Roland, the epic, ass-kicking art teacher

"I'm gonna pull that fuckin' plug out of the computer. Horrible."

Every art and design student should be so lucky as to be instructed by Roland.

(Via Roland is God)

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  1. This is a good glimpse into what it takes to be a really good designer.

    People seeing this kind of teaching out of context may just write him off as insane. It can be brutal to hear teachers say things like “How can you be so average?”, but from a brilliant, creative teacher, it wakes you up and makes you really pay attention to EVERYTHING.

    My favorite quote: “It looks like a banker did it.”

    On the other hand, from a bad teacher, this confrontational style just makes people hate doing work that beats up your ego.

    Sadly, I graduated from Art Center without taking a class from Roland Young. Seeing this makes me really, really, wish I had.

  2. This man reminds me of my 5th grade art teacher.

    I can’t draw, I don’t have that skill. I have a good sense of style, I can make a room look very nice and trendy and pleasant, but I cannot draw.

    My 5th grade art teacher looked at my drawing, he picked it up from my desk, then he picked up the drawing of, arguably, one of the better skilled kids in the class and put them both side by side. He asked everyone in the class to look at both drawings carefully and to vote on which one was better.

    Now, I knew that I couldn’t draw well, but I was having fun and I was doing my best. Apparently it was not good enough for him. I was humiliated. I went home that night and I told my parents what happened. My dad went to the school the next day and ripped this teacher a new one.

    Ever since, it didn’t matter how much I tried to draw something nice in the hopes that he would be pleasantly surprised, he would look at me and said “I’m giving you a C and you know why.”

    This turned me away from art for most of my young life. I never drew for fun ever since.

    I’ve sometimes wondered what he is up to nowadays. Now I see this video and realize that he probably never changed. He could very well be the man in this video.

    1. Teaching at the college level and at the elementary school level are very different. If you’re around 20, and your life goal includes getting a BFA, you should really already be able to come up with some interesting images beyond “putting a cross on top of the white house”. I don’t know Rolland and I certainly haven’t taken his class, but I pretty much agree with him on what he says in this video.

    2. you can draw, everyone can. don’t worry about what that vindictive asshole says to a fifth grader.
      Roland is laying it out to adults that should know better.

  3. @DisneyBoy Your tale is a sad one, and your teacher was an asshole. The video, however, is of a teacher at a world-renowned design school, and this kind of crit is what these would-be designers signed up for.

    1. i had a similar experience to disneyboy as a kid in school. but these arent kids, theyre people progressing in a field full of shills and people who see ‘art’ as a correctly cropped picture rather than an interesting evocative scene.

  4. Well this isn’t fifth grade exactly but I hope that guy was blended in with someone decent aswell. I don’t get the slave mentality of his students who don’t mouth back at all… Or maybe this is the way they do it after having him – by making little videos in a sort of wierdly hidden aggressive way.

    Sure being a designer is difficult, its hard work, but to learn how to doubt yourself is not a very good skill to have.

    But hey maybe these are his and his students worst moments… who knows?

  5. @osmo: Learning to doubt yourself is actually essential. So is learning to recognise when what you’re doing is just right, just what you need to do, and you must stand up for it. And learning to tell the difference is a large part of what an art education is about.

    1. True enough but the point is that its so damn easy making people doubt themselves that you kinda wonder what is this guy so damn upset about all the time? Sure some kid (I say kid because in my mind most people under the age 25 are still kids or at best “young adults”) will need a damn talking to about his or her lack of sincere interest in the subject but in such a humiliating and degrading way. I doubt that will do much except learn people to hate their audience or hate their own work. In my opinion.

      BUT again I have no idea who this man is, maybe he’ll say something brilliant at one point beyond pointing out the obvious faults in an overly aggressive manner, because that is what he is doing. Any tit can realize that making a statement about patriotism using ridiculous symbolism is kinda… done. But people need to reinvent the wheel every now and again and if they should have passed that you show them why its wrong. You don’t scream that it is at the top of your voice. Thats what we have art critics for not art teachers.

      Learning to shut up when someone is doing you a wrong is sadly something everyone learns after a while its just not a good skill to have in my opinion.

  6. When I first started watching this I thought for a moment, when he’s kinda ranting, that the title was sarcastic, but agfter a moment, I realised, this man is brilliant.
    This is the greatest thing I’ve seen all day, and this Roland is truely epic. Thanks for posting.
    Also @osmo, really no offence, but I think you don’t get it.
    This is brilliant

  7. I don’t know. To me, he comes off as kind of an egotistical dickhead. I mean, challenging students is one thing. But there is something to be said for nurturing as well, and also for trying to see the artist’s point of view. Out and out abuse might prepare them for the real world of design, but it could also very well turn off a young talent. This teaching method is akin to teaching people to swim by throwing them into an icy lake. It doesn’t take much thought or work. Just fling them into the water, and if they can’t swim, then they had no business wanting to swim in the first place. I’m not saying that abuse doesn’t have its place – some people respond better to that. But if that’s all he’s got in his palette, then his teaching ability is fairly monochromatic. “Hey, what was that lecture supposed to be? It sounded more like a drunken rant. You teach like an alcoholic drill sergeant. Is that what you are? An alcoholic drill sergeant?”

    1. If you’re in elementary school or (god forbid) trying to coast through a couple elective credits in middle/high school, then Roland probably isn’t the teacher for you. But if you’re willing to invest considerable cost and time at the college level, then go into the work force as a professional artist of any merit or worth, you better hope to Jeebus you have at least one teacher like Roland.

      Most art school students (myself included) start out their education as completely pretentious, self-involved, and really lacking direction. Having someone in creative authority attack that and coax true creativity out of you while you’re still formulating your professional self: priceless.

  8. Roland was one of the greatest teachers I have ever had in art school. Here is why…

    …for my first Ad assignment he said it was chauvinistic and had a junior high bathroom sensibility to it. You know what…he was right.

    It is truly wonderful to get a teacher who can call it how it is and be so close to the mark it is scary.

    To this day, over ten years later, I quote and use things he said and taught in our classes at Otis.

    1. Ok so he DID say things in between the rants. And he was a great teacher. Thats great. Then this video is obviously a bit of a cheap shot at him

  9. I am fortunate to teach with Roland as our director (he is now at Academy of Art University in San Francisco.)

    Two things:

    1) The sentiment I most often hear from students who take his class. “I wish I had taken it sooner. Everything I created beforehand wasn’t truly me.”

    2) I’ve seen students cry when he first reviews their portfolio. BUT, I see them back in his office, the next week and the following and the following. Eventually, they come out with something good and wholly their own.

    Roland (like Wolverine) is the best at what he does.

  10. Hard to see what the point of this is or whether or not this guy is a good teacher.

    Without any idea of what the assignment was to begin with, we are left to assume the critique is justifiable. The “hidden” camera doesn’t even show the points he is making.

    The video itself would get an F in my class.

  11. You can yell right back at the teacher/jury during a critique. There’s nothing that says that they’re right and unless they’re idiots, they know that as well. If there’s anything defensible about your work (and if there isn’t, change majors), then you should defend it vigorously. I had some very combative jury critiques when I was in design school. Sometimes critiques were meaningful and sometimes I had to forcibly pull their heads out of their asses.

  12. And this is what design school is really like. You just really have to separate yourself from your work and just understand that you’re being critiqued on your work, not who you are as a human being – otherwise you’d be in tears every day.

  13. @DisneyBoy what you see in the video is not the same thing as 5th grade art class. Your 5th grade teacher was just a bully and unfortunately may have permanently turned you off of drawing because he was a jerk who liked to make little kids feel terrible.

    This video is out of context. This style of teaching is used to weed out people who are not serious about putting in the work that it takes to be a high level professional designer. Art Center currently costs $16,296 per trimester. If you are spending that kind of cash on an education, you better make sure you are serious about it.

    Being able to take harsh criticism is essential for the job. Notice that Roland is not just telling the students that they suck. He is also asking them why they chose to make certain decisions. He shocks people out of complacency, in order to find their own artistic voice so they can say something unique.

    All that being said, my favorite teachers didn’t have such a confrontational style. They were able to critique the art, not the artist and inspired me to improve past my my perceived limitations.

  14. The video is out of context, but what he’s saying makes total sense to me. The pieces he says are crap ARE crap. And if you can’t handle that sort of no-nonsense critique (as an adult art student) you’re really not cut out to be a working artist.

  15. When I saw the caption, I thought “as if the art world needs another pretentious, loud asshole who thinks he’s god”…

    But I gotta say, despite his… candor, I think his critiques were quite accurate and that he did show a brand of empathy: He seems to thoroughly believe that each student could do better, that’s why he’s so damn upset about it. He also gives plenty of room for each student to retort or justify their work, but they all mumble and cower instead. If anything, he’d probably be less disheartened if they would passionately defend their ideas and start an interesting discussion over it… Thay may be wrong, or HE might be, but you won’t find out until you TALK about it!

    I was expecting a total jerk, instead I WISH I had a teacher who cared as much about design and his job. I went to art school and most teachers didn’t seem to give a crap either way. No way you could whip up enough passion- or disappointment- in any of them to come up with such a reaction.

  16. I’m with Antinous on this – this is a teacher working his ass off trying to goad students into launching some kind of defense. Art is about communication and when his students don’t have anything to say he’s calling on it. Holy hell but I wish I had this guy as an art teacher.

    F*ck nurturing artistic talent in college, I’ve been a student in that situation and it doesn’t work. By accepting everything and challenging nothing my teachers did nothing to get me to think about how and what I was communicating. Entirely worthless and completely devalues art education.

    Anyone reading this who’s in Roland’s class, whether you’re brilliant or dismissed by him, I envy you like you’ll never know. Go to class every day, and by all that’s good and decent _listen_ to the man whether he’s talking to you or someone else.

  17. Ahh good times. I remember those hardcore crits well. IMO, that is what separates the mediocre art schools from the great ones. To anyone that might be shocked by such a crit, don’t go to a great art school. That and at least he didn’t rip shit off the wall that wasn’t worth wasting the rest of the class’ time discussing. I had some instructors at Otis that would have torn the first couple pieces off the wall and thrown them in the trash.

  18. He is an amazing art teacher, and I was lucky enough to have someone as neurotic, loud, brilliant and (absaloutly) insane teach me. Tough love is defiantly what is needed in art school cuz all your life people shit on your work and there is no peer support whatsoever, you you need to be hardskinned, open to criticism and really strong enough to stand up to someone as fierce as Roland if you have a vision to birth into the world.

  19. this is brilliant. he’s doing 2 things at once. 1. stripping the ego from the task, and 2. making the student think about what he’s doing. That’s the basis for good teaching in any subject (and teaching life lessons as well…so i guess that’s 3 things).

    I don’t hear any hate or meanness in even the harshest critiques. Sounds like he’s just confronting what he sees. But to be the doer of crappy work in that class…

  20. I had a teacher like this in film school. Sure, we complained about it, but it was invaluable, especially in such a subjective field. You have to forced to defend your art sometimes to really see it for what it is instead of what you were thinking or wished it could be.

  21. On the contrary, I think he’s kind of a dick, even though context is everything in video. This could be him on a tear one day.
    While there’s some amazingly pretentious and unimaginative photography out there perpetrated by kids with their first fancy SLR (I for one hope I never see another closeup of a fire hydrant or building rain-spout ever again), Roland sounds like the typical frustrated artist stuck teaching kids. Thus dispirited, it’s his duty to squash their creativity.
    I’m sure some of them need a boot to the ass, creativity-wise, but there’s something creepy about our culture where we idolize these abusive, drill sergeant personalities like it’s Hell’s Kitchen or The Apprentice and bend over to take our lashes.

  22. I didn’t study under him, but the most effective method for motivating young designers to engage and think again is to force them to do exactly that. My personal experience is that the most difficult situations have resulted in the biggest jumps in my personal skill set – or in another words, the assholes have forced me to get better. As a result I’m better equipped to defend my ideas and better equipped to find new ones when a client hates what I’ve presented. Those skills are invaluable. I’m a better designer for my most difficult teachers/co-workers & clients. Or as a result, I’m less likely to bend over when I think an idea is worth defending and when I’ve presented something that’s not worth defending I deserve a kick in the pants for presenting crap.

    I think it should be a mixture of the truth and a nurturing environment – it can’t be all drill sergeant, but this technique has a role and place. A misplaced sense of self-entitlement is a much bigger ongoing threat to a young designer’s chance of finding ongoing work (which is also rewarding) than an agile mind ready to learn and articulate ideas.

  23. I had an instructor like him at SVA years back. He told it like it was and didn’t let anyone escape with lazy assignments.

    That said, he was a dick. That poor attitude wasn’t what I was paying for. I had much friendlier teachers that taught me just as much without the drill sergeant schtick.

  24. A friend of mine who went to film school at SF State said that no matter what a stinking turd of a project you brought into class, everyone would tell you how wonderful it was. You could walk out after four years of school without the slightest idea that you were completely talentless and incompetent.

  25. If all art/design professors were like this guy the field wouldn’t be so over-saturated with such mediocre bullshit.

  26. This guy looks like a hard ass, but I agree with many people here that he’d likely be an invaluable asset to any new (and probably any more slightly aged), designers. Of course, that’s providing he’s as awesome as the video implies and the student is able to survive, or at least learn from the lashings.

  27. Whoa. I would expect that level of art from mebbe learning high school students *just* starting out. His remark that a banker did it is horribly accurate. There’s no effort in any of that art that’s shown. He’s there to teach these people. To push them to excel and see the world in a different perspective from ordinary people, and in response those students have delivered *average* work.
    These people have essentially phone in that work, and he’s not happy about it. Their just wasting his time and theirs, fair enough he’s going to rip their a new one.
    Its better to have someone who will tell you the truth rather than coddle you until you actually enter the work force and get this x 100.

  28. Here’s a reality check: if you are an untenured professor, you ain’t going to be teaching like Roland. Vicious student evaluations and a bottom-line-focused administration will have you out on the street faster than you can say “How can you be so average?” For every student who says he/she was transformed by the tough-talking, ego-stripping, truth-focused instructor, there are 30 other millennial generation students who are texting their friends and complaining to their parents that they’re wasting $40,000/yr. on an asshole teacher who yells at them in class. By the end of the semester, the parents will have called the department (and sometimes the dean) to share their outrage over the rude and abusive treatment of their child.

    Next semester? If you’re tenured, fuck ’em. If you’re untenured: non-reappointment contract. (Elegant way of saying: you’re fired.)

    Welcome to academia in the 21st century.

  29. Some really good teachers are supportive, but don’t blow sunshine up your ass and the tell you when it’s crap. Then there are guys like this guy, who are also good, but you have to have a thick skin or grow a thick skin. I had a journalism prof like this guy and he said a lot of great things. We all hated him. But man he was right about just about everything. Not everything, but just about. Problem was we were so busy hating him it wasn’t until years later we appreciated what he’d taught us. But he taught us important stuff. Maybe not well, but not every teacher is sweetness and light. In journalism there’s a lot of J. Jonah Jamiesons and our prof gave us a little preview. This guy seems like he’s giving his class the same sort of lessons.

  30. Reminds me of Murray Tinkleman. He’s a balls out, hard ass, super pro. If you couldn’t take his tearing you down you wouldn’t cut it in the field.

  31. Where the hell were these teachers when I went to art school?? My teachers were always objective and soft.

  32. At 10:35 PM (E.S.T.) the film on the BoingBoing home page is that of the woman harassed by the TSA about her breast milk.

  33. I can’t watch more than 3 minutes. I graduated RISD and consider myself a survivor of the art school. No regrets, well a few but… this video will send me into a corner shaking and crying.

  34. Did anyone watch this to the end? After the first bit, he’s full of praise! “Beautiful”, “better”, “nice”, “love it”, “interesting”, “very good”, “that’s what happens when you’re a good designer”, “brilliant”.

    I’ve heard you need to say n nice things for every one criticism. It’s not that he’s not nice, he’s just only getting to n-1.

  35. Oh, to be back at Art Center again!

    Never had a class with Roland, but his disciples in Advertising and other majors swore by him…now I see why. Never saw him in action before.

    Putting your work up on the Crit Rail could be tough in many classes. With Roland it seems that his style pushes his students forward — not down.

    Wish the same could be said for some teachers in other majors — though some of the worst offenders have gone on to a better place (and I don’t mean CalArts!)

    I did get anything out of Art Center it’s A) my wife and B) my lifelong friend Sallie Mae…

  36. One more thing (I was the Anon at 9:28 pm)…

    It’s worth noting that the average age of students at Art Center College of Design has tended to be older than most colleges.

    At least at the time I was there — ’99 thru ’02 — there were a lot of students getting second bachelors degrees or going back to school after time in the workforce.

    There were very few people there straight out of high school.

    The presence of generally older folks, all of whom had to come into the school declaring a major and showing a respectable portfolio of work, and many of whom brought professional experience made for a pretty fast-paced and demanding environment.

    Did Roland push harder than most? By all accounts from my friends, the answer is certainly less. But each of the departments had folks like him, and they were usually the most influential and popular instructors.

    As for the comment about student evaluations, parent complaints and tenure…

    I don’t recall if there even WERE student evaluations in the first few terms I was there. They were added, but I don’t think they held much sway. I also am not sure Art Center has the tenure system you see in other institutions. I seem to remember that pretty much everyone had to be invited back on a term-to-term basis. I think my department had one instructor who could be considered tenured.

    It’s just a different sort of environment there. Or at least it was ten years ago…(man, I feel old!)

  37. Isn’t this par for the professional art student course? I imagine it would thicken your skin when someone doesn’t like your work. I would have to say that my photography assignments were SOOO unaspiring. How do you wow someone visually when your assignments are crap.

  38. I’m pretty sure taking hidden camera vids of your professor is illegal. This kid will be lucky if he doesn’t get kicked out.

  39. I went to Art school.. at first I thought he was being harsh, then I remembered my graphic design teacher May Chung taking a poster I designed showing it to the class and asking them why it was the worst in the class. Teachers like this really help you learn, and May Chung was the BEST teacher I had at the entire university. I would have gone through four years of school and not understood good design if it wasn’t for her tough critiques.

  40. There needs to be a Roland on the client side for great things to happen. Otherwise, you’ve got great shit that never sees the light of day but mediocre shit that does.

  41. I wish I had videos of all his classes. This guy challenges the way people think about what they do and I really prize the kind of insight people like him can generate in any field of endeavor.

  42. Most people didn’t watch the whole thing, or even past the first few minutes. So to everyone who said “there’s value in using both criticism AND praise!” as if Roland didn’t: you comment like bankers.

  43. from RateMyProfessors.com:

    “The fact that ACCD parted ways with Roland over the mooning of his class instead of his unprofessional advances towards hot female students actually says more about Art Center than Roland.”

  44. This teacher seems fine for the folks that have some idea of what they are doing, but for the others, he is doing nothing to inspire them or give them any guidance towards making the work better except ‘stop doing work I don’t like’. Also, humiliating someone in front of the whole class is not an acceptable teaching method in my book. A teacher is a guide, not a god.

    BTW his teaching style reminds me of Chris Van Allsburg who taught Illustration at RISD in the 70’s and 80’s. He made school a miserable experience. He told me in front of the whole class I would never do any worthwhile work. A decade later I was a professional illustrator/designer for 30 years.

  45. He isn’t teaching, he is evaluating. While art is subjective there are aspects of the craft of art that are not. He says something is “average” or “brilliant” or even “sophisticated” but he provides no depth for his evaluation. He does not say how the average is like other average things or offer any suggestions on how it could be improved. He does not describe what about the sophisticated is not plebeian. He doesn’t tell the banker what the student he wants back has done that will help the banker improve in the future.
    If this is a class in handling criticism I’m sure it is a good exercise, like going to the gym to do bench presses. But if the class is in design with a goal of becoming a good designer, he is not teaching. If the previous class went into more instruction and this is the evaluation, fine. But, if this is the class itself, it does not strike me that he is teaching anything but enforcing a Pavlovian reaction to what it takes to get the prize of a complement from the teacher.

    1. You can evaluate his entire ability to teach based upon a ten minute video edited to be funny? It appears from this thread that the people who have actually had him as a teacher disagree.

      1. I think if you reread my comments I am only attempting to comment on what is visible in the video. I acknowledge that if there is more to what he does than what we see that he may do some teaching. But, given the evidence of the video there is no teaching to be seen.

        I’ll acknowledge that many people seem to like his class but none of them said that this was not a good representation of that class.

        It does appear to me that there are plenty of opportunities to actually teach during the evaluation he is engaged in.

        Here is my critique: as Evaluation, it is brilliant; as Teaching, he might as well be a banker.

        If I were trying to teach here, I would say: “Roland, you are obviously a intelligent guy with a lot of knowledge about art. How about you stop and describe to people what you see in the good and bad examples and how they are different. Do the good examples include common characteristics? Why is a cross on top of the Whitehouse lame?”

        Let me say in Roland’s defense that that kind of discussion is incredibly difficult, but he doesn’t even need to do it himself, he can ask the students to do it for him.

  46. I agree with Cepphus Grylle about him evaluating and not teaching. I thought it was interesting that it is week 7 in the course, and he doesn’t know any of his students’ names.

  47. I was going to say the same thing, essentially, that Cepphus said. I understand this is critique, but he’s not teaching anything. Yes, it’s important when you’re in a professional program to be told when a spade is a spade (or when shit is shit), but he holds up a poster of a white spork on a black background and says it’s “brilliant.” Now, I admit that the first pictures he tore apart were lame (and the dude had no defense, which means he actually did phone it in), but he then goes on to compare and say “This one is great. It has great aesthetics and composition. This one too, great aesthetics.”

    Which means nothing. If a student has a mediocre eye, you don’t teach him by saying “Your eye sucks” and leave it at that, because you’re not giving him any way to develop. He can’t read a book about it, or look at his classmates’ work and say “OK, this is obviously better apparently” because he doesn’t know what he’s looking for.

    I come across this in music all the time. I’ve known lots of guys who will, for example, love complicated drumming, love hearing fills and unique rhythms. And when I encourage them to come up with something on their own (via some drum programming tool, typically computer-based), they’re lost — it’s either cacophonous or incredibly bland. Now, these people are my friends, but when I critique their stuff I don’t say “This sucks, you need to use your fucking ears,” I say “This sucks, you need to use your ears to listen to what you WANT to make, and then use your brain to create that.” And if they say “I don’t know how” I say “listen to where the snare is, to where the hats are hitting. Some things work naturally, others don’t, and you have a fair amount of wiggle room.”

    In this video Roland just says “your stuff is terrible. This other person’s stuff is great.” That must feel pretty good for the person who’s stuff is being praised, but does that person KNOW why their stuff is better?

    It pays to have someone tear you down when you’re a designer, or an artist, but it’s more important to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing. Being told your work is terrible or beautiful isn’t teaching, it’s just an opinion. It’s just one video, but I hope the other classes have actual teaching in them (or that he makes himself available for actual teaching outside of class).

  48. Reminds me of my old art instructor, Mr. Fairman. He would get annoyed, by all the kids jabbering incessantly during class, and would get us to shut up, by slamming a yardstick down on the table, right in front of your face…very effective.

    He was still a pretty good art teacher, though…

  49. I went to art school and found that the brutality of some of the critique only prepared me for dealing with brutal clients. The sad part about crit from a client is usually they don’t know what the hell they are talking about. This instructor does and he’s only toughening the skins of future designers who will have to learn to suck it up on a daily basis OR provide a better solution!!

  50. Eugh, count me among those who don’t like this guy. A professor shouldn’t have to resort to ad hominem attacks. And as Cepphus pointed out, his lesson – according to this video, anyway – consists mainly of evaluation, not actual teaching. The spork on the black background is “brilliant”? Why? Explain yourself! (I assume that he didn’t explain in one of the cut parts, as the artist appears to be the guy shooting the video and I doubt he’d cut out praise for his own work.)

    Sure, it toughens skins, and it’s true that a lot of the work he criticized deserved criticism – but this wasn’t constructive. I just hope, as someone else said, that he’s better at really talking to the students than he seems here. If this is as good as it gets, I wouldn’t take a class with him.

  51. Roland-like teachers usually have never worked a real design job in their life. They have little understanding of to apply their precious ideals to reality, or how to really, productively interact with other designs.

  52. Errr. Doesn’t he argue against himself when he berates the girl 18:29 cuz she couldn’t be there? “I wanna be Jesus Christ”
    (both are or were not possible).
    Seems to me he’s being overly contrary.
    Nick

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