Sam I need your help. During critique, my classmate told me, "Your realistic rendering is too much for this project." Basically we had to reconstruct a self portrait by cutting a grid on our self portraits and rearranging the squares into a new composition. How do you feel about this? I feel very discouraged doing realism and I'm pretty much the outcast to this "conceptual/abstract" art school.
Art education should absolutely challenge you to think and create things that you don’t want to and in ways you don’t want to. Students, hell — people, even the smartest and most talented ones, are stupid in contrast to the many wells of knowledge that are in front of them. Your peer critiques should challenge you, not agree with your preference — it helps open you up to new ideas and new tastes in the long run.
I think of it a lot like food actually. Kids are often given fairly simple and repetitive foods when they’re younger — sometimes it’s just what they like, sometimes it’s entirely based on the convenience and history of their parents, and sometimes it’s because dinosaur chicken nuggets are amazing. But as people grow older, many venture outside of their sauceless, spice-less, and dinosaur-shaped processed food staples, and get a little freaky-deaky with their dinner. It’s not all great, but you try it, and gradually start building a palette and preference for certain aspects of many different dishes.
When I first moved to Brooklyn and saw the widespread hipster menu items of grass-fed organic truffle-wrapped gluten-free whateverthefuck covered with a something reduction and shmancy aioli sauce — I thought: this is pretentious, overly complicated, and weird — not unlike how I felt about abstract art for a very long time. But I tried that obnoxious food and despite my preconceived notions — really enjoyed many aspects of it. I didn’t care about the gluten-ness or organic-ness of it all, the backstory statement of a food was still as obnoxious as an abstract painting’s artist statement, and they could easily rename it “yummy food ball” , but it was damn good and opened me up to many more kinds of food, and even ways to bring elements of it into the foods I was more comfortable with.
I’m with you: I love my realism. I love my dinosaur chicken nuggets. But when it comes down to it, how I create things today is a product of trying new ways to make it. Non-objective and abstract art made me see color, texture, composition, and negative space in a way that realism never did. As frustrating as education on every level is, as fundamentally flawed as it is in numerous other ways, you will have time to do things YOUR way and on YOUR terms. For now, be annoyed, be frustrated, challenge it, but don’t make the mistake that many people do (including myself for a period of time), where you just dismiss other ways to create. You can find merit in many areas of life if you immerse yourself in them, even ones that at first seem a little freaky-deaky.