Friday, October 03, 2008

tell me how you REALLY feel

Something happened tonight that upset me and I feel like I should ask my dear internet friends for guidance.  As I may have mentioned here, I've been looking forward for a couple of quarters to taking Drawing For Communication.  Everyone who has taken it already has raved about the class and I feel like it should help me out with communicating my design ideas, as well as make me a better artist.  So Thursday evenings this quarter I'll be working out my right brain.

Our first assignment was not a drawing assignment at all.  Our teacher has been really emphasizing how important proper presentation of our projects is and so he wanted us to create a name card, made with foam core backing and magnets attached to the back, to be used in class every week to designate our project space.  I was pretty excited about creating the name card and I spent quite a bit of time this week coming up with something that I liked.  Last week the teacher showed us his name card and mentioned when he was describing the project incorporation of initials in the design.  I misunderstood this to mean that initials were to be included in our name cards, so despite the fact that I'm not really an "initials" sort of a person (well, except when nfl fan friends of mine insist on calling me LT) I included my initials on my card.  Other than the inclusion of my initials and generally the size of the name card (he gave us size parameters to work within, but my shape was similar to his), I think that my card was quite different from the teacher's card -- completely different color palette (I did a gradient blue/green background with a white radial flare and white lettering; his colors were flat, primary red, yellow and black), different arrangement and alignment of the elements, different font choices.  So, you can probably see where I'm heading here...

When we got to class we put our name cards up on the board.  He didn't make any comments at the time, but during class at some point he said something about my card being similar to his and was it intentional.  I said no (and was inwardly surprised at the question, but thought it must have to do with the inclusion of my initials -- which I wouldn't have done if I didn't think (wrongly I found out) that it was part of the assignment).  Later he made a point, in the middle of class, while critiquing my drawings made in class, of saying that he thought I should redo my card and then spent over a minute accusing me of just ripping off his idea and copying it.  Oh, but it is my choice if I want to redo it or not.  But I really should redo it. (I'm not exaggerating to say that people actually *gasped* while he was talking to me.)

I was mortified and deflated.  I felt sort of stupid for having been so excited for this class and appalled that he would call me out like that in the middle of class.  I kept my composure, but it really hurt.  So now I'm trying to figure out what to do.  This is where you come in.

One thing that I won't do is drop the class.  In any event it is a mandatory design program class and he's the only person who teaches it.  And dropping it would be cowardly and against my best interest.  One thing that I feel like I must do is somehow regain my joy about being in the class.  One thing about creative endeavors is that they are best done with joy and enthusiasm.  I don't think it works to half-heartedly learn to draw or to enter the space of learning harboring resentment or anger at the person who holds the keys to my success.

The questions that I don't have answers to yet (though I have leanings), and frankly the hurt is pretty fresh still, are:

1.  Do I say something to him?  My only rebuttal to him during class was that I understood the initials to be part of the assignment, but that they aren't really me and I'd be fine with removing them.  My feeling right now is that I should send him an e-mail that is not accusatory but that conveys that the way he treated me in class was not acceptable and that I do not feel in any way like I copied him.  Obviously I would need a little time to process and be less raw before composing this e-mail.  Knowing myself, I know that it will be easier to put this behind me if I have an opportunity to express myself.  Otherwise I tend to stew and let my anger fester (not my finest qualities).

2.  Do I change my name card and if so how much?  I really don't care about removing the initials, but lord knows if that would be enough for him or not.  Should I scrap the design and start over?  I really like my design, but now it feels tainted.  Other people in class also told me that they liked it and it did not remind them of his at all, but I guess that's a hollow victory at this point.

3.  Do I just need to toughen up already?  I've sort of prided myself on being not overly emotionally attached to my designs since starting this process.  I am working to become a commercial designer after all, and much like the law there will be clients to cater to and people whose opinions necessarily will drive the design process.  Should I try to treat his words as though they are coming from a client and just figure out a way to let them roll off my back without ever letting him know my point of view?

Please let me know what you think.  Unless you think I'm a miserable sniveling copycat who stole my teacher's design aesthetic. Well, you can tell me that too, but I'm warning you that it might make me cry.


Transplanted Lawyer said...

I think the missing information here is -- is the class letter-grade or pass-fail, and if it is letter-grade, do you care about what grade you get?

If you're in a position where there either aren't gradations between passing and failing or you don't care about whatever gradations do exist, then I say, stick to your guns. As you may recall from law school, in the long run your fellow students will be of greater importance to you than your instructor, for purposes of getting referrals of work, being brought in on larger or more complex projects that come their way, and so on. It sounds like you've sufficiently impressed them already.

If you need an "A" in the class, then a certain amount of sucking up and compromise is called for. If it is possible, have an in-person meeting with the instructor to work it out rather than leaving a paper trail; the paper trail is something you start building later if the in-person meeting goes badly. Your goal in that case would be to figure out why he thought your work was similar to his so you can avoid those ideas.

But it could be that the guy is simply a martinet and a prima donna and nothing you do will please him. If that is the case, the goal shifts to passing the class anyway since whatever grade you get will be effectively random. That doesn't mean you stop doing good work -- it is both its own reward and it builds your reputation so as to impress your colleagues and earn their respect for future referrals and partnerships and such.

10 lbs of awesome in a 5 lb bag said...


And for the in person meeting, lawyer up! Use your skills as a lawyer, I mean. Think about your points in advance, think about the reasons why (in his mind) he was all over your case in class, and why he was wrong. Go in there and tell him that you want to learn what he thinks that you should have done differently, listen, and then explain to him why he is wrong.

New Diarist said...

Would you like me to kill him? I would, you know.

Not Jackson said...

I'd go with the email approach, laying it all out in a neutral tone, and then talking to him in person (does he have office hours?) at some point.

It sounds like the class probably won't be any fun if you don't clear things up with him in a semi-positive way, so I'd avoid getting too lawyerly with him.

gbc said...

How disheartening. I had a complete shocker slap-in-the-face experience at work recently and I felt like someone knocked the wind out of me -- and I was angry as hell. Maybe I'm projecting that onto you without reason, but I feel for you. It seems like he handled it really badly.

I'm not sure what to do w/r/t making a change to your namecard thingy right now. As to addressing it, maybe you can let it slide for a bit, and then approach it as a learning experience (if you bring it up at all).

From the standpoint of trying to get as much positive/learning out of this as possible, it could be of some value to see why he thinks your design is similar to his. As you rightly mentioned, your goal is to be a commercial designer and you may have clients who want something "different" -- so getting a new angle on what at least one person thinks is similar could be valuable in future. This would be an upside only if you think his thoughts are valuable.

I wouldn't go into this as a lawyer. It's not about whether you win or he wins the point on similarity; it's about getting the most out of the class, and unlike law school, the class is not about arguing. I think that outside of the law, going in with a lot of arguments as to why you are right in a situation like this is no-win. Possibly if he later seems to find intellectual disagreement stimulating, and seems prone to accepting other people's viewpoints in class and changing his mine, MAYBE. But most people don't like being told they are wrong, especially people accustomed to being in power positions, like tenured professors and judges with lifetime appointments.

gbc said...

Uh, and I would have cried. The combination of the hurt from harsh criticism, the anger at being unjustly accused, and the frustration with being unable to do anything about it is a killer combo. Frustrated anger is bad bad bad.

leila said...

Thanks for all the input. I did end up sending him an e-mail on Monday and he replied to me yesterday. I'm ready to put the whole thing behind me, and I feel like he got my point and felt bad for the way the in-class discussion transpired. I guess I'll see how class tomorrow goes, but I anticipate that this will all blow over. Will he be my favorite teacher in the program? Probably not. I do think there is some part of his personality that thrives on the ego boost of being in authority. A trait that I generally haven't seen before in the design program (but that I saw plenty of in law school, and in law firms for that matter).

And yes, design courses cannot be approached the way that law school courses are approached. Two entirely different animals. And it would frankly freak most creatives out to have someone approach them in a lawyerly manner.

My final decision with respect to the name card was to crop out the top portion that contained the initials but to leave it otherwise unchanged. I'm pretty certain that he will be fine with that solution and in any event this isn't even a graded assignment.

Now I am off to finish all my drawing assignments for tomorrow night!

Diana H. said...

I'm a little late to the comment party, but just wanted to let you know that I would have been just as hurt and embarrassed by the situation. It was so unprofessional of him to say something in front of the whole class, but I think you handled the situation well. Hope your next class goes okay!

City Elf said...

what a jerk. it sounds like you handled it well. continue to hold your head up high and be proud of your work. like gbc, i have had recent run-ins at work that may color my feelings on this, so i think i know how you felt.

also i would totally punch this guy in the jellybag for you. xo