Saturday, December 3, 2016
(I came across a six-year old blog post by Daniel Zalkus talking about SVA professor Jack Potter. It asked for any stories from his former students, so, here, six years later, I’m happy to oblige.)
“I was very intimidated by him. (I took the class in around 1995, I think.) I was not a full-time student, just took a few courses while working a temp job on Wall Street in the day. I had taken Professor Zakin’s drawing class (also a good experience) which was all about slowly building up rounded forms to make a figure and Professor Potter told me not to do that in his class. I was baffled and so frightened I couldn’t make marks on the paper. So he came over and literally held my hand (I’m a lefty) and drew the model for me while I held the pencil.
In my first critique I was still getting my footing and learning what he meant by the terms he used. I turned in an “illustration” of the models arrayed around a disembodied, reanimated head of W.H. Auden in a tank of liquid. I drew most of it with a #2 pencil, Cray-Pas, and inkjet printouts. He said, “I don’t know what this is, but it isn’t what I want.”
Other than those moments, which were the most intense bits of teaching I’ve ever been subjected to, he was encouraging, helpful, even nice. My work and I got much bolder. It was an incredibly valuable experience. The other students were all so good. One guy brought in big finished oil paintings for assignments and Potter said he was “just copying [some famous rich illustrator]”. So he started bringing in pieces made of torn tissue glued to corrugated board that you could never sell in a thousand years. These, Potter loved.
I realize there may have been elements of dehumanization and brainwashing in Potter’s pedagogy, but it was worth it. He wasn’t cruel or belittling, he just told you when he didn’t like your work. He made you totally question yourself while telling you to go forward with the utmost confidence. At least I think that’s what happened.”