Saturday, April 26, 2008

Musings on teaching

I attended an art conference three weeks ago which I wrote about on April 10th. Someone I met there made an interesting comment to me which has had me thinking.

I introduced myself to a woman at the conference and in the course of getting to know one another, I asked her what medium she worked in. She then asked me the same question. Upon hearing that I worked in coloured pencil, she said "Wow, you must have strong wrists." I confess I must have had a rather dumbfounded expression on my face as I paused, trying to think of what she must have thought I said - surely she misheard me. Unable to come up with anything, I replied, "Strong wrists?" And she said, "You know, with all that burnishing you have to do." Oh dear...

Turns out this woman took a coloured pencil workshop with someone who had them work on a project that was all about burnishing. They apparently spent much time painstakingly burnishing cherries until their hands couldn't take it anymore. When I informed her that not all coloured pencil artists work in this manner and that I don't do anything with coloured pencil that hurts my hands, she was now the one to be dumbfounded.

I know the woman who taught the workshop and to start with she is not a good teacher. I took a watercolour course with her many years ago and she is more interested in the income teaching provides rather than being interested in her students actually learning something. One thing she did 'teach' me was how not to be as a teacher! :-) She doesn't work in coloured pencil at all, but she has found an opportunity to make some extra money given the growing interest in coloured pencil. I am not bothered by the competition as I believe there is room for all of us and I am passionate about supporting other artists. What does bother me is that people who exit her workshop haven't been properly informed.

What am I saying here? First of all, if you have a particular style of working, whether in coloured pencil, pastel, oil, whatever, yes it is okay to teach this style. You do not have to teach all the various methods out there. But what I think you do have a responsibility to do is to inform people that your way is just one way. If this were my first time being exposed to coloured pencil and the instructor told me this was how it was done and I found it physically painful, what would ever induce me to continue exploring with the medium? Of course this isn't new, I have heard of others taking workshops where a certain methodology was presented as the 'right way and the only way'. I guess I bristle at the idea of fixed rules in art. People new to a medium should be encouraged to explore, to try, to embrace a wonderful, new creative adventure.

When I teach my Introduction to Coloured Pencil course I expose my students to all the ways of working with the pencils that I know of. They get to try working on different surfaces, on coloured paper, drafting film, they get to burnish using various methods, they do a little exercise using a solvent. I don't just teach them to do art my way. I want them to leave the course armed with lots of info and examples of how one can work with coloured pencils. That way, if one method doesn't work for them, they can try something else. I am always fascinated at how one student will like a multi-directional stroke, someone else falls in love with drafting film, someone else loves the look a colourless blender gives...we are so individual and this is truly wonderful to observe.

So my thought for today is, if you teach or are considering teaching, please consider the importance of telling your students that your way is just one way...keep the door open for them to continue to grow and explore.

1 comment:

Jeanette said...

You're quite right Teresa, there are teachers out there who are only interested in the dollar aspect of teaching. And there are also those who hold their knowledge as a secret in case soneone else should become their competition.

Unfortunately those are the people who give teaching a bad name and whose students come away misinformed and without the techniques available to them to make progress and create something wonderful.