For a really long time in high school I thought that someday I might like to be a photographer or graphic designer or possibly both. I took hundreds of pictures to get the best shot of whatever I was photographing and on numerous occasions my digital art teacher had to make me turn in projects before I thought they were done because I couldn’t stop critiquing myself.
Photography meant the world to me and one of my high school art teachers pushed me and built me up and because of her I grew fond of the art that I could create, excited about the opportunities I had ahead of me because of my creativity. She helped me to hone my skills, step out of my comfort zone, let myself know when I needed to be done with a project, and was always cheering me on when I entered contests.
I’ll be honest, I never really thought of myself as creative and to this day I still don’t. People tell me all the time that I’m creative and I just nod along and pretend to agree, but I truly think that my artistic ability comes down to sheer dumb luck (catch that Harry Potter reference anyone?).
Then, my senior year, I decided to take AP Studio Art… I was absolutely insane my senior year and took five (5) AP classes (I was not one to participate in the good old “senior slide”). This art class was the downfall to my positivity about my art.
For an entire year I took hundreds of pictures, wrote out hundreds of critiques, created and recreated portfolio after portfolio until I cultivated something that I was so incredibly proud of. My breadth had a wide range of photos showing off some of my absolute best work and my concentration showcased people in various stages of being “masked”. The idea was to display portraits where the face, the normal focal point of a portrait, was not the focal point. And then came the time to turn it all in to be graded by the official examiners…
I remember sitting there and showing my teacher the portfolio that I was about to turn in. She shook her head as she scrolled through everything and sighed before turning to me and saying, “You’ll be lucky if you even get a 2 on this.” My heart just shattered. I had spent a whole year working on this portfolio, taking pictures every week, editing almost every single day. I was also furious because not once this entire year had my teacher had anything good to say about any work I’d done. No matter what, there was always something wrong. She couldn’t even be constructive with her criticism… I took it all to heart when I know I shouldn’t have and I’m still dealing with the consequences of that one art class.
Then in college I took a photography class, it was an easy course but in taking this I realized just how burnt out I was on trying to be “artistic”. Pictures no longer come easy to me, I haven’t even touched my camera in over a year. I rarely even take pictures with my phone anymore. I lost my edge. I hate almost every picture I take and I can’t imagine ever loving art as much as I once did.
The last time I loved a project I did was when I had this batshit idea to put paint all over my face and take pictures of it:
But the structure and rules that art classes laid out for me killed my creativity. The constant unconstructive criticism made me feel like nothing I created would ever be good enough for the world to see. I think that art classes can teach you so much but if you have the wrong teacher then these classes will fail you. And I think that’s what happened to me. Someday I’d like to relearn creativity, I’d like to be able to create without fear of criticism. I’d like to throw caution to the wind and paint my face and take creepy portraits. I like doing my own thing and being forced into boxes destroyed my creativity.
And if any of you reading this have ever been in a similar situation, or are in a similar situation now, I’d love to chat. Especially if you’re a high schooler or college student who’s in the midst of art classes now. Share your work with me! I’d love to see it.
Oh… And by the way, I got a 5 on my portfolio which is the highest score you can be given on an AP exam.
So suck it high school AP art teacher.