Monday, May 23, 2011

Workshop at Mendocino Art Center

 I'll be teaching a workshop at Mendocino Art Center in 5 days and several months ago a potential workshop attendee inquired about the skill level necessary to participate. I responded, in essence by saying; "It matters more what you learn than where you start". Since then, I've had other experiences that confirm this belief.
Work in progress

This past semester at SUU where I teach 3D design as an adjunct professor,  I had an older, non-traditional student, who suffered from a degenerative disease. She came into this semester's class with  younger,  more traditional students. She and five of the younger students have attended studio classes together for the past 2 or three semesters and knew each other well. All her younger peers were very exceptional students and by contrast she really struggled, at first.

Fresh From the kiln
One afternoon she and I were working on one of her projects when she broke down because her hands weren't doing what her mind wanted and she found some simple concepts to be a challenge. She compared herself to the younger students by commenting on how everyone else in class is more prepared than her and wondered out loud if she should even be in college. Her insecurity lead to an interesting class discussion prefaced by a story from my background.

In high school I was the class clown and had no interest in academics. The first book I read was "Old Man and the Sea" and that was in 12th grade. Drugs, alcohol and chasing girls were my only interest.... and college? Well, I wasn't smart enough for that.  At this point in the story I asked the class, "How many of you in here think that all of your peers in this class are smarter and more prepared than you". Every hand raised without hesitation.

We then talked about the idea that art is made with limitations and that the artist needs to figure out a way to work within the parameters given. Chuck Close, who became confined to a wheel chair in his forties and has limited use of his arms, figured out a way to strap brushes to his wrists and use a pulley system to raise and lower his large canvases which allowed him to continue to paint. The assignments that I give are at times specific and require the student to figure out the limitations of the material and then exploit it.
I then told my non traditional student; "Based on my background I never imagined myself teaching". I thought for a long time that my undisciplined background stood in the way of anything academic, "Yet, here I am."

This pink will be red tomorrow
I've been lucky, circumstances opened up possibilities and I took  advantage of them despite the limiting parameters I began with. In the case of my non-traditional student she has her own physical parameters and with some effort and difficult work, she can learn to exploit who she is. "In the end", I told her, "It's not where you start in college. You don't get an education because you know it all, but rather it's what you learn along the way that matters."

So if you're interested in taking my workshop but not sure about your skill level, sign up anyway. We'll have some fun and grow together in the active pursuit of making art.

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