monday, february 06, 2012
Thoughts about teaching and painting

Gone To Seed, Dena Kirk, Oil on Canvas

Tuesdays are my painting class days.  I really look forward to class most days.  And, even if I am not really feeling "up to it" on any particular day, by the time class comes to an end, I am always glad I taught.  No matter how I feel, once I start talking about the process of painting, I get really jazzed about it!  One point seems to lead to another interesting point, which leads me to think of a certain painting by one of the Master's, or a more contemporary artist and, before you know it, I am off searching through my stacks of art books for an example of a painting that will help to illustrate my idea to the student.  It's so funny to me that most days, I can't remember where I parked my car, but I can almost instantly reach for the exact book where a certain painting image is located.  And, I have hundreds of art books...not alphabetized, no Dewey Decimal System; but I am pretty sure I can grab the right one just by seeing the color on the jacket. 

There is so very much to learn about painting...I am always learning.  There is even more to learn about how to teach about painting.  My students over the years have been great about helping me know how to help them best.  No one thing works for everyone, as any school teacher will tell you.  But, when something does "click", it's a pretty neat feeling.  We all can remember that one teacher that finally got through to us.  One thing I am learning is that students also need to be "ready" to hear about something.  One of my early workshop experiences was a lesson about this for me, although I didn't realize it at the time.  This was a guy whose work I loved and was (is) incredibly well-repsected in the art world.  I was fortunate enough to get into a 3-day workshop.  I was a decent painter at that point, but really, kind of just "getting it".  (However, I probably thought I was better than I was!!).  Well, the workshop went a bit over my head and I found the instructor to be somewhat "impatient" with me.  I mean, I could get a decent rendering of the still life we were working from, nice colors, pretty strong values.  Yet, I couldn't figure out why he wasn't just patting me on the back and saying, "great job"!  I wanted my art diploma!  I had succeeded, right? 

No pat on the back...not even much encouragement.  I left almost in tears.  A few years later, however, I understood what he was trying to convey.  I get that he was trying to push me to take the painting farther...that a painting is more than a "rendering" of a teapot or flowers.  It's about shapes, values, edges, pushing, pulling, what to leave out, what to keep in, leading the eye, making every space interesting. 

I try to remember that now, every time I teach.  Yes, my job is to encourage, to praise, to be passionate and share my enthusiasm for painting.  But, I do my students an injustice if I just keep them at their own status quo.  It's a far and hard do I push them and when is it too much? What is our purpose in taking a class? For some, it is to be challenged, to move beyond the ordinary.  For others, it is for validation.  I hope to do both tomorrow morning! 

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08/16/2012 - Kay

As a student of Dena's for several months now, I have never been so challenged nor excited about painting. She encourages me to think with the info I've learned in the past and how to apply it to increase my ability to problem solve. I am developing more confidence and enjoyment in painting.

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