The other day, my incredibly talented friend and fellow art school survivor Valeria Nova sent me this photo and reminded me that it’s coming up on ten years since we graduated from OCAD. In the picture, I’m waiting for my final critique to start, back in April 2006. The paintings I had been working on for my entire fourth year were hanging in the room behind me, and I was waiting to be called in by a group of my professors, who would critique them and give me a final verdict on the success of my time in school.
You probably can’t tell because of how chill I look, but I was a complete basket case. It was the final critique, no do-overs. For better or worse, after dozens of all-nighters and marathon paintings sessions, this was what I was presenting.
Above are some of the paintings I submitted for the final critique. For Hamiltonians, some of the subject matter might be familiar! Not surprising, since my thesis paper was about Hamilton, Szceczin (in Poland, where I was born), and the power of memory to colour and reinvent landscapes. Luckily, the critique went really well, and I remember feeling incredibly relieved and satisfied. One of the teachers, a very talented artist for whom I have a great deal of respect, told me not to worry so much, because I had a good eye and I naturally made good choices in my paintings. It’s been ten years, and I think of that comment as one of the most validating things I’ve ever heard about myself as an artist. Armed with the knowledge that I could make good decisions, I was ready to graduate.
That was ten years ago, and I have to say that I still recall that comment when I get bogged down in self-doubt, which continues to happen fairly often, especially in that aforementioned vacuum. Looking back at the work I'd done over the course of my education, I also recognize that the paintings that turned out poorly during my art school career (and there were many, many failed experiments) weren’t as tragic as they’d seemed in the moment. Being in school gave me the freedom to experiment with style, subject matter, and medium, while figuring out my voice as a painter. Don’t get me wrong, the experimentation and freedom came with some major drawbacks if unsuccessful; the weekly class critiques were no joke and many a young artist was ripped apart by peers until they were reduced to a breakdown or semi-violent outburst. It could get pretty rough.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go watch the film Art School Confidential and recall how awful class critiques were, while patting myself on the back for graduating without getting into even one fistfight.