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P called “art critiques” after we finished a project. These critiques consisted of the class going out into the hallway, sitting down, while one student stood in front of everyone, holding up his or her artworks. The rest of the class was supposed to guess what grades we got on the piece. Our teacher would grade us on each element and principle: 18-20 points meant that your work was exceptional and required little to no improvement. 15-17 points meant that your work was average. 13-15 points meant that your work was unsatisfactory and needed a sufficient amount of work; Mrs. P considered 13-15 points to be embarrassing. We always had about a week to two weeks to finish one project. One week, I was working on a realistic piece of an old couple, done in graphite and charcoal. I was pretty pleased with it, being my first realism piece. I got a ton of compliments on this particular artwork. Every day I worked on it, at least 5 other students, walking in and out of the art room, would make some kind of uplifting comment about my work. These students were extremely talented artists, so their opinions were considered very valuable to me. I worked really hard on my piece, driven by these inspiring words, wanting it to be the best it could possibly be. I was pretty satisfied with the end result, and turned it in to Mrs. P, confident that she would give me good grade on it. A couple of days later, she returned the pieces back to us students, grades and all. I had received somewhere between a B and a C. I was really disappointed, because even though it wasn’t perfect, I knew it was a lot better than what 95% of the other kids had done. The kids in my class lacked the drive and passion that I had. Mrs. P played favorites; she gave good grades to the kids
who did really poorly in art—she felt bad for them. One kid, Frankie, for example, was terrible at art. I’m not trying to be rude or discourage anyone, but it was the truth. He didn’t try at all; he took the class because he thought it would be an easy A…and it was for him. I compare his work to preschool kids’ finger paintings—and even that is kind of a stretch. At least preschool kids have creativity and imagination. He used generic pictures of sunsets as inspiration and he finished his pieces in one class period, maybe even less. Mrs. P just gave him good grades because she felt sorry for him. She also only gave good grades to the students who had artistic parents that she was friends with. If I was an art teacher, I would give a student an A if they put effort into their art, if they used all of their time to improve their work, making it the best it could possibly be. If you didn’t try, I wouldn’t give a good grade. I already hate the idea of grading artwork, but if I had to do it, I would base grades on effort and drive and passion. Not pity. Not personal relationships. I would grade fairly. Not based on “who will like me if I grade this student this certain way.” It was all about people-pleasing with Mrs. P. Anyway, back to the critiques. After I received my grade, scoring between 15 and 17 in every category, I was pretty bummed. As my classmates and I gathered in the hallway, I was feeling pretty nervous and discouraged. I was embarrassed and anxious. “Is my work really that bad?” “Maybe my piece isn’t as good as I thought.” I waited my turn, dreaded my turn. When I was up, I was confused at the reaction I got. I thought my work was terrible. My grades sure reflected that. I was definitely not expecting the praise I got. Everyone was telling me how talented I was, how skilled I was. I remember turning beet red, like I always do when someone commends my work. After the compliments dwindled down, and people stopped gushing, they started to guess what scores I got in each category. “Okay. Contrast. What do you guys think I got?”
“19! 20! 20! 18!” “No, 15.” They were astonished. They were appalled. “There’s no way,” I head a few say. “Mrs. P is insane,” I heard one say. I kept going through the elements and principles, asking them to guess. Each time the responses I got were at least 19. And this was coming from some pretty talented artists. By the time I got to the very last category, everyone in my class was just angry and stunned. I wasn’t really angry; I just kind of accepted my grade. However, I can’t say the same for my classmates. A few of them even went back into the class room to ask Mrs. P what her problem was. They told her that my grade was totally off and that she needed to re-grade my work. Of course, being bombarded with so many students telling her that she was wrong was too much for my teacher to handle. She instantly went through my rubric again, scoring me the way my class thought my work ought to be scored. The same day this happened, a few of my other teachers happened to stroll into the class room. (The art room constantly had visitors; teachers casually checking out the art work, old art students visiting Mrs. P, etc.) My calculus teacher, Mrs. Gaither, was in the room for some reason and she came over to say hello. When she saw my artwork, she instantly praised me. Mrs. P overheard her telling me that I had a real talent and to keep up the awesome work. My English teachers, Tarleton and Mrs. Cable, also visited the art room that day. They came over to talk, and again, commended my work. They even told Mrs. P how skilled they thought I was. I will always remember Mrs. P’s remark. “Oh yes, Danielle is one of my most talented students and one of my favorite students.” I thought it was complete bull. It was complete bull. She just wanted to seem like she knew talent when she saw it. Up until this particular day, Mrs. P paid no mind to me or my work. She just graded me poorly because I wasn’t significant to her social life.
After this day, my works always received perfect scores. I never received below an A. After this day, Mrs. P constantly complimented my work, volunteered me to work on big projects, like senior tiles and paint sceneries for theatre productions. She showed me off, displayed my work in the hallway. It angered me. I wanted her to recognize my work on her own; I wanted her honest opinions and her honest critiques. I actually appreciated it when she gave me average grades; it made me want to work harder, even if I didn’t have to. She’s probably what pushed me to become an even better artist. I have to be the best. If I’m not, I keep working until I am. I was one of the best artists at my school. Now, I have to work harder to hopefully become the best artist in the art program. That probably won’t happen, but I can guarantee that I will get progressively better and I can’t wait. It became harder to become the best after Mrs. P started to bullshit me. I had to see past her compliments; I had to remember how she used to grade me. This is what pushed me to become better, to never stop trying, to never give up. This strategy worked, and continues to work. I know a lot of people will never give me a true, real honest critique. So, I have to be my on critic. I have to tell myself to try harder, to make it better. It’s hard when you put your whole heart into a piece and then having to tell yourself that it could be better. It’s a frustrating process, but it must be done for me to become better. “There is always room for improvement.” The one logical thing Mrs. P ever said. I like to think that maybe she graded me hard because she saw that I had potential. Although it is probably very unlikely, maybe she wanted to push me to do better. That’s what I like to tell myself at least. Mrs. P was definitely a roadblock when looking at it technically. However, I like to twist it around in my head to make it so that she was a sponsor. I still believe that Mrs. P is an awful teacher, but I am thankful to her in a way. I think roadblocks are just as important as
sponsors; I think they may even be more influential. I think they force someone to do better, to prove the roadblock wrong.
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