I was incredibly lucky to spend the last two years on an artistic journey with four incredible students, Galek Yangzom, Ayesha Kazim, Lisa Grages, and Gillian Aftanas. Art is an intimate subject where each student’s temperament reveals itself over time, and I learned a lot about these four incredible young women during the course of our creative journey. Their “exam” was held at the end of this school year’s second term in Rabat, Morocco, via the form of a student-curated exhibition. During this exhibit, my students put on display the varied pieces they had toiled on tirelessly for months on end, opening themselves up for praise, critique, and questions from the local community. Art being subjective in nature, each student was faced with their final personal challenge: will my audience accept this?
In the end, art class is ostensibly a workshop for character building, and we had pushed for two hard years towards this pivotal moment. Embarking on a rigorous creative journey always pushes our young artists to their limits, and you begin to appreciate their true nature over time; however, I’ve learned that the way they respond to their feelings is also likely to shift over time, whether due to maturation, elation or frustration with their work, or an impending deadline heaping on a hefty dose of anxiety.
Let’s face it, we all know that feeling of sharing something that is incomplete; when a work is raw, it is so precious, and you are too shy to consider sharing it with anyone until it has been perfected due to that incessant fear of being judged. These feelings are entirely normal for students to have. But for me, it is so important for them to understand these feelings and try to embrace them without fear. This first lesson may take up to months to master, as it requires a high level of trust to let someone take a peek at an unfinished work.
The delicate art of receiving feedback
Getting comfortable with receiving feedback is the second lesson, which at times may take up to a year (or longer) to come to terms with. Learning how to respond to criticism is a form or art in and of itself: instead of immediately becoming self defensive about their piece -no doubt irritated by anything beyond pure adulation given the hours invested- artists need to take a step back and understand what they are being told and how it can potentially improve their artwork in the future.
Sometimes critiques are received in a more subtle way, and your best bet is to let them play out naturally. Over the last two years, I saw these four young artists frequently nod and agree with me, but their occasional raised eyebrows betrayed their true feelings. Other times, the reaction is not so subtle: I have heard frustrations and tears expressed in an exploding way. Then there are times where no words are exchanged at all, and our silent, fixed stare provides all of the conversation needed. The Class of 2017 trusted me in every way to play the role of good cop and bad cop, and I think we all came out better for it.
This demanding creative journey mimics the ups and down in life after TGS: perseverance, grit, and not feeling easily offended are qualities that this class have learned through the artistic process which will aid them well in the real world, and I have no doubts that they’ll succeed.
See the 2017 IB Visual Arts Exhibition
I’m incredibly proud to share the work from this year’s visual arts exhibition with you. For the full experience, including videos included in the work, I recommend downloading the iBook, which can be found on the Apple iTunes Store. Have feedback of your own? We’d love to read it in the comments.