Star turn

September 17, 1999

Creativity is nurtured as well as natural. Kam Patel meets a design course leader skilled in the art of constructive criticism

It is the day of the final assessment for second-year textile design students at Chelsea College of Art and Design and some of them decide to sit outside their studios and soak up the sun while waiting to be called in by course leader Kay Politowicz.

Inside a studio rather like a cramped hut, Ms Politowicz is finishing reviewing the work of 23-year-old Claire Williams. Ms Politowicz encourages and praises, but it is her understated, quietly delivered criticisms that make the biggest impact. After Ms Williams says: "I think it went OK. Kay's criticisms are appreciated and they are constructive. The way I see it, if you are not criticised, you don't move on." She has had problems with one of her projects which, inspired by rocks and minerals, aims to combine hand painting with heat moulding to produce fabrics with different textures.

"I was not pushing the idea forward to its conclusion and Kay has helped me address that. It is the kind of advice you take through with you onto other projects." With two years of the three-year course under her belt, Ms Williams says she would not recommend the course to anyone shy of hard work: "It is a tough course. We have visiting tutors, which is not a bad idea, but it would be nice to see them more often."

With the final year looming, Ms Williams is thinking about her future after college: "I'd like to work on the design on fabrics for accessories, especially bags and scarves. But 90 per cent of jobs are not advertised."

Ms Politowicz's next student is 22-year-old Emma Richards, who spent a year at Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design studying fashion before taking up textiles at Chelsea. "I was lucky to get on this course soon after and I really love it," she says.

"You are challenged to be innovative and bring influences from other disciplines."

Of Ms Politowicz's assessment, Ms Richards says: "I found it reassuring. I think Kay is very intuitive about where you are coming from. She is good at analysing skills, which is really helpful because the work is very subjective. It is bizarre how she keeps inching all of us forward all the time - she must have eyes at the back of her head."

Like Ms Williams, she also felt criticisms were constructive. "It is not in the nature of the course tutors to tell you how well you are doing ... I certainly do not want to be told about my problem areas in my final year. I would like to deal with them now."

Having completed all the assessments, Ms Politowicz reflects on her approach. "I am interested in students as people because I think they work better when they realise you are. Art students are very, very selfish and enjoy terribly other people being interested in their point of view. I like to emphasise their individuality and work with that."

She says group criticisms can work well but in her experience students "want more and more feedback on an individual basis and that is because they are very enthusiastic about what they are doing".

Ms Politowicz is always keen to broaden her students' skills and range of influences but says this always has to be done with great care. "It can be quite a dilemma because you can encourage broadening out but you have to be prepared to pull back quite quickly if it isn't helping them - they themselves have to feel it is working and if they don't, you could end up doing more harm than good."

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