…is to give them away. This is the conclusion I came to today after my first ever ‘group crit’ at the School of Art at the University of Wolverhampton.
I am coming to the end of Week 2 as an final year (or final two years for me) art student on the BA (Hons) Fine Art course at Wolverhampton and so far, I’ve loved every minute of it. The energy and enthusiasm of the staff and other students is a joy to be around and to feed off. It is a very different atmosphere to Shrewsbury College, which had far fewer students on a higher education course (in fact just two in my year on my particular course) so that sort of energy with two people is hard to maintain. So to be in a teaching environment with more than ten times that number, is refreshing. I love it.
This week, we’ve been engaged in a ‘marathon’ event which is basically a week of art and coffee. I haven’t been able to put as many hours in as I’d like due to work and children but the hours I have managed so far I’ve really enjoyed. The theme is ‘failure’ so I decided to look at the lost and disregarded items of Wolverhampton, those items that were they to have thoughts would feel that we’ve failed them by losing them. I didn’t have much time to consider this topic but during this week I have made a few sketches and small paintings, and taken photographs of those things that people lose or throw away, things that still have a use (for example, pens, staples, parcel tape and bread in a bag).
If I had to evaluate my work I’d have said it was not particularly ground-breaking (or path-breaking). It is interesting but certainly not astonishing. I’m not very confident at the moment in my ability to creating astonishing art. I need to push myself out of my comfort zone more and experiment with concepts and ideas. I know that a major barrier to doing that is confidence. Confidence, or lack thereof, is the artist’s worst enemy. As I’ve only just started at Wolverhampton, my confidence is teetering somewhat on the brink of a well. As a result, I’ve stuck to what I know. And I know this. I acknowledge this. I’m cross with myself for staying in my familiar safe place. I think I have produced something of worth, it is just not new worth.
Today, Day Three of the ‘marathon’, we had a ‘group crit’. Imagine a group of junior doctors and the senior consultant doing the morning rounds. That is just what it is like. The students are the junior doctors and the tutors are the senior consultants. However, in this scenario the junior doctors take it in turns to be the patient. The junior doctors and consultants are given free reign to comment, suggest, criticize, praise as they feel fit. For the patient, this is potentially a very stressful exercise, but also a very profitable one.
I really enjoyed this experience, as both junior doctor and patient. I found that I actually really quite like giving (I hope) constructive criticism to others. Perhaps this was helped by the fact I don’t yet know my fellow Level Sixers well. Their styles and interests are coming at me as new. They all know each other really well. It was a positive experience for me.
I even enjoyed being the subject of scrutiny and I thought the comments were very useful for my practice. The message I got was the same as the one I am giving myself: think more deeply, consider the outcome, consider the perception of the viewer, consider being different. This is what I usually try to do and I think that for this mini-project I needed to show everyone what I do to give me the launching pad to push my art in a particular direction. I guess it is like the cat doing a wee on the sofa, marking their territory. (I’m not sure that’s a good analogy.)
Back to my original point: the best way to come up with good ideas is to give them away. Today I found it very easy to give other people ideas. I found it much easier to offer ideas than I generally do to come up with my own.
This concept is similar to the idea of Marina Abramovich who said that artists should keep their ‘good’ ideas, throw their ‘bad’ ideas in the bin and then swap them over. The best ideas, she argues, are the ones we regard as rubbish, i.e. those needing courage and experimentation. Those that need us to push the boundaries.
Why is it easier to offer ideas? Is it a confidence issue? Is it the low-risk element of offering ideas to others? I don’t lose anything by giving someone a what might turn out to be a crap idea so I may as well say what is in my head. I might perhaps lose a second of credibility as bewilderment fills the room, but soon everyone will move on. If I use a crap idea on my own art, my long-term credibility is at risk. But I lose nothing offering an idea and perhaps it will be a good one, it may even break a few paths.
My aim over the next two years: to push the boundaries, consider the binned ideas and take more risks. I hope I can have the courage to do that. I think if I play it too safe I will risk becoming bland. I don’t want blandness.