Saturday, January 6, 2007

Isn't teaching fun?

I love teaching - my first class was at the Hyde Park Art Center, where my academic advisors had set it up that I teach watercolor for a year. Now you can probably tell I'm a representational artist. How I got into HPAC was only due to extreme policial pull by my one advisor, who was connected to everyone on that board in some way or another - probably a donor, too, if I know Chicago! : ) Seriously, there is a lot to be said for community good will, and Jean Knoll and her friend Gretchen Anderson were great at building that. I think they even got Ronne Hartfield, who is a wonderful artist, and writer and artist educator involved in the hiring process....

Anyway, being able to draw, and render, and apply paint convincingly is no preparation for the world of teaching! Some of my students looked at my work and said "But I want to learn English watercolor method. Can you teach me that?" Huh? We're not in England. We're drawing and painting from life... no thatched cottages south of Winnetka! And the room - well, we had multiple light sources - mostly bare bulbs. Interesting, drawing a still life with three sets of shadows! Somehow we managed, I sent them home with assignments to work on, from a single light source, and to my amazement, we all survived the process. And thrived! Today I do things somewhat differently with the classes I hold in my studio. We do four-week sessions and much of it is student directed. Nature is the syllabus!

With time limited, tho, frankly I'd rather paint than teach, unless someone is really persistent and motivated, and already can draw a bit. The teachers at Morton Arboretum had wonderful systems in place, handed down mostly by Nancy Hart Stieber, with the most fair, supportive but directed critiques I've observed before or since. And I have the comparison of taking classes at the Art Institute of Chicago, where I believe you got points for being as cruel as possible - tho I'm not certain about that, actually... it just seemed that way. It was a privilege to study there and to learn great skills for teaching art. Teaching certainly shows you how effective your communication skills are!

My favorite painting and drawing teachers - Louisa Boshardy, Frederick Franck, Richard Schmid, Irving Shapiro, Eldon Danhausen (sculpture also), and Walter Parke. Least favorite teachers - Al Algaminas, who sat in the corner doing crossword puzzles during class and just grunted when he looked at your work. He kept repeating "Paint back to front, dark to light, thin to thick" for three months' worth of oil painting classes. And a design instructor who somehow didn't communicate the beauty of good, simple design, instead having us arrange a system of geometric shapes which made no sense to me at all - maybe if she first discussed why?

1 comment:

Bronwyn said...

This sounds exactly like my undergrad experience in art, too. Good to know I'm not the only one who was left clueless by basic design classes (yet excelled in drawing and painting...!)