Attending art school was the result of an amazing high school art teacher. I was pushed to develop abilities I had left behind a few years before going into high school. I polished up my those dusty skills and built up a portfolio that mainly consisted of drawings. To be fully honest I did not expect to get in, portfolio entries were and still are known to be the ones with the largest rejection rate, against those odds I got in and it was thanks to that amazing teacher. We all wish to have a teacher like that, that will try and help you in any way they can.
As I entered my freshman year in art school I expected to see professors enthused to help students be the best they could be. Maybe it was some sort of freshmen naivete that most of us go through because we imagine a utopic experience that will help us learn and grow and be prepared to join some type of workforce after graduating. On my first year in the Escuela de Artes Plásticas y Diseño de Puerto Rico (EAPD) that ideal of what college would have in store shattered. on my five years I studied to obtain my B.F.A., Bachelor’s of Fine Arts, I found it to be the complete opposite. Noticing not a handful of bad teachers, but a hand full of good professors. First handedly I saw students with no previous academic preparation in the arts struggle in basic courses. And although in the United States there are many art courses that can be taken as electives through middle shed and high school in Puerto Rico things are different.
For many public schools in the island the arts are limited to basic courses which you only take once for the entirety of middle school and once in the entirety of high school. This isn’t to say that there aren’t schools that specialize in educating future college students in the arts but these are few and only accessible to those in metropolitan areas. Most college students becoming freshman do not come from an elite program or school, they sometimes come from rural areas or places that require a 1-3 hour commute, some even find housing because they are not able to drive or be driven for such time. for the moment EAPD is the only school that offers students a B.F.A., so getting in and going to this school is a big deal since many professional artists in the island have attended this school.
I like many of these new eager students that got in I did not attend a school specialized in the arts, and although my skills had developed there was much I needed to learn. At times I felt lost when it came to certain subjects and techniques. Any student would just stand up from their desk or raise their hand to have the instructor repeat or demonstrate what they were explaining but once you see students being turned down or ignored, hesitation and inaction is what runs through the mind of the student. I saw students that had doubts and questions of assignments and professors whom ignored them, students that needed a demonstration and several professors uttering the phrases “check in the library” and the modern age “YouTube it” . There’s nothing wrong with research being conducted on behalf of the student to understand, but without direction the student does not conduct their search successfully. Eventually the student stops trying to understand, they rather be confused, in doubt and uninformed than be rejected once again. This is all part of the teacher’s commitment to their students or failure of it. Ignorance towards these students isn’t only shown in the refusal to answer questions but on how they behave in the classroom as well. Many don’t interact with their students in class which means no dynamic exercises and sometimes not even a good morning. They hide behind computers and projectors just reading slides and giving assignment instructions.. Demonstrating a complete lack of interest towards their students, their education, their growth and the effects of their actions on the future of these prospecting artistic professionals.
The most appalling of it all is how these professors, many of whom many of us believe shouldn’t teach, also bring in their personal struggles and take them out on students. I saw professors that are also working professionals on the field they teach take out their failures on a class. A few whom had their own businesses, at some point in the semester failing, assigning their students impossible workloads and at times they would not criticize their student’s work but insult it. In my personal experience I had a graphics design professor that stopped me a couple minutes into my project proposal and go off on me. She went on to speak for about 5 minutes of how my work and research were in kinder words something you would defecate. “Now my research was well done and my information was correct. As to why my professor went off on me? She had just been re-diagnosed for cancer. This professor was in her 30’s and felt that life had been unfair to her and I was that tool for her to vent and even though she did apologize, it is a situation that no student should be in under any circumstances. If it had been any other student, things would have probably been different, it had not been the worst situation I had been in. I thought to myself, “I wont be in a situation worse than this one”. My prediction would ring false four years later when I entered my fifth and final year in the industrial design department of EAPD.
It was my second and final course I had to take with my department director. I wasn’t a fan of the first course I took with him, he was very discouraging so much so that a small class of 9 students became a class of 4. I personally did not get along with him because my projects although going through the design thinking process would always have an artistic and experimental approach towards the products and pieces I designed. My work would be closer to art than a mass produced product, which he didn’t like. But I would always meet the assignment’s criteria in every single project, for which I usually earned a good grade. During that first semester with several things happened, our workshop had very irregular hours that resulted in project extensions, which he wasn’t a fan of. The school also went on a strike where the school was shut down and resulted in further extensions. He made clear his feelings for our class as soon as he walked through the classroom door, he could be smiling and laughing and as he entered the classroom his face would change to one of anger, disappointment and just plain bitterness. As this second course began it was clear that nothing would change this time around. Instead he gave a speech that lasted about 10 minutes and the gist of it was that we were bad students, that our work is not good and that we would not have a future in the design world. We will be a complete failures and casted doubts of why we are even enrolled in the department. Clearly and completely losing any shred of possible respect we had for him. Instead of changing his attitude remained, and after he insulted a student’s project the class of four became a class of 3. In an academic period of 5 months he lost over 60% of his students, most of which dropped from the department entirely. Some transferring to other departments or dropping out of school entirely. Stories like these happen all the time, they shouldn’t but they do. I have only shared a couple of the hundreds of my Alma mater and it isn’t limited to art schools it happens everywhere. And even though we are able to review and score the performance of these instructors it seem that nothing is done to get rid of the many bad professors.
I, a former student, like many students did have to rely on my own research for many courses, I was ignored and even discouraged to pursue my passion by the same people not only teaching but that in the future could become colleagues or partners in a project. The title teacher, instructor and professor are ones they do not deserve to hold, their actions, their attitude, their indifference and lack of professionalism prove they are not worthy of words that describe people whom help us learn, guide and inspire to be the best we can, just like that high school art teacher.