Welcome, class. My name is Derek.
This is a story. From Frank Chimero. Full text here.
“Some people just can’t handle honesty, I guess,” Paul shrugged.
He poured me a coffee from his thermos and invited me to take a seat in his office. I looked over my shoulder and got one last guilty glance at the student running out crying. I sat down. “What did you say to her?”
“The usual. About how she wasn’t working hard enough. About how when she shows up unprepared it’s a waste of my time, but worse, it steals time from everyone else in the class. How if she’s having issues loving this craft now when she’s doing it for herself, that it’s only going to get more and more difficult to learn to love once she’s got a job with clients.”
After a brief moment of silence, I said, “I think you said something else. You did the part where you say ‘Assuming you get a job,’ didn’t you?”
“Of course! It’s true! She needs to know she has to work harder. She needs to know the reality of the situation. You can’t sugar-coat everything: her work isn’t good enough to pass.”
Paul was surly, impatient, and lovable, an unadulterated truth-telling machine stuck in a system of nuance, back-patting and grade inflation. Paul could stand to be nicer to some, but if you listened to him, and worked hard, you were one of his kids and on the fast track. If something sucked, he told you, but he also told you how to make it sing. A student just had to suppress their ego long enough to hear that last bit. Most students focused on the wrong half of his sentences and presumed that his approval was some unreachable goal, and that Paul could breathe fire at will. They made the mistake that his approval was based on how few gaffes a student made, and not how significant that student’s effort was. The happiest I’d ever seen Paul was when one student showed up to class with a two-inch stack of sketches, and when he asked what it was, she just answered “The chopping block.” Paul’s wrinkled face cracked into a half-smile. He loved it when his students would recognize the potential in something and be able to tell the good from the bad.
“Everything needs more love. You know how I always hound students about their craft? Craft is love manifest. It’s that love that makes you reject hundreds of bad ideas in the hope that you can come up with something worthy of your subject. It’s that attention to detail that makes you want every little piece to be perfect. It’s what makes you kern body copy and justify text by hand and buy surgeon’s tools for your comps and what makes you stay up until God knows when wondering if green is better than yellow, and then doing both anyway, damn it.”
“That’s why that girl ran out of here crying. Not enough love. But I have hope for her. I think she can do it. I really think she can. She’s smarter than all my other students. Up until now, she’s just been flat. That’s the first emotion I’ve been able to get out of her. And next week in class I’m going to tell her that it was good that she expressed herself, and that I’m sorry that I had to push that hard for it to come out. But, I think it will be good for her, because she’ll understand that if there’s something important to say, she’ll know what I mean when I tell her she’d better be funny as hell or insightful or honest or even angry. Or all of them at once. Cry, if you need to. Just be human. Vulnerable. As difficult as that sounds, it’s your only choice if you want to do anything worthwhile.”
"Craft is love manifest." Beautiful. Now design.