The Tutorial (cue scary music)


[too-tawr-ee-uhl, -tohr-, tyoo-]


pertaining to or exercised by a tutor: tutorial functions orauthority.



a class in which a tutor gives intensive instruction in somesubject to an individual student or a small group of students.
I can’t deny I have mixed feelings about tutorials. As an art student, your biggest fear is that your tutor is suddenly going to turn around and tell you that everything you are doing is useless, pointless and bad. In reality, tutors aren’t quite so brutal as to use those adjectives(!) but even the slightest whiff of discontent from a tutor can spiral an artist into self-doubt, constant worry and self deprecation.

Case in point, last year a visiting tutor came to St Martins (where I was doing my post graduate diploma). I talked her through my practice and then awaited her suggestions and advise. I got a stoney wall of silence. She told me she was confused by my work and didn’t really have any advise for me. She gave me a few names of artists that had absolutely no relation to my practise and that was it. What made it worse was that I had overheard her giving a great tutorial to my neighbouring artist, giving him lots of helpful suggestions and encouraging words. The cow. At least she was honest though. The other type of tutorial that’s even worse is when a tutor doesn’t really tell you the truth for fear of offending you. They tend to talk around the subject in riddles and interesting sounding art words, without giving you any sort definitive advice. You maybe be left feeling pretty good after this tutorial but then, boom, you get your grade and its completely at odds to how your tutorial went. This has happened to me before and trust me, its a lot worse than brute honesty.

Coming to Camberwell I was a little apprehensive about my tutorials. After the first few however, you learn how to take the rough with the smooth. It also helps having tutors that are genuinely interested in your practice. Most tutors are artists themselves with subjective opinions on art so its never really clear cut. As an art student the difficulty is in deciding what to take on board and what to ignore. I have seen plenty of students who flat out refuse to listen to their tutor, believing they are ultimately the best judges of their work. Often they are not and the outcome can be bad. Being open to new suggestions is pretty crucial, and sort of the whole point of doing a Masters!

Going out into the big bad art world, you don’t get the same level of honesty, in fact nothing is said and you either sink or swim. But learning a critical way of thinking about your practice through tutorials and group crits will all help you somewhat in making good art and understanding your practice. Even if the tutor is saying some things you don’t want to hear at the time, I often find certain advice can come in handy months or even years down the line. Even a bad tutor will spur you on to prove that bastard/bitch wrong!
I am aware that my tutors will be reading this at some stage, so I would like to make a disclaimer now and say:
You are all wonderful tutors and not included on my tutor blacklist! Really! 😉
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