Education: They said I was useless, but look at me now: The art school cloud had its silver lining

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The Independent Online
MILA TANYA GRIEBEL, 29, is a silversmith who designs and creates Jewish ceremonial metalwork. Her work is original and, as the only specialist working in this country, she is building a considerable reputation. But Mila's path to success has not been easy. As a dyslexic, she found both school and college difficult and her confidence was nearly destroyed.

AT JUNIOR school I was aware I had learning difficulties and from the age of nine I was constantly told I was stupid. This was in the days before people really understood dyslexia. I remember one teacher who picked on me in front of the whole class because I couldn't read properly. She was so cruel and that experience is ingrained in my memory.

At secondary school (Haverstock Comprehensive) they understood dyslexia a little better, but I still felt I was having to run to catch up with everyone else and it took me that much longer to do the homework. I was always expecting to be shot down and was very nervous in class. In the end, I got six CSEs through sheer hard work plus an A-level grade D in art - enough to get me on to an art foundation course and then to Middlesex Polytechnic (now Middlesex University) to study for a degree in 3D design.

The atmosphere at the polytechnic was so laid back that for the first time in my life, I was able to build up some self-confidence. At the end of the third year, my tutor felt that I was Royal College material and suggested that I apply for an MA in silversmithing at the Royal College of Art. I was told I would meet wonderful people. But before I went, someone warned me: 'You haven't been to public school. You'll never survive.'

Secondary school was bad. But nothing prepared me for the Royal College of Art. Those two years were the most miserable of my life and ones I look back on with loathing. There was a lot of back-stabbing. You needed to be liked by the professors and come from the 'right' background

to get on. You had to fit into

a mould, which invariably meant producing little objects to sit neatly on plinths in posh galleries.

There was a 'tribunal' system of disciplining students - rather like a kangaroo court. And I saw so many students emerging from tutorials in tears. One day I received a warning from the professor for allegedly saying something out of line. I had no idea what I had said or to whom - and they wouldn't tell me. I was determined to stick out the year and salvage something. So I just knuckled down and worked.

The tutors said my work was not living up to expectations and that I could do better but would never say what was wrong. Looking back, I think it just didn't conform to their idea of 'corporate style'. At the end of the year I thought: 'I'm going to fail' and was amazed when they passed me.

It has taken me all of three years to build up my confidence again. But I've learnt to survive and found a niche market. Above all, I feel really passionate about what I do.

(Photograph omitted)

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