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Good Teachers, Bad Teachers

Painting- "Boat Building"
"Boat Building"
3 July 2004 — During my last workshop, a student passed on a story about a teacher, who, upon seeing some sketchbook drawings made on a trip to Italy proclaimed "Those drawings are terrible. You shouldn't do any more like that."

What a put-down, The student, more skilled than most, said she actually cried. She said she loved drawing the little guy riding the motor scooter, the colosseum and all the other fun subjects foreign countries have to offer and she was experiencing first hand. So I asked her if she really took his comments seriously. "Well, yes," she replied, "he's a teacher."

There's a lesson here. And a profound one. Teachers, be they big time world class names or part time helpers at the local Y, are usually taken very seriously. Especially by beginning students. And what they say is mostly interpreted as gospel truth. Happily, nearly all the teachers I've ever had or met or heard about mean well. But now and then an instructor begins pontificating. Iron clad descriptions like right and wrong and good and bad replace more open minded terms like punchy or bland or perky or dull and reasons and options are offered as to why a painting is not working. What's NOT helpful is outright condemnation like "that's awful!", or the callow "Those drawings are terrible. You shouldn't do any more like that."

Remember, nobody can beat you at your own game. So whenever receiving bad (or good) feedback from any teacher, chew over the comments, but let your gut reactions have the final say as to how you draw or paint. Because if you take every teacher's advice verbatim, you'll always be second best when compared to the instructor dishing out the advice.

So here are a few guidelines I'd like to offer when picking a teacher:
  • Reputation — Ask around. Does the teacher have a good reputation? Where have they taught? How long? Do they exhibit? Do they work in a way compatible to your artistic point of view (as in tonal, colorful, loose, or tight).

  • Skill — The best teachers I've had show you rather than tell you how to do something. Talking the talk is far less important than walking the walk.

  • Open-mindedness — Without which, you may find yourself forced into an artistic dead end. Remember, options make the world go round.

  • A Noncompetitive Environment — Watch out for classes that give prizes for things like "Best in Class." Leave the horse races for the horses.

Finally, if you do find yourself with a monster of a teacher, get the word out so eventually the teacher will either shape up or find himself with an empty classroom.

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