Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Thoughts on Teaching

Photo by Ruth Ann Sturgill

Over the centuries, most painters have taught.  Back during Leonardo's day, painters took on apprentices to help with the dirty work of grinding paint and cleaning the hearth, but they also took care to teach the apprentices a thing or two.   This happened in the French academic period, too, but instruction was more formalized with a curriculum that lasted several years.  In the last century, plein air painters like Charles Hawthorne and William Merritt Chase set up schools that became very popular.  You may have seen some of the historic photos of students lined up like lemmings at the ocean.  And today, of course, you'll find many excellent plein air painters who teach, some only in their home town, but others who range across continents.

Hawthorne Class
Teaching, if you are serious about it, can take a lot of time away from painting for yourself.   It involves lecturing and, quite often, doing lengthy demonstrations in which you may paint to illustrate a point and not to make a fine picture.  You may paint to show how the temperature of shadow differs from that of light, or how a rock can be depicted as a series of interlocking planes.  If the stars are properly aligned, one of these demos may turn out well enough that a couple of brush strokes applied in the studio may turn it into something to frame.  But you're not often that lucky.

Someone once asked me, When do you paint for yourself?  Although I schedule a great many workshops, I also make sure to schedule long periods of time for myself.  It's during these times that I'm researching techniques, exploring and trying to grow as a painter.   Those weeks are precious to me, and I wouldn't give them up.   I want to continue to be painter who teaches - and not a teacher who paints.

Painters teach for two reasons.   First, to butter their bread when painting sales are down.  Second, because they enjoying sharing the craft and their vision.  But I've found a third reason to teach.  I also teach for friendship.  Over the years, a number of students have become not just good painters but good friends as well.  There's a camaraderie that develops when students come back again and again, getting better each time.  And it's very rewarding to have students follow me in my teaching travels.

Don't forget that I'm teaching in Sedona this winter:  www.PaintSedona.com.  I have other workshops, too, so click here for a full schedule.


Mary Aslin said...

I would add a third reason for teaching and that is that it forces me to articulate the why and how of what I do, which teaches and reinforces to me the why and how of what I do! I then bring this reinforced knowledge to my own painting time, continually attempting to push the envelope of my skill and vision, which I can bring back to my students. It's a wonderful feedback loop!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

That's so right, Mary! I find having to explain is a good way to discover bad habits and to reinforce the good.

Lee McVey said...

I enjoy seeing the progress a student will make. It's exciting to watch when they work hard at something and then they have an aha moment because my teaching helped them. I also agree with Mary. Teaching has made me a better painter.

Jo-Ann Sanborn said...

Well said, Michael I, too, am a painter who teaches. I've learned so much by teaching. My classes encourage questions and discussion, and the feedback and look at various solutions is invaluable. Thanks for reaffirming teaching as more than just an effort to make a few bucks when times are tough.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Lee and JoAnn!