Teaching art is in itself a rather difficult occupation. The teachers are almost all artists themselves, but what they teach is not how to be an artist. They teach the tools and the methods which an artist needs in order to produce his art. And aside from that, try to expose their students to varied and far reaching examples of works of art. They teach the history, and the stories of how different artists grew and evolved from art enthusiasm to the stage where they felt capable of producing works of art. The student is not graded or judged for his capacity as an artist, but rather for his ability to use the tools which he or she has chosen to learn or employ. Before the art, comes the craft. One has to learn to draw or to sculpt, or paint, or photograph. Each craft has its own rules. Though it might seem that a small child is able to produce a picture with complete freedom on the basis of talent alone, once that child has grown up, and tries to draw a tree or a horse, he discovers that there is a large gap between his intuitive ability to express his impression as a drawing on a page, and his own perception of the subject of his drawing. In order to bridge that gap, he or she has to study the techniques of drawing.
What makes the study of art more difficult than the studies of bookkeeping, law, or engineering, is that only a very small portion of the students will eventually become artists. For unlike other crafts or professions, art demands a personal commitment, and a life of continuous doubt and danger.
A master carpenter will build a fine set of table and chairs. And after he has completed his work, he will build another set just like it. He may include a few improvements as he works, but the basic idea will remain the same. What he has learned from the first set will make producing the second set that much easier. But an artist is not permitted to be repetitive. He has to start from scratch, even after his greatest successes.
There are students who realize, shortly after beginning their studies, that they do not have the many characteristics needed to become an artist. But even so, they do not abandon their studies, because most of the students are motivated by a love of art. Many say, ‘even if I can’t be a great artist, it is enough for me to be part of the art community. Perhaps I will teach painting; perhaps I will find work in a community center. Perhaps I will learn another profession… But art, even as a hobby, will enrich my life’. There are artists who learn their crafts by apprenticeship. But most artists, these days, study in art schools. And the dynamics of the class, working together, learning together. Competing, and helping one another is extremely valuable to their education.
Taste is an important part of the creative process. It is personal, and not to be judged. An individual student may excel in learning how to draw or paint, or how to make silk screen prints. He may receive the finest grades in all his classes. But even so, his fellow students and his teachers may find his works atrocious. All the same, it his choice as what to draw or paint. His teachers won’t judge him according to taste. His work in the craft might even be an inspiration to his fellow students, but when he leaves the school and tries to sell his art in the market, he might find himself unable to find an audience.
Of course, we all know the stories of those artists who were rejected in their own lives, and after their deaths were acknowledged as great artists. These stories give hope and encouragement to artists who are unable to sell their works. But even so, one has the need for recognition and approval from some source. If one receives praise from critics or fellow artists, there may be reason to continue to work at his art, even if the artist is unable to sell it. But only a very few are willing to languish in poverty for years, in the faith that eventually they will be recognized.
In late spring and early summer, I used to participate in creative art seminars for college students, in which we would leave the lecture halls, the classrooms and the libraries, and try to experience the creative process of producing art in a natural environment. These ‘art trips’ were among the most enjoyable and challenging experiences I’ve had as a teacher. During these trips, the students would try out some of what they had learned in school, which enjoying the surroundings of nature. Teachers, and artists of all sorts were invited to join the trip. Some of them would work alongside the students, some would give helpful advice, and some would offer criticism. The students viewed such criticism as a positive input.
In the evenings the students would share their work, and they would criticize each other’s work. The pictures I’m showing today are from such a trip.