Can't draw. In drawing class. Imminent failure?
August 31, 2011 3:22 PM   Subscribe

How are students typically graded in low-level art classes at a large university with a fairly serious art school?

I am about to graduate with a decidedly non-artistic degree. I had one more general education requirement to fulfill, so I went looking for things that might fit the drill. My university has a fairly big fine arts school and they had several interesting offerings.

I found a 200-level drawing course listed in the course catalog as satisfying the requirement. There's a fundamentals of drawing prerequisite for it that I haven't taken, but the course description explicitly waives it for non-majors. I showed up for the first day of class feeling pretty comfortable that as long as I try I'll do well, but I then I find it's full of SERIOUS ART STUDENTS, I have to buy SERIOUS ART SUPPLIES, and it seems that my grade is going to be based 90% on my portfolio at the end of the semester. 10% is based on effort. All I have is effort!

So I'm wondering what I've gotten myself into. I would ask the instructor but I don't want to be "That Student." At least not yet. I mean, I already broke one of the desks during the first class. =/

So how am I likely to be graded? On skill? On improvement? On how well my work reflects that I'm paying attention to what the instructor says? I don't think I'll be terrible at picking up new concepts - I just have no background and no particular talent.

Should I move out of the class even though I really do want to learn more drawing skills if I'm worried about my grades (attempting to get into grad school shortly), or is it likely I'll be okay?

I'm aware that I may be blowing this all out of proportion, and in fact I hope that's the case - I'm just totally in the dark. If you want to tell me I'm being silly that would be great.
posted by Kutsuwamushi to Education (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Oh my goodness, talk to the instructor. Ask them what their grading policies are.

Also, are you in a school/position where you can take classes pass/fail occasionally? Because an out-of-major art class is what taking classes pass/fail was designed for.
posted by brainmouse at 3:31 PM on August 31, 2011

Eek, yes talk to the instructor and if they say to drop it please do. Also in the future (although it sounds like you're close to done) I explicitly avoid courses that waive the pre-req for non-majors unless I feel that I have already gotten the knowledge needed to do successfully in the course (i.e. I have a serious drawing hobby but am a history major, or I have been a major east Asian political buff in my off time but study music)
posted by boobjob at 3:33 PM on August 31, 2011

Best answer: 1. I have taught college level drawing to art majors at a school much like the one you describe. There were always a couple of students who were starting from zero (mostly graphic design majors), and I graded them on effort, participation, attendance, and rate of improvement.

2. By the end of the semester most of the work that these students were producing, if, like you, they were taking the class because they truly wanted to learn how to draw, was indistinguishable in terms of quality from some of the art majors' work.

3. "That Student" is the one that second-guesses, feels lost, flounders around, and refuses to ask for help early on. Don't be "That Student". Instead lay out your concerns now with your professor, ask for some advice and guidance, and make it clear that you want to learn how to draw and aren't hoping for easy credits. There's really no other way for you to get the answers you need otherwise.
posted by stagewhisper at 3:34 PM on August 31, 2011 [5 favorites]

You are only hurting yourself by not talking to the instructor. That is their job! Most are pretty friendly.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 3:39 PM on August 31, 2011

Response by poster: I will force myself to email the instructor or talk to her after class tomorrow, but I'd still like to know what's typical. But it will be easier to do so if I'm expecting "you sound like you'll be okay," rather than "you should probably drop this class" - because I don't want to and it would be a big hassle to find a replacement at this stage.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 3:39 PM on August 31, 2011

Talk to the instructor in person! Also, if it sounds like the class is too hard or just won't work out then its better to cut your loses sooner and find something that will work. Especially to avoid lowering your GPA.
posted by Mr. Papagiorgio at 3:45 PM on August 31, 2011

A bunch of years ago when I was in college, I had several friends who took drawing classes (they were not art majors) on the theory that it fulfilled a requirement and wouldn't require as much "work" as their other classes (there was generally less reading). They were the ones up until all hours in the last week of the term, frantically drawing still-lifes of hangers or shoes or fruit in order to finish their class portfolios. Don't underestimate how hard it might be, and how much work it might require, especially since you have little or no experience. Please talk to the prof ASAP.
posted by rtha at 3:51 PM on August 31, 2011

You sound like you'll be okay! I took basically the same class at a private art school, and fundamentals classes were required for students of all majors, many of whom did not have much prior experience. Even at my very expensive private school, many students in the class were so-so at drawing, and they passed just fine and nobody pointed and laughed.

Don't let the portfolio intimidate you. It just means that your work will be reviewed as a body to look for progress and whether you grasp basic concepts, not that you'll be judged against the rest of the class. The most important things to keep in mind:

- Do not decide right off the bat that your work sucks compared to everyone else's because you're not an art major. You don't need any special training to draw, just eyes and hands. There will be a few super-talented students in every class, and you're lucky to have them because you can learn from what works in their drawings.

- Don't worry so much about the grade that you're afraid to try stuff and fail. Throw yourself into everything with the attitude that it may or may not work and that's okay. The teacher WILL notice and WILL approve.
posted by ella wren at 4:03 PM on August 31, 2011

So it sounds like you want the secret insider perspective. Well, unfortunately, grading in university-level art classes, like grading in most other university-level classes, is ENTIRELY based on the professor's preferences. I did 3 years of compulsory drawing classes for my degree (I'm one of those graphic designers stagewhisper mentioned.) Every instructor is different.

Worst case scenario: you have an old-school, fire-and-brimstone RISD-trained prof. You are going to sweat charcoal. You'll be graded on mastery of expressing emotion through line and shading, as well as EXTREMELY CHALLENGING technical skills--such as drawing foreshortened human body parts with proper 3-point perspective in strict time limits. Yes, I had that in a 200-level class. If you've never had to draw in correct perspective before, it is going to hurt your brain and possibly make you cry. You will spend every class period drawing non-stop, and the homework will be more drawing. The portfolio will be sizeable, using specific techniques, consisting of pieces that have been refined and "finished" to the instructor's standard. No smudges, no stray lines, balanced compositions that are fluid and expressive. You are expected to re-do it until it is perfect. These kinds of profs will consider it an offense to give a passing grade to anything with a thumbprint. But if you really get into it, it's possible to pass.

Opposite end of the spectrum: new-agey type who wants you to express your inner creative self. You will still have to deliver a portfolio, and you will still spend most classes drawing non-stop. The prof could be very understanding and just look for the delivery of the right number of pieces with some improvement over the semester, and a basic grasp of drawing principles. The drawings won't be expected to be at a high level of refinement, so you can fix up some of your in-class exercises.

Just because you "can't draw" doesn't mean you can't pass a drawing class. I still can't draw a hand that doesn't look completely demented, but I did ok and only cried a few times. If you are willing to spend more time on your drawing homework than your other homework, it is worth it, because you will learn amazing things!* If you can't put in the required time... I would just warn you that it's much harder to b.s. your way through a portfolio than it is to b.s. a final paper.

*or start to hate drawing with a passion.
posted by 100kb at 4:35 PM on August 31, 2011 [4 favorites]

it really does depend on the professor. but from my own personal experience, all my drawing professors didn't care if u drew like shit. as long as you did all the assignments, showing that you actually spent time on all your drawing and paticipated openly in all the critques. then youll do fine. cause i noticed all those people got better grades than me. i just did the minmum thinking my drawings looked better was enough. they want to see drive, vision, passion, which i didnt have. all those other people i mentioned are now amazing fulltime artists.
posted by udon at 4:58 PM on August 31, 2011

I *was* an art student at an art school, in a 200 level drawing class and *I* felt completely and wholly underskilled. I was about to drop out of the entire school. The doodles on the desks of the other students on the first day were incredible, compared to whatever I could do given days.

But, I kept with it, stayed at school until the kicked me out for the night and sometimes, I broke back in and on the weekends. Got better. 10,000 hours - as they say and you'll get the nack.

Now, since i was an art major, it's a different scenario. But, what I want to relay is that: drawing is a skill that can be learned, it's not always easy, but like anything, it takes time to acquire, so you're not completely hopeless. Put the time in.
posted by alex_skazat at 5:13 PM on August 31, 2011

Best answer: Oh hello. I teach intro-level drawing at "a large university with a fairly serious art school." In my expert opinion you should… follow everyone else's advice and talk to the instructor. Some things to consider, though:

Most of your art-majoring classmates are probably in first or second year, right? I can't speak for all instructors (and we vary wildly in temperament and policy both), but when I've taught similar classes, those somewhat older non-majors seemed absolutely heaven-sent. They've tended to be better able to communicate their ideas during critique and to provide better feedback to their classmates, and, because they start out feeling a bit like fish out of water, they often try much harder than their would-be hot-shot peers. Besides, I don't know many instructors who are anything less than thrilled to have students taking their courses out of genuine interest rather than because it's a degree requirement (a 200 level drawing course is in all likelihood mandatory, even for students without the slightest interest in using drawing in their own work or any real aptitude for the medium).

How your instructor grades though? Only she can tell you, and, in fact, she should have told you in no uncertain terms in the course outline. I wouldn't panic about the 10% for effort, though, as I have to believe that effort will play a huge role in how that final, 90%-weighted portfolio is marked. I feel fairly comfortable in saying that most art profs would prefer to grade on effort and improvement as a general principle, giving mostly As and Bs. If the art program is part of a larger faculty (humanities or whatever), profs may be instructed to bell-curve their marking and give out Cs, though. Programs with greater autonomy tend to see a lot more grade inflation (not a fan personally, but it would work for you in your present situation).

All that, said, if you choose to remain in the class, you really are going to have to buy "serious art supplies." Using crummy materials will only undercut the effort you put into your work. I'm serious.
posted by wreckingball at 5:34 PM on August 31, 2011 [1 favorite]

I also came in to say that drawing is a skill you can teach and learn, not just a magical gift of the gods. So you'll be fine as long as you do the work required. The best thing this class will teach you is to record what is actually in front of you, and not what your brain tricks you into thinking is there. It's a greatly useful skill. Stick with it!
posted by TallulahBankhead at 10:35 PM on August 31, 2011

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