From: Diana H. Bloomfield (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Date: 08/20/02-12:59:55 PM Z
Yes, it does seem that your department may be lacking. I'd like to
think that there are just as many inspiring teachers out there in art
departments, but maybe not. I really have only had good experiences in
terms of teachers (but that's been a while).
Perhaps next time you are in a class and some teacher says, 'this has
been done before,' and you (or someone else) have no idea by whom, you
should ask. Just come out and ask, "Who has done this before, and can
you show us his or her work?' And then maybe you'll make them do some
work and get constructive feedback at the same time.
Also, do you go to a women's college? I note that all the examples you
give of students "giving up completely" and becoming "demoralized,"
happen to be women. Do the men ever give up completely? Just curious.
I realize a department like that can be, well, demoralizing, but these
women in these examples seem awfully thin-skinned to me. You're all
paying tuition. Force them to give you more constructive criticism. If
nothing else, repeatedly give them bad evaluations. A few years of that
can often (not always) shake up a department.
Thanks for the e-mail.
Shannon Stoney wrote:
> It's hard to talk about these things without being in the presence of the
> images under consideration themselves. I know what you mean by safe beach
> sunsets, pictures of pets, et al. But people in my class had gone way
> beyond that, yet they were still being castigated over and over again with
> the "that's been done before" rap. I'll try to describe the kind of work
> that was being done.
> One person was trying very hard to deal photographically with issues having
> to do with her sexuality and relationships with men, a difficult topic and
> one not easy to photograph "about." She tried over and over again
> photographing herself nude in different ways--color, b and w, sexy, not so
> sexy, gagged with plastic bags even --each time to be told that "it had been
> done before," or the other golden oldie, "what is your point here? well,
> we're not getting that." By the end of the year her work had completely
> degenerated, and she was no longer even making photographs, but simply
> zeroxing and transferring to newsprint stuff out of sex manuals! (By the
> way, this was very well received.) I think it's sad that she was discouraged
> from continuing with her much more ambitious project.
> Another young woman was attempting to translate her interest in landscape
> photography away from pretty nature scenes, to the Houston urban landscape.
> She would bring well-crafted pictures of freeway overpasses, etc, and be
> told, of course, "that's been done before." She too got very discouraged at
> getting shot down each time she tried ANYTHING, and in the end was making
> very little work.
> Another young woman was trying to portray her frustration about living at
> home, being ready to graduate but not quite having flown the nest yet. She
> photographed herself nude behind a wall of cellophane, attempting to cut the
> cellophane with a knife. You could sort of see her body but not clearly.
> Ok, maybe not the clearest metaphor in the world, but she was really trying.
> And what was she told? "That's been done before." By whom? Where? Show me!
> Of course that never happens. This woman had gotten off to a slow start and
> had finally done something sort of ambitious. After this failure, she went
> back into hiding again and didn't come out the rest of the semester.
> Yet another woman was trying to deal with the issue of body image and makeup
> and fixing yourself up to be attractive to men. She put some sort of latex
> makeup on her face and then photographed herself in front of the mirror
> peeling it off. Some of these images were quite grotesque and a little
> shocking, enough to be "edgy." But, of course, it's been done before. We
> should know that by now.
> I could go on and on. By the end of the semester I was beginning to suspect
> that since the teachers don't know what to say, they trot out two or three
> stock criticisms. Speaking of taking the easy route: it saved THEM from
> having to think. And, I can count on one hand the number of times they said
> anything positive about somebody's work, or pointed out a strength that
> somebody could build on.
> Maybe these things HAD been done before. But if they had, whose fault was
> it that these students didn't know about this work?
> The photo history teacher, meanwhile, who doesn't come to our studio
> critiques, was puzzled as to why the students seem so downcast and
> demoralized, and why they didn't seem to have their heart in their studies.
> In other words, the demoralization was obvious to people other than myself.
> Perhaps dwelling on the failings of this particular department is irrelevant
> to the larger discussion, but I have gotten the feeling from talking to
> people at other schools that this sort of lazy critiquing goes on in a lot
> of art departments. My partner says it's a form of hazing, like the
> gruelling residency that doctors go through. But young doctors are made to
> feel that eventually they will be good at what they are bad at now. That
> doesn't happen in a lot of art schools.
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