Inspiring new students… by giving them a reality check (show these videos to your newbie, wannabe creatives).

I’m currently right in the middle of marking student projects, both F.E. and H.E.; many of them are gearing up for for their end of year shows and exhibitions, getting ready to move on to higher ed’ or work.

Two of them (younger students just finishing up their BTEC) where interviewed by myself last night in front of the humberMUD* crowd (see next post) and when asked “Knowing what you know now, what would you have tackled differently?” one of them, a student who has shown some really amazing progress of late, replied, “I’d have probably pulled my finger out of my [behind] earlier”… much laughter from the audience, and knowing looks from the educators therein.

It’s a strange thing looking at the “distance travelled” by some of these students and realising that some of the biggest leaps in their creativity, cognitive understanding, mechanical (psychomotor) control and in some cases passion, have happened in the last six to eight months of their two year course.

Why not earlier?

It has been something I’ve been thinking about. Thinking about a lot in point of fact. Thinking about how I could have facilitated this leap forward earlier somehow.

I’ve been talking to colleagues about patterns in the inertia exhibited in some students regarding their engagement with projects or more importantly (especially in these creative subject areas) their ability to commit ideas and concepts to paper.

Curiously it seems to me to relate directly to their intrinsic perception of their drawing ability.

They appear to worry about peer and tutor judgement of their, perhaps limited at this stage it’s true, drawing skills, and so sacrifice commitment to developmental work and idea generation on paper by trying to circumvent it, trying to generate work on computers, doing “research” (google and wikipedia – not a library card in sight) or doing almost anything to wriggle out of the most fundamental design tool available to them, i.e. the thumbnail sketch and the doodle.

As a designer and illustrator who can no longer conceptualise and discuss ideas involving form without the aid of a pen and paper (be that the back of an envelope or a layout pad) I find myself more and more frustrated by this reluctance, yet taking a step back, it is easy to theorise where it stems from.

I often point out to some of my younger students that I remember a time before the internet. “yeah, so do I” they reply, “we didn’t get it put in until I was at high school”.

“No… not before I HAD the internet (which I still don’t), but before there WAS an internet.” (cue glazed, jaw dropped expressions of ill-comprehension and arms twitching outwards in a steadying motion as alien concepts rock established world-views).

I drew in school. And not just in art class or because I enjoyed it, which I did, but because we had to. In Biology we had diagrams of Bulls eyes to render, dissections of bulls hearts to record; in Chemistry we had apparatus to describe and experiments to show in diagram form; in geography we had cutaway sections to draw, maps to layout and colour code and key; almost every non-art subject saw us drawing as part of our coursework. Simply because we couldn’t download the image into a Word document from Google images, because it hadn’t been invented.

Don’t get me wrong, there are kids who turn up at art school and can draw. But these are kids that draw at home not at school. They have probably put in something close to 3000 hours drawing to the point when they come to use as sixteen year olds.

As a kid who spent a lot of time on his own in a large seaside hotel where his mother worked during the long summers I’d hit beyond the 10,000 hour mark by that point. And that’s just it… to get really good you need to practice a lot… It doesn’t matter if you are learning to play guitar, learning to skate, to juggle, or to draw… you need to put the hours in and repeatedly work on your art. But that isn’t going to happen if you can’t even get past that first drawing in front of your tutor/peers.

Those kids we get now who haven’t been drawing at home however, we are teaching many of them from scratch, and they are the ones who are reluctant to put their ideas down. They have them as I said, but they will just not throw them down onto the page…

Earlier this year with a relatively small group of students I’ve been working with I ran a BTec project based around “Observational Drawing” (EdExCel – Unit 75** for you educationalists), the focus on basic mechanical processes related to the act of drawing. I ran short but intensive sessions on two-point perspective drawing ( ), drawing from objects/still-life and the urban environment, I got them to attend life drawing classes (some even attended extra-curricular sessions to my joy ), and taught them how to “crate” objects (drawing objects in a box frame ), almost immediately their willingness to put images down on paper as a means of explaining concepts and ideas began to increase, there general optimism at the beginning of projects and their engagement with the developmental aspects of the design process improved as well.

All through the simple ability to be able to render confidently, to express an idea on paper, to thumbnail a thought…

Anyway the whole point of this was not for me to ramble on but to put these two great pieces of resource up here:

The two following videos hit the nail on the head regarding the reasoning behind this unwillingness or fear of commitment to laying down their thoughts and concepts (some of which in discussion are plainly strong, and occasionally well informed)

The first is part three of a longer talk by Ira Glass ( ) on young creative people perhaps actually having good taste and the curious dichotomy of having that good taste stifle their work output as they unreasonably judge themselves against the work they aspire to. THE POINT HE MAKES AT 58secs IS SO TRUE, but check out everything from 0.00 – 2.30 and the last bit from 5.00 onwards… really honest and affirming stuff. Show this to your year one students.

The second is a short dialogue by Milton Glaser ( )on the related concept of a “fear of failure” and the double life we must lead as creatives to satisfy two opposed masters, i.e our “professional development’ versus our “creative development”. Show this to your students before they leave you…

Milton Glaser – on the fear of failure. from Berghs' Exhibition '11 on Vimeo.

(See more videos on the Fear of Failure like the one above by Milton Glazer here – )


** …my question is, are there really 74 four more important units? Really? I mean come one guys… laughs.

~ by hesir on May 26, 2011.

6 Responses to “Inspiring new students… by giving them a reality check (show these videos to your newbie, wannabe creatives).”

  1. You’ve given this a lot of thought Garath, and I think you’ve reached the correct conclusion. I have an experience with a young photography student I had on work experience who had chosen photography as a career path yet took very few photographs and I couldnt work out why. As the point you make it’s often easier to skate around the edge too avoid getting stuck in! Cheers Neil

  2. Couldn’t agree more.
    Finally getting some ideas out of students but far too late in the day, ideas and ways to generate them are one thing I’m good at but I keep hitting a dead end. There has been a consistent gradual growth in students inability to express ideas over the past 7 years I’ve been teaching. I think it’s been the erosion of creative expression (many factors have influenced this, but it’s ironic in an era of the best access to creative expression since humanity first spat paint on our hands) , with the main emphasis for schools and colleges management on tables and results, the fear of going ‘off topic’ to have ideas seems assessment suicide. Creativity remains difficult to assess but is the very thing we as a country require from the next generation. Doubt we will be taking over manufacturing from China anytime soon.
    I noticed that on my observations more time and importance is given to equality and diversity than actual relevant teaching of the subject or giving thinking time. ‘Students can’t survive more than 15 minutes without losing interest’ well, they are going to find it difficult to find a job that panders to that particular weakness.
    It’s reached the point where I’m about to quit, it’s really to much stress for no money, even the satisfaction of seeing good work is offset with the thought of what they could have achieved.
    Another oddness is the ridiculous number of (in some cases repeated outcome) units all weighted the same with the same number of hours allocated, yet some require more time whilst others are the equivalent of a few short essays. Obviously you combine them together, but the lack of thought shown by Ed excel is stunning, however they may not be around too much longer so I’m sure the next private company to back-hand the government will produce some equally disheartening documentation.
    Anyway, back to marking, saving the best stuff till last (first the vegetables, then the meat), which means I’m an optimist. Anyway, it’s half term, so I’ll see which students come in and join me, usually those ones learn more in one proper working day than they do in a year of box ticking exercises.

  3. […] 5 – The complex issues surrounding the paranoia relating to “peer judgement“, and the ever present “fear of failure” and its subsequent attitude of “it is better not to try, rather than to try and and be seen to fail“; […]

  4. […] and you can find a couple more inspirational videos here: Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  5. […] down the big inertial problem area, the difficult two-edged sword of Will to Experience versus Fear of Failure. To do that the individual themselves or with help from a mentor, must begin perceiving the value […]

  6. […] …you can find more useful advice, this time from Ira Glass on the same subject >HERE< […]

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