Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Thoughts on Teaching Art

The Lakewood Arts Council offers many types of classes in many different mediums.  For the beginning student just starting out, to the accomplished painter wanting to perfect their skills, or the eclectic artist wanting to try something new, there is a class to suit their needs.  Whether it be an ongoing class in oil painting, watercolor or basic drawing, or a one-time workshop in mixed media, accomplished teachers inspire, educate and make it fun to come to class.

With new sessions just starting, I decided to question these instructors on their methods and goals in order to gain some insight on what to expect as a new student.

When I asked the LAC instructors for their thoughts on teaching, there was a general consensus that not only should the students have fun, but the whole experience of teaching art has been fun.  “It is a tremendous amount of work…but also fun.  I admire all the instructors who stick with it,” says Kathy Berls.  For Kathy Cranmer, “Painting should be fun and I always try to remember that in my classes.”  Heidi Snyder, who is teaching an upcoming colored pencil workshop at the LAC Art Center with Dorothy DePaulo, stresses how art is “not only fun, creative, and at its core intensely personal, but a great healer and equalizer and a wonderful medium for telling stories.  It enables the artist to reach audiences otherwise inaccessible and convey messages in a manner which defies other means of communication.”

Having fun in class with a teacher who obviously enjoys his or her work and like Dorothy DePaulo, who finds that ”by teaching what she knows about the art making process and wants to pass that happiness on to others”,  would be good incentive to sign up.  But what about the student who is a bit hesitant to register due to lack of confidence?  “Just have fun with it,” says Loraine Miller.  “Remember we have all been beginners at one time or another.  Don’t expect success the first time, keep practicing, practicing and more practicing… and keep it simple.”  Kathy Cranmer stresses how important it is for beginner and intermediate watercolor painters to learn good painting fundamentals, making it easier to achieve satisfying results.  Barb Tobiska also adds that being placed in the correct level class for one’s ability is important. With so many classes, levels and instructors to choose from, it should be easy to find a class that fits each individual.  “Try a lot of classes and a lot of different teachers until something really clicks for you,” says Kathy Berls. 

When asked about teaching methods – traditional vs. experimental, most instructors tended to stick with traditional, but with a few novel techniques or materials incorporated occasionally.  Barb Tobiska, having been a multi-media artist, has been known to employ glazes, sand, cloth, spray paints and other materials into her oil painting lessons.

The LAC’s instructors are always learning.  Many have a college degree in Art Education or have taught in schools.  But all agree that taking workshops themselves and like Loraine Miller, who finds the most helpful source of information has been the  “many, many books and other instructors she has taken (classes) from.” This allows her to stretch a little and then teach these new things to her students.  Dorothy DePaulo also learns by doing.  She approaches each painting as a puzzle that needs to be solved.  She learns from her peers by looking at others’ art and seeking out how they have solved their art puzzles.  She also stresses that “the most important thing in being a good artist is to be a part of a community of artists.  Often time, the classroom is the first step in joining a community of artists.”

What have you learned from your students and what is the most surprising thing you’ve found about teaching art classes, I asked.  Loraine Miller has learned to “think about the process of painting…how to put things into words that I sometimes think is so automatic.”  Most teachers agreed with Heidi Snyders’ sentiment that “everyone can do art, and do it well.  There is no pass, fail.  And the beauty of that approach is that there is no bad art: the technique might not be polished, the experience lacking, but the art which equals the concept, the idea, the personal input, is always good, because it always reflects the individual.”  Every student will come up with their own unique take on a subject and are always willing to be open and learn.  Embrace this uniqueness, as does Dorothy DePaulo.

The knowledge, creativity and enthusiasm that these art teachers convey are what makes the classes offered through the LAC so enjoyable and educational.  If you haven’t taken advantage of this opportunity, it’s time you did.  Check out the class schedule at www.lakewoodartscouncil.org and sign up soon, as spaces fill up quickly.  And thank you to those instructors named above for your inspiration and teachings and for taking the time to share your thoughts for this article.

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