Thursday, November 7, 2013

Are you an ARTIST teacher?

This series of images documents the ongoing progress/process of a very large in-class demo of oil painting.
Just this past summer, I had the great honor and pleasure to meet one of my blog readers (Hi, K!) in part because they were doing their graduate studies capstone research project on the matter of not just teaching art but being an artist who just as well teaches. The whole idea was so curious and intriguing to me because I never stopped to think about what kind of teacher I am and even seek to be other than just trying to be the best professional art educator myself. 

Still, it got me thinking - have I been an artist teacher? What does it take to be an artist teacher if you aren't one? And, if you aren't an artist teacher, should you seek to be? And if you are an artist teacher, when do you stop being an artist and start being a teacher of art - or are those identities/roles so beautifully braided together that they don't beg to even try to be separated?

When I met with my blog reader, the intent was to be interviewed by them about the whole notion of being an artist teacher but it ended up turning into a very interesting and thought provoking conversation about that plus many other things. At one point they asked me something along the lines of if I wasn't an artist teacher or even an artist, what would I call myself. I sat and thought for a moment and then I declared that I am "curious" and that's what I believe that I am. Even now, months after that interview/conversation, I feel like "curious" is the best way for me to both explain, define, and identify myself. 

Last year, I believe I struck upon something incredibly important that has truly changed the trajectory of what I was trying to do when I first became an art educator five years ago. I realized the importance of process within the creation of art and I also started making a great distinction between the notion of CREATING art vs. making art. I did this not only in my own life but I also stressed this within all that I was teaching my student artists. 

I believe it's because of this that I finally started seeing more original, interesting, thought provoking, intentional and REMARKABLE artwork from my student artist more than I ever had before. It was incredible and the difference between what I did last year with my student artists and years before? You can totally see how much more on a different "level" it was and then continued to be with each next step they took with their learning and project endeavors. The difference between the two was that I made my teaching objective and curriculum a lot more about them (so, student-centered and inquiry-based) and a lot less about me (lecturing, deliberately steering each of them through very narrow paths of techniques for making things rather than creating them).

This year I tried something even more adventurous than what I did last year with an even greater emphasis on the importance of developing and having a creative process in order to be a more intentional artist and designer. While I have readily used in-class demos before, it's been in a way that kind of disconnects me from the process for the most part - meaning, I don't really show them much other than just demonstrating specific techniques. In my own experience as an artist though, I have learned that process isn't just figuring out and refining technique. It's about the perseverance, the critical thinking, deep emotional investment and personal connection with whatever work of art is currently in the works. All of that is even more integral to the creative process than refined technique but if I don't show the students that I go through this? I fail to show them some of the most important parts of the creative process and any finished work of art I might show them that I created seems to just appear vs. it being something that they truly see and understand was a labor of love (if you will). 

Finally got the stem and leaf (on the right) done the other day! Now to keep myself from going back and messing it up.
I have been working on a giant oil painting of a Hoa Quynh flower for weeks and going on months at this point. To say that it's been slow going would be an understatement and this is as much because I can't spend a ton of class time on it because I am constantly circulating and interacting directly with the student artists and their artwork as much as I have been just avoiding painting as I am wont to do even in my home studio. I am committed to pushing the painting through to the end though and even though the students have now finished their oil paintings, I refuse to give up on finishing mine because there is still so much process to share with them for them to learn of that I know will help them in their own journey to find and use their unique artist voices.

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