Tag Archives: teaching

creative-hours

hi, perfectionism. thanks for coming, but i’ve got knitting to do. can we talk later?

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I had the opportunity to teach last week (in a creative journaling series), and although I didn’t feel excited to teach, the students and the creative process gave me a huge gift (I don’t know why I’m still surprised by that; teaching is always a gift): a reminder that perfectionism is the enemy of good work, of learning, risk-taking, exploration, and quite frankly the enemy of happiness & fun.

I taught papercutting! This is my fancy M.
I taught papercutting! This is my fancy M.

It’s good to have high standards and good taste, but putting your inner critic into place – not powerful enough to derail you, but not so weak that you produce crappy work – is such a huge challenge. It’s a challenge that I’m starting to understand might be a thing for the rest of my life, something I might never outgrow.

And it’s funny, as a parent, to see how early the struggle can start. For example: my son knows how a particular puzzle is supposed to go together. But getting all the pieces in is difficult. Some days he’ll work at it patiently until he figures it out. Some days, he’ll turn a piece around just twice before crying and running away.

Knitting is (one of) my puzzle(s) right now, and I’m trying hard not to lose my temper with it. My current recipe for success? Er, recipe for not crying and running away? Start again on something easy, and focus for a while on how satisfying it is to have inch after inch of knitting drop away from my needles.

creative-hours

from the inside out

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My mentor in college had a rare, rare gift. She dealt with the work of her students from the inside out. That is, she had the ability to understand your work’s intentions, to find out where you would like to take the piece, and to advise you on how to actually communicate that intention to your audience.

This was useful to me as an artist, but even more as a teacher: deeply useful feedback doesn’t start with the teacher’s ideal style or product. It starts with what the student would like to achieve.

Sounds basic, right? But I’m finding that giving that kind of feedback needs practice, practice, practice.

I teach a lot of standalone classes, 2-3 hours long. My biggest challenge, in that brief amount of time, is to connect with each of a dozen or more students long enough to pick up on his or her aims – and then help them forward.

In a monotype workshop a few weeks ago, I got lots of practice giving feedback and then getting out of the way while students made decisions.  The group was flexible and fun, willing to be stretched, and all knew each other well.  And I think every student left with something they were proud of.P1018123

Not that there weren’t bumps along the way! One student in particular hated everything she made with the initial assignment in mind. After our mid-class check-in, she decided to go in the opposite direction. Immediately, her body language relaxed and she completed six pieces in quick succession, which truly took advantage of the unique properties of vellum + akua ink (lots of lovely transparent color and some light texture). They also fit her poetic interests – small, boiled down to essentials, intimate.

I was happy to see my assignment pushed out of the way while she charged headlong in her own direction. In a lot of different ways, every day, we have to make those decisions. Do we keep going in the same direction? Do we stick with what other people want or expect from us? How do we figure out what we want?

P1018146In an art class, the answer is much easier: always, always, my loves, follow your own voice.