Guys, we did it. Fall semester has come to a close and I almost can’t believe it. It feels completely surreal and yet entirely earned. We worked tirelessly for many weeks, and now we can rest, relax, and enjoy a long winter’s nap. Let me just say, it feels really good. I was in the very fortunate position of having my final classes end last week so that the only thing left on my plate was the final departmental critique on Tuesday. The not so fortunate thing was that the senior critique slot started at 9am, meaning we had to be there at 8:30 for set up and prep. I’ve never really minded critiques, but I was definitely feeling the pressure that morning. As much as I had practiced and thought I had conquered my fear of critiques, you can never really predict how things are going to pan out on the day.
Final department critiques are a whole different ball game than class critiques. For one, you’re presenting a collection of your work to not just one teacher but an entire panel likely headed by your department chair. One foot wrong and you can throw off your presentation, say the wrong thing and people can get the wrong impression. Nonetheless, critiques are the best way we can gather a range of professional feedback on our work. I’ve been coming back to this Taylor Swift quote that really encapsulates why criticism is useful, “We don’t make music so we can win a lot of awards, but you have to take your cues from somewhere if you’re going to continue to evolve.” I think this is super relevant for many artists who are frequently receiving and responding to feedback while still trying to remain true to their own vision. As students our job is to grow, and however nerve wracking critiques facilitate artistic development.
The thing that scares most people about critiques is the fact that you can’t control how your jury is going to react and respond to your work. It’s always an act of vulnerability, but as long as you are proud of the work you’ve done that is something you can hold onto no matter the outcome. I’ve had good critiques and I’ve had rough critiques and I can tell you with certainty that I’ve learned more from the latter than I have from the former. Even if you disagree with the feedback, it’s important to be able to take it with an improvement oriented mindset. As much as art is a highly personal expression of self, the criticism you receive cannot be allowed to infringe on your self worth. It’s always easier to smile when the crowd gives you a standing ovation, but where a positive outlook becomes a truly worthwhile investment is when you don’t get the undiluted praise we tend to hope for.
If you haven’t had your critique yet, don’t stress. Seriously. The lovely thing about art school is that it’s still school, this is a training ground for the kind of environments you’re going to find yourself in post-grad and let me tell you, very few people are going to be as interested in your individual development as the professors on your jury. So crack a few jokes (good or bad), take a few kilos of pressure off your shoulders, and just try to have fun with it. Now that I’m on the other side of things, I’m pleased to report that the view is rather nice. After a month of furiously planning and preparing for these all important 15 minutes, I suddenly have nothing left on my to-do list; and the thing is, I don’t quite know what to do with myself. The blissful freedom washed over me as I laid (near comatose) on my couch, basking in the fact that I can once more have things like hobbies and full nights of sleep.
Since I leave for home on Friday, my focus is now entirely on hanging out with friends and squeezing in some holiday shopping before returning to my beloved suburbs for an East Coast Christmas. One of my favorite things about this time of year in Paris is undoubtedly the holiday markets. I urge each and every one of you to take an hour or two and wander through one before you leave. I’m really excited to venture back to the US and eagerly await the comforts of home. I’ll only be in the US for about two weeks before returning to Paris for some European travels so I’ll hopefully have some adventures to share with you when we get back from winter break. It’s been a crazy, tough, and fulfilling Fall semester, filled to the brim with as much laughter and fun as hard work and late nights. I hope you have an amazing vacation and I look forward to catching up with you in the Spring.