SparkNotes Blog

Auntie SparkNotes: My AP Art Class Sucks

Hey Auntie,

I’m a senior in high school this year, which is great, because I get to graduate in June and move on to better things, but it also has its other perks, like finally being able to take the AP art class I’ve wanted to for years now!

But, the thing is, I’m so exhausted and stressed by the other commitments I have this year that the art I’m making for class is straight-up *trash*. I have never been so discouraged by the artwork I’ve been making—I only have a week and a half to create a piece of art (that’s the way the class is scheduled)—but I feel like the work I’m creating is some of my worst. But my classmates are keeping up with the workload just fine! The most heart-breaking part is, though, is that at my senior show at the end of the year, I have to show my community all of this terrible work—I’m too embarrassed to even think about showing it to my family!

I’m afraid part of the problem is that this class is being taught by a first year teacher who isn’t confident enough in her own abilities to make me feel confident about my own work, but I need a solution to stop feeling so terrible and rushed when I create my work so that I have something I can actually be proud to display. What can I do?

What can you do? A few things, actually!

You could sacrifice the least important of your other commitments to devote more time to your artwork. You could ask for an extension on assignments so that you can work long-term on at least one stellar piece for your senior show. You could seek support from online art communities to make up for your uninspiring class experience. You could set loose an entire family of live raccoons in the gallery and force the cancellation of the show so that nobody has to see the work you’re so not-proud of! (Okay, maybe not that last one.)

But while you could do all those things, in all honesty, here’s what you probably should do: chalk this whole thing up as a learning experience, and finish out the semester as best you can—with the understanding that the best you can do in this class, at this time, just isn’t the best you’re capable of.

Have you ever watched The Great British Bake-Off? And have you ever noticed how even within that field of very skilled bakers, a lot of the competitors struggle because the format just isn’t quite right for them? That’s because to do well on The Great British Bake-Off, you can’t just be good; you have to be able to create amazing work within the narrow parameters of a super-regimented, high-pressure, tightly-scheduled environment. And your AP art class is similar, in that it’s got its own set of parameters—which are uniquely suited for kids who work quickly, don’t need a confidence boost, and don’t get discouraged if they can’t always produce something amazing in the time allotted to complete a project. Those kids are probably loving that class! But everyone else? Not so much.

In fact, you say that your classmates are all keeping up just fine, but I’m willing to bet that’s not entirely true. They may not be talking about it, but there are almost certainly other kids in your class who wish they could take more time with their art and don’t feel like they’re doing their best work—and a fair few are probably pretty bummed out about it.

And that’s too bad! It really is. In a perfect world, AP art would be an emotionally and creatively fulfilling experience in addition to being a class. But at the same time, you must realize that being emotionally and creatively fulfilling is not what the class is for. The point of AP art is not to make you feel good about yourself as an artist, or even to help you create work you’re proud to show off to your friends and family. AP art is designed for one purpose, and one purpose only: to produce a body of work, the best of which you put in your portfolio and submit for judgment at the end of the year, so that you can get course credit for it when you go to college.

That’s why I want to gently encourage you to make peace with the limitations of this class, rather than trying to extract an experience from it that it’s just not designed to give you. In fact, if it’s not too late to do so without collateral damage to your GPA, scholarship prospects, etc, you might want to consider either dropping the course, taking it pass-fail, or just deciding not to submit a portfolio at the end of the year so that you can spend more time working on what interests you and less time worrying about deadlines. And rather than dwelling on your disappointment, think of it as one minor footnote in an otherwise rewarding creative life: you were making art long before you enrolled in this class, and you’ll continue making it long after.

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