Monday, April 16, 2012

Teaching the Teacher

I had the great honor of teaching a pastel workshop to a group of artists and art teachers this past weekend in Columbus, Nebraska, in the beautiful Central Community College Fine Arts building.


This class was much too short. Not that we didn’t get a ton accomplished, but we – or at least I – had so much fun. I love working with artists who are willing to accept ideas or concepts with which they are not familiar.  Believe me, I know it’s uncomfortable to step away from what has been successful and makes you look good to try new techniques or theories, especially in a situation where your efforts can be scrutinized by others.  The courage and openness with which these folks took on new ideas and approaches was gratifying and exciting.  I can’t believe I get paid to have so much fun.

Sharing your accumulated knowledge in any setting is a huge challenge, and one I heartily encourage everyone to try, at least once.  It’s one thing to think you know your stuff and to use it yourself in the comfort of your workspace away from distractions and differing opinions.  Alone in your studio you can trip and stumble and start again without witnesses. With eager students taking notes on your every word and waiting for you to give them the keys to the secret of successful landscape painting it’s a whole ‘nuther thing. Humbling indeed.

Trying to organize everything you’ve ever learned in your brain, form it into complete sentences using words that may or may not convey exactly what you want, get it to dribble out your mouth in the right order, bounce off someone else’s experience and  settle comfortably onto the space between you, your student and their easel is an immense challenge and responsibility.  Then to squeeze it into useful units of time over a too-short couple of days…

What you know, and think you know; learned and think you learned; read somewhere but can’t quite remember where is all put to the test.
You’ve also got lunchtime, snack time, bathroom breaks and bouts of giggling and silliness to squeeze in there as well.  For those of us who work alone, those can be the most important times.

The big challenge, from my experience, is for students – and teachers - to get comfortable failing in front of their peers. We all want to impress our friends, even in a class. No one wants to look like a klutz. However, classes should be where klutziness is encouraged, and even honored.  If you keep doing what you’re good at, what’s the point?  (I have bombed rather spectacularly in front of a class demonstrating a technique. I save my tortured ego by believing that it gives those watching some relief to know that even those of us "in the know" have their moments. )

(Voted coolest painting apron. I gotta get me one a those.)

Huge thanks to the gang in Columbus for your kindness and grace and for making my weekend so great. 

Take a class. Better yet, teach someone. Let me know how it goes.


Karine said...

What you have written here is so true. It requires humility to be a student AND to teach.

Something makes me think you are quite good at both.

Patty said...

Karine, you are so kind. I swear, the more I learn, the more I learn there is to know.

Hannah Hunter said...

Oh my Patty--I'm amazed by the quality of your writing and the way you manage to squeeze in the most subtle of experiences to describe the act of transmitting knowledge from one person to another. As Karina said, makes me think you must have given your students a great day!