Thursday, January 27, 2011

Dear Sculpture Professor,

I know it's been several years since I was in your class, but there are a few things eating at me that I would like to get off my chest. First of all, I would like to say that your classes are practically the only courses in my college career in which my grade was less than an A. This was fair. I did not spend enough time in the studio, nor did I buy quality art supplies with which to craft my projects. In fact, there is a piece or two on which you may have even graded me higher than I deserve, so believe me, this letter is not intended as a gripe about my grades. The true reason I am writing to you is to express my disappointment in your class, and perhaps offer some constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement. To be honest, I can't think of a single thing I learned from you since your freshman level course. And this is bad, since you were my major professor. My expectation was that in your class I would be exposed to and taught how to implement a wide variety of techniques and materials into my own work, and that I would emerge with a solid grasp on the how of making art. Instead, you gave practically no direction and less technical instruction, leaving us free to use any materials we desired, but lacking the knowledge of how the materials should best be implemented to get the desired effect. Even Picasso, known for breaking all the rules, learned how to paint the "right" way first. Also, although you did tell us more than once that we needed as much art exposure as we could get to expand our horizons and familiarize ourselves with what was currently going on in the art world, this was not reflected in your curriculum. Be honest, how many college students (many of us with full-time course schedules and jobs on the side) are going to do any research that is not acknowledged or graded? The correct answer: very few.
At this point, I would like to make some suggestions for improvement. To address my first concern, a series of "master classes" could be worked in throughout the semester. Perhaps you could dedicate a few hours every two weeks to teaching new techniques? This is done in music classes to great effect. You could personally demonstrate the use of all the wood-working tools, explain the difference between stain and varnish, instruct us on the different qualities of oak vs. poplar, share your knowledge on adhesives, abrasives, and fasteners as they relate to wood, give an demonstration of laminating and bent-wood techniques, etc. And when you exhaust your own expertise, you could bring in a professional welder or stone-mason to teach your students the ropes in their specific area of knowledge. I feel this would have enriched my education a thousand-fold. Regarding my second concern, exposure to art and artists, I would suggest a requirement to write a weekly one-page paper about an artist of interest. And if grading a bunch of papers is a put-off for you, you could make it a pass/fail based upon participation and ignore the content altogether. I would suggest, however, that you post your students' papers on a bulletin board for all to see and require the paper to include a picture of the artist's work. That way you can multiply your students' exposure to artists and art, as all would have access to the information gathered by their peers, and it would serve as quality control because none of your students would want to write an embarrassingly bad paper when all their friends were going to see it.
Sculpture Professor, if you can implement these changes into future courses, your students would benefit greatly, instead of graduating with a degree that means practically nothing to the non-art world, and less to your student. We both know that hours of studio time are absolutely necessary for an artist to find his or her way, and I applaud you on requiring your students to spend 2 hours outside of class time for every hour of "instructional" time working in the studio. Without basic knowledge of sculpture techniques, however, your students have no foundation, no starting point, on which to build their masterpiece. Many of your students created great work, but just think how much better we could have been, how much faster we could have progressed, if we had had the right metaphorical tools and an experienced hand to teach us how to use them. There is no limit to human ingenuity and accomplishment, except for time, and I feel that much of mine was wasted in your class.
In all sincerity,
The Cardboard Crafter


  1. Yes. He was a nice guy, but taught me little. I think his head was in the clouds, in stereotypical artist fashion.

  2. My business classes often require analyzing some aspect of an existing business and giving a report to the class. You could easily do the same in an art class. (Do they cover this in art appreciation? I never took a single art class of any kind after middle school.)

  3. This is regularly done in art history, but not as much in classes such as drawing, painting, sculpture, or photography. I think that it would be helpful in EVERY art class: the more exposure to art, the better for the art student. Many art students, however, hate to write and are not very good at it, and I fear that some art professors fit into the same category and don't like to READ and grade their students papers.