In the Studio: Students

L-R Julie Finn, Susan Veale, Ronnie Shuler
I am grateful for your hard work and your honesty.
 Thank You!
"You haven't posted about your class so I am guessing things didn't go well" said my good friend Tommy Baker. I didn't know what to say. Like all the other truly momentous events of my life it is hard to put a handle on it. It's like asking if I was happy when Ella was born. I am happy that Ella WAS born, but when she was on her way into this world the moment was bigger than what the concept of happiness can contain. I was present. I did my small part. I am different now than I was before. I was a man. Now I am a Father. And although I had a lot more to do to fully participate in this event, before the class I was still a student of Art. During the class I was a Teacher, and that feeling has clung to me. I like it and I want that feeling again. I should note that I have taught before. I taught Lighting Design for The Governor's School for the Arts and I am proud of those eight great Summers. Lighting Design, however, has never been intrinsic to how I thought of myself; not the way works with paper have been. I will also add that, for now, I do not feel that I am worthy of calling myself an Art Teacher. I am a proud student of the Teaching of Art. 
Here Is what I learned:

  • Five hours is a long time to do anything. Even if you do like it, but especially if you are passionate about it. 

  • You can't teach feelings. By working on incredibly large works in college, where I was literally throwing paint across an twelve foot piece of paper, the feeling associated with applying pigment is "Big Muscle". It starts in my feet and legs, moves through my body then shoulders and arms and out of my hands with with a feeling of a tidal flow. It is big. The size of the brush stroke or line does not matter now, it can be a fraction of an inch long, but it will always be this way for me because I love it. But I do not know how to teach it short of offering the same experience to my students. But If I could teach it, that sense of painting with pure abandon, I would be a Teacher. I have hope. In this class format ,however, what I could do is only do one flower and leave more open space to experiment with out feeling constrained by the composition. It is not a lot of area but I think it would make a difference. It would help with the amount of time it takes to finish. 

  • The Image is the Thing. I love my techniques for applying color. This is of course why my collages take as long as they do. I love to see ink flow into the paper. I love to feel the paint pass between the tips of my fingers and the surface of my image. For me that living membrane of paint is analogous to human consciousness. The feeling of what passes between flesh and the rest of the world and the beautiful artifact that is left behind. It is how I would describe my life if I were a better poet or a better philosopher. Then I would be able to give that experience to my students. But that is not what they have come for. They have come for the chance to create an image. That is a big thing. It is a noble cause, and I should have had enough respect for that to anticipate and prepare appropriately. I use a lot of tracing techniques to get the image I want. I was afraid, however, they would find these insulting. Most people are of the opinion you must have a level of "Skill" (usually defined as fine motor control) to create Art. While this capability facilitates artwork it is not Art. Why did Vermeer paint all but one of his paintings in the same room? He could not take his Camera Obscura  outside.
    My students would not have shown up if they didn't believe they had Art inside them. In the future I will approach my duty as creating the widest possible path for them. I could create a couple of templates for the petals for instance. One tool I came up with specifically for this class was a piece of plexiglass they could use to trace either my composition or their interpretation. One thing they had a problem was reinterpreting the design when the initial outlines had been obscured by the techniques we used for the water; this tool would help with that. One student used this for the Koi very successfully and the next time I will have this aid ready for everyone. 

The most important thing I learned is this: I need to lighten up. I spent a long time preparing and procuring for this class. Most of this was essential and made a difference in the outcome. The profound sense of responsibility I felt before, during and after,  however, had a more dubious effect. The students all seemed to have their own motivations but they all contributed their own part towards a positive experience. We all felt some level responsibility and acted responsibly. It wasn't all on me. This is part of the joy of learning in a class environment. The next time I will be more open this beautiful experience.

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