It’s usually the hardest teachers that do you the most good. My first illustration class was one continual exercise in ego-deflation but when the term was up I’d made more progress than I had in any other class up to that point. Noted Southwest painter Bill Whitaker was the teacher, and while he was far from being the only faculty member to hand out withering critique comments, he had a talent for dissecting those little compensations our egos hatch to help deflects the negative messages.
For example his most common comment to me was “Dave, I’m impressed by you – but not by your talent. I’m pressed by your brain!” He’d also the stress that as art majors we weren’t special : “ You stand out now because you’ve declared a major – but there are store clerks, mechanics and doctors out there in the real world that aren’t just as good as you are – they’re better. They just didn’t want to do art for a living”.
Years of teaching and freelancing have reinforced the truth of his words. More than once I wish I’d continued as a soldier or stayed in the oil field while pursuing art as a hobby instead of a vocation. At the same time I have encountered plenty of “non-artists” that routinely out-create the avowed artists around them.
The same paradox manifests itself regularly in the art appreciation class I teach at a local junior college. My students are all non-art majors who are taking the class for general education/humanities credit…and who are a little surprised to find out that I have them actually make a little bit of art as part of the syllabus. They paint a little, sculpt a little, make animation flip-books and relief-cut print editions – all of which helps them understand the creator’s thinking process and the impact art has on both artist and audience. It’s an great way to engage students, especially those with a kinesthetic inclination like mechanics and physical therapists It also ends up producing some really nice art as well.
The pieces I’ve posted below were all made by my Art Appreciation class students, none of which are dedicated art majors. Looking at these images never fails to bring Bill’s comments to mind.
Bruce Cantrell/Fall 2013
Ashley Chilcutt/Fall 2016
Steven Royall/Fall 2013
Krystal Haseltine/Summer 2016
Copyright stuff: People tend to declare “open season” on student work – in fact there is more than one college catalog that flatly states that claims the rights for work done in class. I’ve never liked that rule – so the only thing these folks have agreed to rights-wise is letting their quirky former teacher feature it in his blog.