I remember starting the graphic design program at my university last year. I remember the first critique in my design studio class feeling like I got thrown into cold swimming pool. The embarrassment. The shame. The anger. Every art student has to go through it in order to get their ego in check. After that first critique I realized that I wasn’t being personally attacked; I was being shown the way. I began looking forward to critiques—weather as a class, or one-on-one with the instructor—because the more I opened my mind, listened, and took notes, the better my designs became.
As I find myself struggling this quarter, and dreading critiques in my current design studio class, I keep thinking back to last year, and my eagerness to get my instructor’s feedback. What has changed? The answer was simpler than I thought.
Last year, my instructor was amazing. He was smart and took his job as a teacher seriously. He was prepared for class. He gave amazing lectures. He got our grades back to us in a timely manner. He was excited to be in class. He gave us detailed feedback, and when he gave us that feedback, he delivered it with love.
Don’t get me wrong. There was no coddling involved. No beating around the bush. This instructor told it to us straight, but treated us like human beings as he did so. He didn’t act like he was superior. He didn’t treat us like idiots. He treated us like we were students, because that’s what we were.
For as much as graphic design instructors love telling us that design can change the world, and that we can make the world a better place through design, it seems like so many of them don’t understand what it takes to make that happen.
To teach us to be good designers and to help us love what we do, instructors need to work with us in an environment of love. There are too many cynical teachers out there telling us to change the world, but at the same time, are going off on their own power trips and snooty diatribes. They’re delivering their criticism in a non-loving, non-teaching way. And all that does is create fear and loathing in an attempt to keep us beneath them. And you know what? If an instructor has to act this way to deal with their own ego, insecurities, and immaturities, then they have no business teaching.
Why? Because that kind of learning environment will never lead to anything that will change the world for the better. Fear is the emotion behind hatred, and we can’t do anything productive with hate. We can only learn—and change the world—with love.