Embracing errors in the quest for perfection

Mike Holcomb, a former Dean for Technology of the Arts at the University of Arizona, has had a long and illustrious career helping thousands of students, including Tara Johnson-Medinger, find their creative approach.

Tara met Mike while studying in the University of Oregon’s film program in the early 90s. Because the film degree was theory-heavy, she added a Fine Arts minor to take advantage of more production-based courses and get a broader arts perspective.

Tara enrolled in Mike’s motion graphics course, but not without some hesitation. She didn’t consider herself a fine artist, and at first she wasn’t sure that his year-long class was the best choice. Friends who had taken courses with Mike helped convince Tara to take the plunge, and before long she discovered the class was helping her find her artistic voice.

“Because I was struggling so much with learning the animation process and not being a good illustrator, there were moments of wanting to abandon it. Mike helped me out of that, and really made me think of what I was doing in a different way.”

Mike has long believed that the pressure to get things right the first time has a damaging effect on students in the arts, so his teaching style has always focused on embracing their mistakes. He’d always gained satisfaction from guiding students to those moments when they understand their capabilities and start believing in themselves, rather than simply learning by dictation and rote.

“She was apprehensive at first because she didn’t come from a fine arts background. She felt she didn’t have the necessary drawing skills. But there are so many other techniques that can be employed. So, one of my first jobs as a teacher of animation was to acquit her of that notion.”

I felt I had an ally and a friend that supported me. Mike helped me find my voice.

— Tara Johnson-Medinger, Director and Producer

When Tara started to take the lead, he saw the light bulb go on and interesting work develop.

“I remember him being excited when I was trying to figure out my approach, because it was something quite different than what the other students were doing.”

Tara recalls the realization that Mike helped her make: “It didn’t have to be the way everyone else was doing it. Go through the process, fail, try again, succeed — he seemed excited about what I was discovering as a student. Initially, I felt very intimidated in his class, but by the end I felt I had an ally and a friend that supported me. Mike helped me find my voice.”

Tara went on to found the Portland Oregon Women’s (POW) Film Festival and the POWGirls Educational Program, and she credits Mike’s approach with enabling her to do so. She also hopes to pass that approach on to students in the POWGirls workshops.

“I want to help them to appreciate their work and honor what they create, even if it’s not perfect. It’s okay to move through imperfection. Too many people get caught up in the perfection part of it, and just want to get to the end. I want to live through the process of my creations.”

And Mike has enjoyed watching Tara’s career flourish.

“It’s wonderful. Her success doesn’t surprise me a bit. She’s strong, determined, clear-headed, and tireless. I’m just so proud of her.”