Looking back at her two-year experience at the Ontario College of Art and Design, Candice Bradley, 24, admits that it was a combination of things that drove her to drop out.
“I was very young, I was 17, it was my first time living in the city and there is no residence at OCAD,” she said. “I was extremely anxious to be in school and meet new people.”
“I had anxiety about my artwork and fitting in,” said Bradley regarding critiques, in which students must defend their work.
Student anxiety over visual art critiques is reflected in the National Collegiate Health Assessment of 2013 that shows post-secondary students across Ontario face mental health issues on a daily basis.
Of 32 post-secondary institutions that participated, the study shows OCAD is overrepresented in the number of students who experience anxiety, stress and a tendency to self-harm in Ontario.
The OCAD statistics dominate the provincial average in several areas of mental health students were surveyed on.
Among some of the alarming statistics, 53 per cent of OCAD students admitted to battling depression in comparison to the 38 per cent provincial average.
Levels of anxiety for OCAD students also shatter the provincial average, with
75 per cent of OCAD students experiencing anxiety in contrast to 56 per cent across the provincial population.
Bradley said that some contributing factors that explain why such a wide gap between the experiences of OCAD students and the rest of the province exists could be the culture of critiques and a lack of community.
“It was basically the student standing up and defending their artwork or pointing out all the flaws,” she said. “Pointing out everything that was wrong with it, making their work into garbage.”
First year Humber Visual and Digital Arts (VADA) students Kristina Nawrot, 19, and Tanisha Bryan, 19, speak of the Humber critique culture with a sense of calm that Bradley is unable to manage when reflecting on her time at OCAD.
“As a student it helps me improve my art,” said Nawrot. “I can see how it could be stressful though, people may not get the same message that you are trying to convey.”
“It can just stress you out because they aren’t looking at it the same way,” she said.
Bryan attributes her positive attitude towards critiques to VADA’s faculty.
“They are understanding,” she said. “They are there to help you, they want to see you grow. There is so much support you don’t ever feel like you can’t do something.”
Are critiques a necessary part of the curriculum?
Liz Sokol, a counselor at Humber’s counseling services, said the critique process, however daunting it may seem, is integral.
“The process of critique is crucial. But it has to work in a supportive way,” Sokol said. “Criticism that makes the person feel bad about themselves is useless.”
Sokol notes there is a general sense of anxiety and a fear of inadequacy that accompanies the process of critiques and the experiences of art students.
Students agree it seems Humber’s faculty is doing its part to keep its artists creatively charged and minimizes the weight of mental stress.