Preparing to give a workshop
June 21, 2011
Yesterday, Fred Hulser of Houston, Texas wrote, "I recently agreed to do a
small landscape/plein air workshop and I now realize I may not be prepared.
While I'm more experienced than many students, I have never taught an art
workshop or art class. I just read your letters on teaching and see I am not the
only one to pester you on this subject. What should I do?"
Thanks, Fred. Conducting a workshop is a serious obligation and a
responsibility. The job of instructor, in my view, is to help people realize
themselves at whatever level they are at, and to further engage them in the
basic academic exercises that are so wanting in contemporary art education.
These goals are often compromised by customers who range from inflamed youth in
need of channelling to companionable, contented geriatrics.
If you feel you're not prepared, here are a few things you can do:
Prepare a couple of demo-lessons where you can illustrate a few techniques or
specific exercises. Most often you need to strengthen a student's facility with
form, composition or colour. Help them to really look at the environment. Making
it possible for students to unlearn bad old habits is as important as giving
them new good ones.
Be prepared to go around to individuals as they work. Easel-side coaching is its
own fine art. You need to size up work and offer no more than two or three
suggestions at a time. Couch your critiques between praise and encouragement. Be
nice. Many of your customers will be mothers. If you have permission, take their
brushes in hand and demo briefly right on their work. Give equal time and
attention to all participants who ask for it. Some don't.
While teaching is an altruistic endeavour for many instructors, it is also part
of one's own growth and education. In the words of John
Jay Chapman, "Benevolence alone will not make a teacher, nor will
learning alone do it. The gift of teaching is a peculiar talent, and implies a
need and a craving in the teacher himself."
More than anything, it's important to drop your own precious ego. Your students
are paying you--they deserve value for money. Just as you are, they are
processing information and winnowing directions. Tune in and help them find
their potential and they'll be friends for life.
PS: "Who dares to teach must never cease to learn." (John
Esoterica: At about the age of 12 I attended a demo given by an ill-prepared
gentleman to whom the word "incompetent" would aptly apply.
Nevertheless, watching that guy fumble along gave me ideas and confidence. He
gave me the courage to follow my own path. Seeing the need for studenthood in
him, I confirmed the need in myself. Nevertheless, the best teachers give freely
from an enriched resource of accumulated wisdom. Feeling the joy of empowerment
as their students grow and flourish, the best teachers lose customers and gain