You Can’t Grade Art

Scott Robertson: Posted on Friday, September 21, 2012 11:10 AM
When I was pursuing my masters in corporate communications from Lindenwood University in St. Charles, Mo., I had one of those profound life-changing experiences that you hope for during the course of your education. Actually, mine came in the form of a teacher, an art teacher named Myron Kozman. For my degree, I had to take a visual arts course and I knew nothing about Kozman going in.  But his class changed the way I thought about art and thus about pretty much everything.

Kozman didn’t look like any sort of remarkable or accomplished teacher. He was a fairly small man with long gray hair in a ponytail, long beard, glasses, huge turquoise rings and bracelets and always wore monochromatic clothing. He had an unkempt wild mane of grey-black hair and a crazy beard that just went everywhere. At times, he didn’t wear shoes, which is odd enough, but in Missouri in the winter, it really tends to set you apart.  He was humble and reminded me a bit of Obi Wan Kenobi from Star Wars.  Soft-spoken, but you would move obstacles to listen because it was just worth hearing.

In those days, I was a 20-something, Type A over-achiever who knew everything and the world had just better look out.  After graduating from the University of Missouri, Columbia—School of Journalism with honors, grades were pretty important to me.  Now, this class was called Visual Art and honestly I thought it would be a breeze (at least grade-wise).  

At one point, he brought in some sketches of a beer can from many different angles done in a cubist fashion, which we were studying at the time. He calmly said “And now I am going to explain cubism to you…as Picasso explained it to me.”  The class reacted and Kozman explained that in his youth, he lived with Picasso for several years in Paris. Upon further study, Kozman was also one of the first five graduates of the New Bauhaus in Chicago and pioneered some amazing screen printing techniques.

For one project in particular, I was hounding Kozman about how he would grade my work.  He said, “You’re very concerned with your grades, aren’t you, Scott?”  Of course I agreed and he was silent for a minute and then said, “Scott, I cannot grade your art anymore than you could grade mine.”  I thought, “Cool – easy A here.”  Then dropped some knowledge on me.  He said “the true importance of art is not the outcome, but the journey it brings to you, the artist.”  I wasn’t satisfied at that moment, but throughout the class, I started to get it and really understand his message.

Myron Kozman passed away in 2002, but his lessons have always stuck with me.  He expanded my thinking and taught me more about the reasons for learning than the rest of my K-12 and college education put together. From that point on, I wasn’t in school for grades, I was in it for me. And after my masters degree was completed, I still wanted to learn and do more. It’s probably one of the reasons that I still take webinars, seminars, read business books, articles and blogs to this day.

I am proud to call Myron Kozman, my teacher, mentor and friend.  And even though grades really didn’t matter to him, I’d give him an A.

For more on the life of Myron Kozman