I’ve played with art through my life, not enough to be a master, but occasionally enough to get better. While studying and practicing art for my A-Levels we were given a still life scene involving a skeleton and some barbed wire to paint. This is the perfect scene for inspiring a teenage artist (far better than fruit).
We were being taught by a different teacher than normal. He was a bit intimidating. I wish I could remember his name. All I remember is that he told us that he specialised in punching clay while angry to make sculptures of people. He showed us some pictures of his work and they were pretty good, so this method obviously worked for him.
During the lesson I worked really hard on getting my painting to look right. It felt almost finished, but something was missing. I went to the teacher with my work to ask him what I needed to do.
What he did next absolutely horrified me. Instead of just letting me know what I could do to improve the current work, he picked up a black marker and defaced my work with graphical annotations. More shading here, he said as scribbled over the under-shaded area. This bit isn’t quite right, drawing large circles to show where he meant. When he’d finished I knew exactly what I needed to change, but my work was ruined.
I stared at him in shock and then looked sadly at my work. I was furious with him, but I couldn’t find any words to say. All he said was "Start again". I walked back to my desk, feeling like he’d just pulled my heart out.
'Start again' I thought, but that took me ages. Reluctantly, cursing the teacher under my breath, I started again.
The second time didn’t take me as long as the first time. I was able to put the teacher’s advice into practice and what I’d learnt from the first time round. I started to see it was starting to look good and when it was finished I was surprised by how much better it was than my first attempt.
I was so proud of what I’d done that day that it made me really value criticism, even when it seemed quite harsh. It made me less precious about my work.
The point of a piece of work was not to be perfect, but to learn from. When learning is the point it’s good to make mistakes and you don’t have to hang everything you’ve done on the wall.