Do you know, when you’re on the right track? When no criticism in the whole world can keep you from doing exactly what you want to do. You keep pursuing your vision even if other people might dislike you for it or might even take things away from you. I had such an epiphany moment during my MA in Brighton. Every fibre of my being knew how I wanted my book project “Sternenstaub” (Stardust) to look and feel. Never before had I been so certain. It was a truly heartfelt project and a project that needs to be understood with the heart, not with the mind or the intellect.
Clash with Academia
Needless to say, as right as the project was for me, personally, it was the wrong project for academia. I’m not the most articulate person about my artistic projects. I find it difficult, and quite honestly needless, to explain what any particular project is about. I belong to the fraction, who internally sighs and rolls eyes, thinking: “Why don’t you just take from the project whatever you like? Please, dear viewer, just employ your own imagination, thinking and feeling and go home with your own personal interpretation.”
Unfortunately, this is not how academia works and so we clashed a bit (this is an understatement). I couldn’t convincingly convey the meaning of the book. Consequently, one of my mentors thought the project was too theatrical. The other one thought it wasn’t theatrical enough. “Great, so I’m simply walking the middle way”, thought my very well pleased Mars in Libra. I didn’t change a thing about the project and produced the book how I had originally envisioned it.
My Art Does Not Belong To Someone Else’s Opinion
This decision cost me a PhD position. Thankfully, a PhD position I didn’t want in the first place. It still shocked me to witness that my sovereign decision hurt someone else’s ego so badly. My art is my art. It will never belong to anybody else’s opinion and influence. And if Professors want to see a certain kind of art, then I suggest that they should go and produce it themselves, instead of voicing or writing just another critique, hiding behind words.
I’m not a fan of grading art degrees. It’s a really stupid system because the grading is so subjective. The students caught in the middle of overblown egos competing for importance suffer the consequences. The subsequent trauma can run so deep that they give up on producing art all together once they’ve finished their studies.
Failure Turns into a Success
My terribly offended supervisor made it sound as if I’d failed the module because I hadn’t changed the project according to her input. Two long weeks I feared I had screwed up my MA and practically saw myself on a flight back to Berlin, unable to finish the programme. And then, guess what, the results came in and I got a 2+. Deep breath in and out. That’s when I usually just sigh out loud whilst slowly shaking my head: “People…”.
So, I did receive my MA. In fact, I totally rocked this whole thing and flew home with the only MA with Distinction in my year. Woohoo! But the best thing during this time was the following occurrence: I had applied for a photobook show with “Sternenstaub” and got in. The fact that this “failure” immediately got into a photo book show made up for the emotional troubles it had caused before. “Sternenstaub” was published in an edition of 9+IV. All books are gone.
Play the Way You Feel It
Even my dentist bought one of the books a couple of years ago. At the beginning of this year, we were talking about some new business ideas (always a good thing to do right after you’ve just had a major operation and the laughing-gas-game is still strong). Out of nowhere, he told me that he had leafed through the book again recently (it sounded as if he’d actually do this regularly. Odd, I thought, giggling inside ~ laughing gas…). Then he urged me to keep working on my art. Okay, my dear Dentist, I might actually listen to you (but really only because of the nitrous oxide, and we both know that it wears off way too fast).
What I mean to say with all of this, is that it’s a good thing to realize your art in the way that you feel is right. There will be at least one person out there who will really appreciate what you have done. And if the only person is you, then that’s perfectly fine. You are the artist. You have to love your creations. That’s all that matters.
Another advice that I have been following for years comes from my fantastic former fellow student Lisa Barnard. She told me amidst this drama: “I always listen to other people’s criticism… But I would never change my project because of it.” Amen.