, all including the formal bursary application, the students’ artist statement, and an overview of their plans post-high school. Most of the students had been accepted into multiple university arts programs and were just deciding which one they would select from. A few of them were not sure yet what their post high school plans were.

There were multiple bursaries to give out, we had to select a ‘best’ per school ($500 each), two best out of the entire grouping ($700 each), and there were a few smaller bursaries that individuals were given based on particular parameters.

The group of us looked at each students body of work and started judging the work. As an aside, I find this process really interesting, especially hearing the comments from the other two judges based on their roles as art teachers. I was able to pull from my IB examiner experience and add to the conversation.

The reason that I feel the urge to put this post out into the world is that there was one student in particular whose work was derivative of a contemporary artist, almost a completely identical work. I mentioned this to the other judges off the cuff, and commented how I had come across this several times when I was an IB examiner. I don’t know why students think that their peers and teachers don’t also look at the internet, but it seems they believe they can get away with it and surely some of them do. But I am getting off point here.

In my pointing out that this particular students on painting was almost identical to a well known artist whose work I had seen online, the other judges completely dismissed this students entire body of work. Ever since the jury I have had her in the back of my mind, as I feel responsible for her not getting a full evaluation, the rest of her work was original and I thought she may have been in the running for receiving funding. In reading her statement I feel that she was simply misguided, I actually don’t fully blame her for what she produced (though clearly she knew she was copying someone, it was unmistakable).

In this situation and in many others that I experienced when I travelled around the lower mainland doing one on one art exams with extremely nervous art students from a range of IB schools, I viewed ‘derivative’ work as a sign that the student did not get the guidance that they really needed. Had someone simply been paying attention to the work and doing some very basic round of questioning on influences, they probably could have caught it and used it as an opportunity to further develop this young artist.

As you can probably guess, this student did not get any bursaries, and although I am satisfied with how we distributed the other bursaries (every student worked really hard and I learnt after the process that one of the larger bursaries went to a student who has had countless severe bone surgeries), the thing that is resounding for me here is actually what bothers me about the art world in general, something that non-creatives really have no idea about.

As a creative person, you have to have a really tough skin because rejection is a huge part of being an artist. We don’t talk about it much, (why highlight your perceived failures for others?), but you’d be hard pressed to find any artist, musician, actor, film maker, crafts person, writer {…} who doesn’t have some long seemingly unending list of rejections from situations that could have made a significant impact on that persons’ life. I myself maintain annual files on my computer of all of the exhibits and shows and opportunities that I have applied to, and many of those were unsuccessful. I keep them all (sometimes when I look back I can see clearly why I wasn’t selected and I learn from them). Thick skin. This is why you have to be fully committed deep down in your soul and make sure that your creativity comes from the realm of ‘essential-for-living’.

Hopefully those students who didn’t receive this early validation come out just a bit tougher and more committed towards pursuing their art. In the end, those who understand this and push on are the ones who live a creative life they can be proud of, regardless of their ‘accomplishments’.