Why I’m Stopping The Award Chase

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. After dabbling with it for years and even teaching the subject at a local college, this weird dichotomy continues to pervade my definition of it.

As a visual artist, designer and educator, social media continues to play a critical role in sharing my own and that of my students’ work as well. As of late however, I started to detect a pattern in the contents of my own space that made me pause to think.

Given my passion for arts advocacy and education, I began to seek out like-minded educators that use digital media to deliver curriculum while sharing student work on various social media platforms. With the ubiquitous nature of the Internet and our emphasis on the use of mobile devices, it didn’t take long for me to find others with similar programs and philosophies that aligned with mine.

Awards have always been important to me. I always believe that participating in competitions is a valid metric of progress.

One particular school (out of respect, it shall remain nameless), blew me away. This art school is small yet the students and the work they produced packed a punch. Two years ago, I attended their year-end show and was immediately taken by the quality and sheer volume of every student work. The school was bursting at the seams with paintings, sculptures, photographs and every possible combination of mixed, multi-media installations at every nook and cranny of their exhibition space. I also learned at the time that many local art collectors have started to show up to student openings and began purchasing works. Art was being collected out of appreciation and also as an initial investment into young artists’ careers. The students are that good.

Invariably, good student work produced lots and lots of awards. This school didn’t shy away from sharing and displaying the hardware. In their social media spaces, the accolades were endless. It inspired me, and I wanted it for myself and my students.

Awards have always been important to me. I always believe that participating in competitions is a valid metric of progress. More importantly, it allows industry jury to see my students’ work while gaining insight to the very program that facilitates their learning.

Over the last two years, I patterned my classes and projects after this school despite the obvious difference in discipline. My students produced quite a bit, and almost all projects were competition entries. Although I’m not the type to emulate other programs, I made sure that we met our deadlines and competed as much as possible. Our incessant pursuit of the award hardware was painfully obvious, and my social media content was proof of that.

Late last year, I noticed that my students began to display anxiety throughout the semester because of the deadlines I imposed upon them. Worse, given the nature of some of the competition challenges, I found myself shifting the curriculum. We often found ourselves dealing with concepts that we had no business of tackling at that particular time. Up was down and down was up. In some instances, I started trimming certain design processes (like analyzing/discussing design briefs), as I felt that at times, they took too long to manifest. When pressed for time, the term “project management” took a prominent role in the grading rubric. If a project didn’t make the deadline, their marks took a hit. In a way, it was a triple whammy for my students: their work was poor, their marks were low, and ultimately, their work was never seen outside of my own eyes. I, the teacher became a slave to the deadlines and my students’ work suffered. I knew something had to change.

In his damning reflection on creativity in advertising entitled “A Short Lesson in Perspective”, Linds Redding blames everything squarely on the chase.

Exciting new tools. Endless new possibilities. Pressing new deadlines. With the new digital tools at our disposal, we could romp over the creative landscape at full tilt. Have an idea, execute it and deliver it in a matter of a few short hours. Or at least a long night. At first it was a great luxury. We could cover so much more ground. Explore all the angles. And having exhausted all the available possibilities, craft a solution we could have complete faith in.

This passage resonated with me. I often believed that my classes were supposed to prepare my students for the future (and whatever it may be, there will be bosses and clients alike, waiting to meet their demands). Sure, it may be a disservice to my students if I completely abolish any semblance of time parameters (such parameters may also include competitions) but is it worth it to continue down this road? Are awards and the experience of competing that important?

While it is true that time waits for no one, why do I as a teacher (and my students for that matter), have to participate in this rat race? After all, production over substance and process isn’t the name of the game despite whatever any industry indicates.

The reality is that my students need to be better thinkers and problem solvers first while trying to be better at time/project managing. To excel at both is a lot to ask especially when it results in cutting corners by thinking less creatively to keep up with the chase.

A video posted by Fred Galang (@fredgalang) on

The temptation to jump in and get started is exciting. Upon entering my classroom, my students see nothing but possibilities with the equipment before them. I don’t blame them for jumping in (have you seen teens inside an Apple store?). But to fully engage in creative design, we need to embrace the process of thinking slowly and methodically (often we need to sketch, debate and think further). It is after all, the only saving grace for any young person who wants to think creatively in this digital age.

As much as I dislike social media as a vehicle to brag about awards and accolades, I also love it for its ability to allow for introspection and placing meaningful perspective on things that are important. I learned (albeit the hard way), that going fast, winning as much as possible and shipping for the sake of shipping has its costs. Slowing down may be a drag but someday, my students will appreciate it. I know I do.