Close up of paintbrushes with paint on them, rest against a canvas.
Lessons From the Classroom

Lessons From the Classroom – Art

Strap in because it’s time for another round of Lessons From the Classroom! Today, I’m taking a look back over what used to be my favourite subject – art. Don’t worry, you’ll find out why it’s no longer my favourite subject soon enough. Back when I wrote about my ideas for wedding craft ideas, I very briefly mentioned that my GCSE art teacher was (to put it politely) not very confident in my abilities. Today, you’ll find out the full story, and why I still haven’t really let go of the grudge. Enjoy!

I should also point out that I am writing this COMPLETELY sober. One can only imagine how colourful the language would have gotten had I had a few gins.

Lessons From the Classroom - Art Pinterest graphic

The Early Years

Our story starts out all nice and fluffy. Art was one of those subjects I always used to look forward to. Seeing the teacher bring out the art materials was such a treat, and for most years at primary school we had “Art Week,” which was incredible. It was a whole week towards the end of the summer term, packed with creative projects including everything from modelling with clay to painting pictures and from paper maché to making mosaics. The big ol’ menu full of options was like being in the world’s most amazing sweet shop. 

Outside of school, I used to love watching TV shows like smART and Art Attack (although The Head used to scare the absolute shit out of me…and it still does, to be honest), and I’d be amazed by the projects they used to do. However, on the occasions where I was brave enough to actually try them, they’d often go horribly wrong. But everyone loves a trier, right?

The Secondary School Years

I remember the first thing we did in art at secondary school was clay. Our teacher, Mrs H, had a VERY short fuse, but looking back, I think it was more that our class was full of absolute bell-ends rather than a problem with her. In between her shouting at us, we attempted to make clay pots, but for the most part, 90% of the class decided to make dicks out of the clay instead. While I was gagging to make a dick out of clay like everyone else, I was shit scared of getting told off, so I just did the work like the goodie-two shoes I was.

Moving into Year 8, we had Miss B, and I absolutely loved her. She was a full-on shoe addict, and her classroom was filled with pictures and sculptures of statement shoes. While the same bell-ends that had alienated Mrs H succeeded in doing the same to her, that didn’t stop her from being so lovely to me and my friends. She was encouraging and she always had something nice to say about what you’d created. She gave us so many different projects to do, my favourites being a ‘doodle page.’ It was so simple, but it was one of the most fun things – there were literally no rules. At the start of every lesson, we’d spend ten minutes on our doodle pages, and you could draw whatever you wanted. It was so much fun, and it was a really good opportunity to just get whatever was in your head out onto paper. At the time, I was fully immersed into the school counselling service, so I had plenty of material to work with.

As we moved into Year 9, I became more and more convinced that I wanted to study art for GCSE. After having such a great time with Miss B last year, it had rapidly become my favourite subject, and all I could think of was how amazing it would be to actually gain some sort of qualification in it. Maybe this could be my future career? LOL. There’s nothing wrong with having some optimism but jeez, looking back, that was far too much.

GCSEs and Destroying My Self Confidence

So, GCSE art started fairly well. The new teacher, Miss G, seemed nice enough, but after a few weeks, it started to become apparent that, well, she was a bitch. I’m sorry, that’s being nice. She was horrible. There’s no way around it. I had a number of problems with her, the main one being how two faced she was. She would sit next to me and thoroughly criticise my work and whatever technique I was using, and she would subsequently bollock me because I didn’t follow the brief to her standard. That was one thing, but it was made worse by the fact that after verbally beating out every ounce of confidence I had in myself, she would trot over to where the Plastics were sitting (I hope you get the reference – if you don’t, watch Mean Girls and you’ll get it), tell each and every one of them how amazing their work was, and she’d then proceed to have a chat with them about what they got up to that evening or what they were doing at the weekend. She’d be all “Oh my god babes, you’ve nailed it! Well done!” and then she’d peer at my work which clearly looked worse than a pile of dog shit and say something along the lines of “Ugh, that’s NOT what I asked you to do!” Two. Faced.

There were multiple occasions when I went home from school in tears because of her comments. I remember she once sat going through my sketchbook and at one piece of work told me “that wouldn’t even get a G grade in the exam.” But here’s the kicker, she didn’t tell me how to improve it. It wasn’t just me she picked on either, I remember someone else in my class had been off sick for a week, and when she told Miss G that this was the reason behind why she was behind on her work, Miss G replied with “Aww, were you all curled up in bed with your blankie and your Lemsip? GROW UP AND GET YOUR WORK DONE.”

Being bullied by my art teacher was not fun, but I knew how to deal with it. As any wet-blanket of a 15 year old would do, I told my Mum. As parent’s evening rolled around, I had been filling Mama J in with some top content on everything Miss G had been saying to me and how she clearly had classroom favourites as well as a vendetta against me, and as a result, Mama J was ready to tell her where she could shove her paintbrushes. However, Miss G was clearly one step ahead of me, because when we sat down to speak to her at parents’ evening, she couldn’t sing my praises high enough. She went through my sketchbook and gave me constructive feedback rather than just verbally ripping the shit out of it, and ultimately, made me look like a lying little shit trying to pick a fight. Again, two faced.

In the run up to our final exam, a 10 hour session over 2 days, Miss G made it very clear that I was NOT allowed to use acrylic paints because, and I quote, “You will completely ruin your grades.” What, just like you’ve ruined my confidence, Miss? Interesting.

I get this was maybe meant in good faith, so that I could produce an exam piece with materials that I worked best with, but there are nicer ways to word it. So, I was stuck with oil pastels for my exam, and I settled into my 10 hour session feeling confident and happy that she wasn’t going to interfere with anything – she made it clear that she wasn’t allowed to – or so I thought.

We got a decent way through the exam, when she walked around and looked over my shoulder, clearly seeing something that she didn’t like. Me, probably. She did a massive sigh, told me I was doing it wrong, and snatched the pastel out of my hand, showing me “the right way” to use it. By this point, all I could think was “JUST FUCK OFF.”

I will never forget the feeling of relief when I came out of that art exam. I was free from her clutches at long last. At this point, I genuinely didn’t give a shit if I’d failed or not. I’d fallen out of love with art and I just wanted to be done with it. In fact, I actually wanted to fail it just to screw up her record. She spent the entire two years boasting that every single person she taught had come out with a minimum of a grade C. Obviously, once she said that, I wanted to prove her wrong. You destroy my confidence, I destroy your record – that’s how it works hun.

Unfortunately though, I got a C. Okay, it’s not bad news for me, I still passed. But I don’t give her credit for that. You don’t get to verbally bully a student and then take credit for their (semi) success. That was all me babeh.

One thing I was always told, and still hear to this day, is that art is subjective. What seems like an incredible masterpiece to one person could look hideous to someone else. One of my exposure tasks back when I did CBT for my emetophobia was to watch the opening scene of a film (aptly named ‘Sick Film’) in which people make themselves puke on-screen. That was it. That was the film. This film was classed as “art.” Similarly, on our trips to the Tate Modern (probably a classic for every art GCSE student), there were paintings that probably would have gotten me thrown off the course if I had produced them for my exam – one of them was literally a canvas painted red. With all that in mind, I really don’t think Miss G had the right to be an asshole to me.

It probably won’t come as a surprise to you that I didn’t take art any further. I stayed on at the school for sixth form though, so this meant we had the chance to go back to the art department and take our projects home. I didn’t want my sketchbooks, purely because I couldn’t look at them without wanting to throw them onto a fire – they weren’t even worth a G, remember, why would I want them in my house? However, one thing that I wanted to keep was my exam piece – it was probably the best thing I’d created, and I was proud of it. To this day, it’s hung on the wall in my Mum’s hallway, and it’s a reminder of how I still managed to create one decent thing despite being completely slaughtered by Miss G’s comments.

My exam piece for GCSE art - a picture of a toucan and a puffin in bright colours, surrounded by a combination of 3D flowers.
This was taken on my crappy Nokia phone back in the day, so excuse the shitty quality (although there’s only so much I can blame on the phone).

Maybe I’m being soft, maybe I can’t take criticism, I don’t know. However, one thing I do know is that there is a fine line between giving your students constructive criticism and picking on them. The fact that she was full on BFFs with the Plastics also gives the impression that it was more bullying than just a bit of tough love. I get that teachers might have favourites, and that’s perfectly okay, but what’s not okay is treating those who aren’t your favourites like shit. I also want to point out again that it wasn’t just me either – she offended a fair few people in my year, and on one occasion, really upset a friend of mine who is hands down the most talented artist I know, and she later came out of university with a first in animation.

Key Lessons:

  • Some people should not be teachers. Period.
  • Art is subjective, until you study it for GCSE under the scrutiny of a full on bitch. 
  • Just because a bully of a teacher verbally shits on everything you do, you try to take pride in your work. Despite being told my work was crap on multiple occasions, I’m still really bloody proud of that toucan picture.

So, while this story doesn’t necessarily have the happiest ending, I hope I’ve still entertained you somewhat by my tales of GCSE art. I feel that perhaps it was a lucky escape though – because in comparison to some of the others in my class, I wasn’t all that good at art. Teachers in my earlier years had given me the confidence, and while there were certain projects I was good at, there were some that went completely tits up. Thankfully, Miss G shat all over that confidence so I didn’t put those crappy projects out into the world. Yes, I’m still bitter. It’s hard to let go of a grudge when someone who is supposed to support you actually makes you feel like shit on a regular basis. Some might argue that the whole tough love approach was how she managed to get that record of all her students passing, but in my opinion, it was downright bullying. I’m no teaching expert, but even I know that belittling your students and making them feel like crap isn’t exactly the best way to help them succeed.

Featured image by Anna Kolosyuk on Unsplash.

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11 thoughts on “Lessons From the Classroom – Art”

  1. I agree with you 100% that some people should NOT be teachers. My grade 12 geography teacher (sexist pig that he was) told me I was a terrible writer and I should just stick to typing. That stayed with me for years. It has only been over the last few years that I realized I’m actually a pretty decent writer and every job I’ve ever had has involved some sort of writing.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m sorry you went through that but I’m also relieved I’m not the only one! You’ve definitely proved him wrong and I think that’s often the best form of revenge against them! x

      Liked by 1 person

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