As I teach my last few class meetings in Carroll County, I’ve been doing some philosophical reflection. I’ve found that the following is true of the students who progress the most. It does not necessarily matter how much experience or “talent” they start out with. I think these things are probably true of any skill, not just painting.
Students who progress the most…
-Paint a lot, in and out of class.
-Listen to criticism and process and implement that feedback, rather than arguing with it or making excuses.
-Are not afraid to take risks and “fail” in the short term, while trying out new skills and ways of thinking. They understand that a “failed” painting is experience brought to the next one, and is not a waste.
-Ask questions and have a curious outlook. Research and study from other sources besides me and then share their new discoveries and ask questions about what they’ve read or done elsewhere.
I’ve also learned a few things about teaching.
-My biggest job, aside from the fundamental concepts to be taught, is to help my students learn to be fearless. Some come to me fearless, but many need to learn to be. Fear of failure, ruining the painting, trying something difficult, trying something new and different when they’ve gotten used to doing things one way…fear is a major obstacle.
-I have to take control of the classroom and schedule. I can’t allow myself to feel “bullied” or rushed by students who don’t want to wait their turn, or who have their own ideas about the plan for the day.
-I have to accept that everyone has their own goals and not everyone actually WANTS to improve or be pushed out of their comfort zone. In a community mixed level class, like the one I’ve been teaching, there are some students who are there to get out of the house, be around people, and who don’t care about getting a lot of work done, or who are happy following the same methods they always have…they don’t have goals beyond that and it’s OKAY, as long as it’s not a distraction for other students. I try to leave the door open for them to try more, without making them feel unwelcome by pushing too hard. In some class environments, this might not be appropriate, I have to gauge based on the purpose of the class and the needs of the students.
-Some students need the same ideas repeated over and over again in the same or different ways to really get it.
-Students need help becoming their own best selves as artists- not in-training versions of me.
-I don’t have to pretend to know everything about everything. But if someone asks a question or needs help with something I can’t answer with confidence, we can discover the answer together. I should make sure they know that in many cases, there is not a single right way of doing something, and different artists might have vastly different, equally valid approaches.