Tuesday, 15 December 2009

A Post in Three Parts

Well ... I never thought I'd start a blog post with a quote from Norman Vincent Peale ...

But I guess those inspirational speakers, the oft-quoted folks, and the old cliched homilies are now trite and boring because so many people have quoted them ... and that must have occurred because there were little kernels of truth not too well hidden in the words.

I must say I prefer a little more subtlety, a little more respect for the recipient of these words of wisdom, a metaphor perhaps ... something that requires me to do some thinking ... but here anyway is Peale's piece of ponderous pontification:

"You only lose energy when life becomes dull in your mind. Your mind gets bored and therefore tired of doing nothing. Get interested in something! Get absolutely enthralled in something! Get out of yourself! Be somebody! Do something. The more you lose yourself in something bigger than yourself, the more energy you will have."

You will be pleased to know that the wise old owl, Le Hibou, has pulled me out of my self- absorbed blue funk of illness, and I am now working on other Zentangle adaptations.  I still have the cough, but I am working again ... and no longer bored.


I have decided not to go to my last class.  The cough?  Maybe.  But it is also the snow that is drifting down and making the hill out of my place slippery.  And the drive into the city.  And the fact that I haven't learned much, not because the teacher doesn't know much about art (she does) or because she doesn't care (she does) or because she is lazy (she is most definitely not).  No ... the problem is that she doesn't have any teaching skills. 

There is an old saw, "Those who can do; those who can't teach".  It is intended as a putdown of teachers.  Many people think that teaching is something anyone can do, not something learned, and not a natural talent that can be honed.  This class has shown me that teaching is an art, a set of skills, something valuable.  It is something that not everyone can do.  It requires more than a good heart, knowledge, and a willingness to pass on that information.

Our teacher can acquire those skills with further training and study, and when she does, her knowledge of her field, her good heart, and her enthusiasm will make her a good teacher.

I am disappointed because I wanted to learn more about art ... about how to take an interest further ... about techniques ... and tricks of the trade ... and mistakes to avoid.  I wanted to come away from this course armed with some tools to make my funky furniture making less fraught with technical mistakes.  Oh well, there will be other courses, and books and other sources of advice ... and that greatest teacher of all, trial and error.  It's just that I don't have enough time to learn everything by guess and by golly, by trial and error.  That's why teachers are so important; they speed up the process of learning.


One of the benefits of the marathon month long writing of the terribly bad novel is that I came to some conclusions about my life ...  and took some definitive action yesterday.  Not sure I should have ... but made the decision and acted on it anyway.  I know that is far too amorphous a statement to make any sense but this is a blog not a private conversation with an intimate friend.

One of the problems with being almost seventy is that you are no longer young enough to be blissfully blind and not old enough to have stopped wanting love. 

Happily married friends tell me that they would never marry again; that all relationships become dull with time; become chores to keep up; that men are boring once the children have been raised and sex is no longer a driving force.  They certainly don't make me want to find someone to love.

I asked a good friend what married life was like, and I thought, as the details came out, that I couldn't imagine any life I would like less.  They were bored by one another, imprisoned by expectations, responsibilities and jealousies, and one at least felt hard done by.  I look at Kenya and also feel I do the lion's share of the work, but she is still fun to play with and not at all jealous.

A very close friend who has what the world would see as the perfect marriage has accepted something I could never accept.  Her husband makes all the decisions and she has to work within those constraints.  She loves him very much and she accepts this element of their relationship.  I couldn't, no matter how much I were loved.

Oh I do see good strong relationships around me of course.  They are the ones in which the partners are good friends who like to work and play together, who have a great deal in common and seem to keep growing as individual people and together as couples.  The problem at nearly seventy, especially if you live alone on an isolated lake with your dog, is finding someone who could be that kind of friend.  And when you think you might have found him, you discover something that makes him an untenable choice.



Mud Mama said...

The problem with teaching art is that the only way you learn is by making mistakes and feeling free enough to explore them. There aren't any mistakes to avoid beyond health and safety concerns.

Even something structured like a techniques class calls on the amorhous qualities of the creative process or the class is horribly boring for most people who "just want to make art". Do you want a class to be like learning to swim laps or inspiring?

I took a historical techniques class where we learned the history and the process of making and using painting materials from the art in caves all the way to the heavily processed new kids on the block from the early 90's - water miscible oil paints. I loved it, but we did NO painting in class. All our experimentation was done on our own, we needed to make lots of mistakes on our own time. There was no discussion of what we produced beyond working out the sucesses and failures, range and limitations we found with the materials. The class was 6 hours a week, and we spent an equal or greater time working on it outside of class time.

I don't think you're going to EVER find that kind of class in a recreational art class.

Oma said...

Thanks for your comment, Mud Mama. You've given an example of the other end of the spectrum ... all theory and no play.

I guess what I would have liked to have seen was, to use your example, a class in which we learned the breast stroke and then practised it by swimming in a river or lake rather than in one lane of a chlorinated pool.

Instead, what we had was the lake or river but no concept of how to swim ... so many of us drowned or simply went back to doing the dog paddle.

Mud Mama said...

But wasn't this a sketchbooking class? Sketchbooking isn't a "technique" - I'd have a very hard time teaching a class like that too - especially if I gauged that the class wanted to learn techniques not get exposed to the incredibly wide range of ways artists used sketchbooks and just get encouragement to make it a habit.

If I was assigned a class like that...hmmm...I'd expose people to a different artist's sketchbooks each week. Frieda Kahlo, Keri Smith, Elmer Bischoff, Picasso, William Blake, David Hockney, and Del Toro's (the guy who made Pan's Labrynth). I'd insist they worked on it daily, and I'd really need to workshop with participants what they wanted to get from a visual journal that first class, and that would be where I would focus attention, coming up with assignments that met their conceptual needs. Techniques would be the furthest thing from my mind! A sketchbook just isn't where you practice techniques.

Oma said...

I hope our teacher (whom I really like) reads your post so that her next foray into teaching is more successful. You are a very good natural teacher who understands the importance of working on the needs of the individual students and building a course based on their needs.