When I went to college and majored in Art I never thought that I would be a teacher. That would have meant talking in front of people and , oh my God, I could never have done that! When I went to Grad School in my late 30’s I never thought I would be able to be a Teaching Assistant….. again , I’d have to talk in front of people and Lordy Lordy , I could never do THAT! But, one thing led to another, I plucked up my courage, applied to be a T.A., was accepted , and from the second I walked over the threshold of the classroom door on that very first day , nervous as hell, all of my life’s insecurities went out the window. I loved teaching from the very first minute I did it. And with that love came a memory from 5th grade that I tell my student’s all the time. And it is this…
In 5th. grade we had to draw the state bird, the state tree, the state flower, etc. etc. I was given the state tree. I , in 5th. grade already knew I wanted to be an artist, loved drawing, WELCOMED any kind of drawing that we could do…. I spent a good amount of time drawing that tree; shading the leaves, the bark, and when I was finished I presented it to my teacher and she said it wasn’t good enough and that I should do it again. I did. Still not good enough. On the verge of tears I sat down and remember so clearly , taking my finger and placing it on the edge of that tree picture and trying to copy it EXACTLY as it was inch by inch… ( I was at a complete loss as to what the teacher wanted) and before I could get even half way around the teacher snatched my drawing away as she said , ” we don’t have time to wait for you to finish . I’ll let “so&so” do it. I remember feeling so confused, so sad, so completely crushed by the complete lack of understanding on the teacher’s part.
Another incident….. in High School I was priviledged enough to be able to attend “art camp” .Participating students went to a University of WI campus in Wausau , we lived in dorms, we worked in our chosen media in studios for 8 hours a day, then attended lectures at night. It was a fantastic experience and I was able to do this for 3 years. One year I took a printmaking class. I took a silkscreen image that I had done that year in High School, had won a prize for it and , probably because I was sort of insecure about EVERYTHING, I went up to the instructor for that class ,showed him my silkscreen image and told him I had won a prize for it . ( I was hoping for some praise I guess). He said,” So What?” Absolutely Crushing. What possible thrill could an adult -artist-teacher get out of embarrassing a young girl like that?
Soooooooooooooooooo…. when I started teaching I told myself that I would NEVER, EVER, crush the spirit of any student I ever have , like these two individuals did to me. I would never let any student be ‘afraid’ of doing art. I would never discourage them from trying new things, or being proud of what they have done. every art work is a new adventure…. a new media, a new concept, a new ‘failure’, but that’s how we learn. what is the point of making someone feel horrible?
Of course , I have structure, I teach foundations, I have critiques and point out areas where things can be improved upon. That’s my job as a college art instructor.But I won’t let students be afraid …. to try new things, to literally RUIN something in their attempts to try the new things, to not try because they already think they’re no good. It’s a waste of time and no advancements are made. So far, I think my ‘method’ has been working pretty well . By the end of any semester and any class I think the majority of the students have made some pretty damn good art. ( see my student artwork page for some great examples)
That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!