In year ten, the first year of studying GCSE subjects (in theory), I hated art. A lot.
When I was choosing my options the year before, I’d been counselled against taking it. “If your teacher doesn’t like your style, you’ll get a low mark,” my sister told me. But that was okay, because I didn’t really have a ‘style’, so there would be nothing for them to dislike. I’d just do what they told me to do, right?
In the end, I chose Classical Greek… only to discover that I, in a typically unique fashion, had been the only person in my year to choose it, and so they couldn’t run the course. It looked like I was stuck with Art.
Throughout the first year of the two-year course I struggled greatly. We were focusing on Still Life for the first six months or so and at Easter had our year ten exam, a drawing exam. I managed to get 37.5%, an E grade, the lowest in my year. First time that’s happened to me, but I’m pretty proud of it. I mean, if you’re going to fail, at least do it properly. No coming second to bottom. That’s just not allowed.
And then towards October or November of year eleven, I began to work out what ‘my style’ was. Things suddenly got easier, because I wasn’t comparing my drawings to my friend’s drawings. Her style is completely different to mine. Some prefer it. Others like mine. I liked hers and so was constantly feeling inadequate. Now that I’ve worked out my drawings look different, I’m more accepting of how they look.
In February we were given our exam papers. They have seven prompts, and you choose one. My eyes immediately skipped to “Music and Dance – research appropriate sources and create your own piece based on the concept of music and dance” (or something to that effect). It could have been made for me.
At the time I was listening to a Frank Turner song and the lyric, You dance as if you’re hours away from death, jumped out at me. Bouncing ideas off my mum, she suggested I link it to the Rite of Spring, as dancing to death and Stravinsky go hand in hand.
And I was SO glad that I did. Here are a few reasons why the last half term of Art was actually not as bad as I was expecting (and may even have been considered fun, or interesting, or informative, at times):
- I learned a lot about a subject that I’d chosen to study. I researched the Ballets Russes, Stravinsky, different interpretations of Sacre, costume designs, set designs, artists from Roerich to Degas, Picasso to Heindel. Instead of slaving over a period of history that I found boring or reading a book I didn’t like, I was looking into two of my absolute passions: ballet and music.
- I found ‘my style’ more than ever before. I was doing some Degas copies and realised how much I liked the sketchy style, and the way he used only black, brown and white, instead of lots of colours. I used it to create a page of ballet dancers, and it came out really well. I also used lots of pastels to do Roerich copies and found out that actually, I’m pretty good with pastels.
- It was research for a novel, too. Okay, so this doesn’t apply to many people other than me, but I was writing Rite when I started, and so now have materials for that which I wouldn’t have bothered with otherwise. Research, pah? But when you’re getting graded for it…
- I got to go and see the ballet as ‘research’. Others rewatched films they were using as influences, or went to art galleries, or went to the countryside to take photos. Me, I went to see ‘Beyond Ballets Russes’ as performed by the English National Ballet, and it was amazing.
- My teacher learned to trust me. I don’t know whether it was my mock exam that convinced her or my preparation (what little she saw of it), but instead of designing all my work for me and telling me that what I’d done was wrong, she left me to it for pretty much the entire exam and only spoke to me at the end to compliment me on how it’d come out, a far cry from the mock when she told me to redo a lot of it! She was right, of course. But I’m glad this time I was able to prove that I could get the marks without her help – and I hope I did. (fingers crossed)
- I’ve learned patience. So much work goes into Art prep work – nine hours on an A4 page, for example. But that’s given me patience and perseverance that I’ll be able to transfer into other things, like writing or dance.
- I’m learning to ‘solve problems’ not ‘see problems’. I’ll admit I’m still working on this one. People give me a suggestion and I’ll say what’s wrong with it. My mum will point out a solution to that. She tells me every time: look for the solution, not for the problem.
And that’s why actually, I started to enjoy Art GCSE towards the end. You know, just a bit. I mean, nothing major. I’m not, like, gushing over it or anything…
Here’s my final piece. It’s a bad photo. The lyrics, “You dance as if you’re hours away from death”, are hardly visible. But I like the juxtaposition of the original set designs and the modern costumes, and the idea of Frank Turner and Stravinsky together. It makes me happy.