Pessimism Vs Realism.

I thought I would share a little story with you from my time as a teacher as a round about way of making a point about facing up to a simple reality.

Every year Southbank Institute of Technology (where I taught animation for four years) hires an independent company to review student satisfaction. Representatives from the company turn up at a class and give the student questionnaires that they can fill out anonymously. The results a collated and a copy is given to the teachers supervisor and another to the teacher, you can't see who wrote what comments, but everything is there for you to read.

Don't get me started on what this kind of performance testing (which is common in all government education institutions these days) does to the quality of education. It this kind of “make sure you tell them what they want to hear” instead of “tell them what they need to hear” approach that has animation education so wide of the mark industry is setting these days and that makes such fertile ground for the new schools like Animation Mentor who are taking a different tact. Luckily the Southbank course has great teachers who twist and turn within the system as much as possible to keep it true.

Beseiged teacher by tajai

So anyway its fair to say that in my last year of teaching, the reviewers caught me at a bad moment. I had been struggling to contain a restless student, I wont name here, but after a couple of months in the course it was becoming obvious that she wasn't really interested enough in animation to do much of it, and she had taken to distracting other students as her favourite pass time (there are no hard feeling, she was just discovering that this path wasn't for her is all). All morning she had been up to shenanigans and I must have asked or told her to calm down at least ten times already when she decided it would be a good idea to entice some of the boys in the class into a chair spinning competition. I walked over to her, planted my feet and yelled, “WHAT THE F*#K ARE YOU DOING?!?!” The class fell silent, then I got this feeling like there was someone other than my students watching. Slowly I turned my head and standing there at the classroom door were the reps from the review company, clipboards in hand.

I was asked to leave the room (as is the normal procedure) while the students were asked to fill out their opinions about me, the memory of my irate and obscene exclamations still ringing in their ears. Afterwards the the student came up to me and assured me that she hadn't written anything bad about me which was nice I guess (I would rather she had done some animation ;)

A few months later I got the results back, they were all positive. Some of the comments were interesting (eg - “He has like ADD or something”), but that's probably an inevitable side affect from me being quite an excitable (as is obvious now) and animated teacher. The only comment close to negative was something like, “could be a little less pessimistic.”

Now I could be feeling pretty happy with myself after such a good review, but that comment still pops into my mind from time to time. You see the thing is I don't see myself as a pessimist at all, I just accept the fact that failing and the constant threat of failure is part of being an artist, it is in fact what makes being an artist such a compelling thing. I don't really understand why some seem to think that we are all supposed to live our lives animating away without actually articulating that any of us could stuff it up at any second. After years and years of animating, I still live in fear of someone coming up to my look at my work and saying, “Aha! You have no idea what your doing do you?!?!” But I wouldn't have it any other way.

I was inspired to write this post when I saw this quote from Micheal Jordan in a Nike Ad, “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Students often roll their eyes when I make comparisons between sport and animating, probably because most animation students are about as sporty as Fat Albert or something, but I think there are similarities in the psychology. Both require passion and determination beyond what you are likely to be paid for, and both require that you stick your neck out and take a risk, you could fail at any moment. That's not pessimistic, that bloody beautiful and I wouldn't have it any other way. Animation makes me richer every day and it has nothing to do with money.

An Artist's Dream by Umair Mohsin.

An Artist's Dream by Umair Mohsin


frank said...

I like animation because when I stuff up I can learn something without having killed anybody (unless that was the animation exercise). Animation is a liberating, dare I say exhilerating experience, in that way. It's different in surgery.

frank said...

Hey Ian, once again an excellent post. That's why I drop by this blog each day. One of my favourite animation parables. I don't think anything can beat passion in an educator. And you've got sensitivity icing on top as well.

So many stories of university animation lecturers who may not interact with their students if they can be avoided.

Animation is a craft, an apprenticeship, so much better suited to a technical college where a teacher can help aim the hammer to hit the animation nail right on the head.

Looking forward to your guest lectures and those moments when the piano player stops and the saloon doors swing.

ang said...

I've failed at so many things over the past eight years and that's exactly what's refined me (hopefully) as a creative person. I've got so much great material and insights to use in my animation. Nah, it's not about money, it is about putting your passion into your creative effort, not into people or thankless jobs. For me, it's also about taking responsibility for my failures, and really accepting myself, which is important if you want to grow some faith in your creative voice. I think some of my funniest experiences certainly occurred when I was feeling sorry for myself. What a lovely medium animation is when it reveals human frailties and allows us to laugh at ourselves. I was accused of being intense once (or twice) by a dear friend of mine who always hammers you with the truth. I'm glad he (so intensely) brought my attention to this characteristic that can be used for creative good or chaos depending on how it's channelled. I'm really liking this talk about failing because it's not good enough just to have talent but to never really work hard at it and give it some real hard-earned wings. Really, it's good to experience being the anti-hero because that's the persona we can all relate to.The anti-hero is the world-weary yet philosophical story-teller. When I thought I was such a loser in this society, I was so worried about money I was afraid I'd become homeless, it was then I began to meet amazing people who had so much dignity and focus even though they'd lost their whole country to senseless war.Things like that, open your eyes a bit, there is a big world out there filled with amazing people and their stories. Losing things, even who you thought you wanted to be, sets you off on a great seeking and finding mission where you want to understand everything. Everthing starts to seem interesting. Yeah about at this stage in a high falutin' text to my friend he'd always text back saying "what are you blathering on about now?". He's right you can't just talk about stuff.

Ian said...

Thanks Frank and Ang

Hey another student willing to comment on the ARC! A rare and precious thing indeed, thanks for your thoughts :)

Mustafa-Gee said...

well let me add to the student list ( that is post-student ) i think the point of failure is the point of knowing that you suck at said task and need to learn how to get better. you can defend a piece of crap till your dying breath...but it's still going to be a piece of crap.

indeed it's best to chuck it out and start again, it gets easier when you start working because you know your career depends on it. Paying people don't care about personal artist growth, they want someone who can get the job done.


Cassie said...

Thankyou Ian,
For all you time and patience.
It was nice to have as a teacher and I will still spam you if I can show you some reasonable animation :)!
Have fun at your new job!

Terry said...

Ian, one of the greatest things that I learned from you during our teaching time together is that students can react very positively to the "harsh truth", while my natural tendency to focus on the positives and gloss over the negatives does nobody any favours.

Of course, being AWARE of that is one thing... putting it into practice is another. But I'm going to do my best to be a little less "nice" this year!