Choosing the right workshop
by Robert Genn

April 23, 2010

Dear Rodney,"Should I go to an art school, should I take a workshop, or should I just work on 
my own?" Questions like this come in here every day and they're often tough to 
answer. Needless to say, I always appreciate a few photos to help me with a properly 
considered opinion. Sometimes my answer is, "Take a workshop." 

But that's when the fun begins. Sometimes it's difficult to find the right one. 
While students often choose courses that take them in new and uncharted directions, 
it's also valuable to invest in instructors with a somewhat similar vision to 
yours. If you don't know her work personally, it's a good idea to thoroughly check 
out the website. Some instructors are whiz-bangs at plein air, others excel in 
colour theory or drawing, still others can be counted on for foundation basics. For 
folks who are not sure what they want--but just feel the urge to get going--a week 
in a church basement with an enthusiastic pro can really charge up your 
lithium-ions.
 
Fact is, many part-time workshop instructors are simply dynamite at hands-on 
awakening and enabling. "The supreme art of the teacher," said Albert Einstein, "is 
to awaken joy." Working artists tend to know a bit about joy.

Here are a few thoughts: First-time students need not fear the prospect of judgment 
and comparison. Individual boundaries are respected. Most instructors I know are 
fully loaded with humility and empathy. The greatest teachers are perennial 
students themselves. "Every professional was first an amateur," said Ralph Waldo 
Emerson. That quote, widely repeated, helps. 
 
One of the most effective types of workshop is where two or more instructors or 
mentors alternate between different groups on different days. Students positively 
buzz with excitement as they vacuum up a bit here and a bit there.

Then there's location. The idea is to get your brush around new places. North 
American painters lug their stuff over to Brittany and Provence--and European 
painters hang out with cowboys in New Mexico. Go figure. Notwithstanding volcanic 
eruptions, the world's your canvas. 

These days, many who take workshops are already top-notch painters. New challenges 
and the benefits of group dynamics are the main reasons these folks join in. Just 
another reason why workshops are so enriching. Great places to make buddies for 
life. 
 
Best regards,

Robert

PS: "The art of teaching is the art of assisting discovery." (Mark Van Doren)