Sunday, January 17, 2016
The Value of Workshops vs the Love of Learning
There's been some chat on the internet recently about the value of workshops - actual and virtual. It was postulated that, in terms of outcome - i.e a marked improvement in the work of the student - most workshops were worthless.
It seems to me that's a terribly commercial approach. We invested this time and money and where is the improvement in the product? Nothing very obvious? Well then, we wasted our time and money!!
What a very strange way to measure the value of something. So many things are missing, just for starters: what the student wanted out of the workshop! I remember one workshop where one of the students said her reason for being there was to escape her very demanding family for a week! So for her the workshop was successful the moment she got there! Other students come to have fun, it's like a fabulous holiday, so much more stimulating than laying on the beach getting skin cancer and reading trashy novels!!
There are so many reasons for taking workshops that I really don't think you can use one single measure (marked improvement in the work) as any kind of indicator of the value of taking workshops.
This is very true of online workshops - some people are there to learn technique A or B and I feel that for the most part they do just that. Or, if not, they realise that that particular technique is not for them - always valuable to know which paths you don't want to follow!
Some people are there because they live in a really isolated place or with unsupportive people, and here in the warm ether of the 'net they can find fellowship and learning.
Furthermore, most skills improve slowly with practice - I can't think of anything much where you will get instant success in a very short period of time. Unless it were something very simple and straightforward and not a complex task like making art.
Indeed, the idea that we can measure how much a student is getting out of something by a single concrete measure is probably coming from the current method of assessment in school children - how are they progressing? well let's teach them three facts, and then test them: do they know those three facts? yes or no. Yes success, no Fail. Are those three facts something they can and will use, something they can build on? Maybe not...but they are something we can measure!
And, as many of us have had forced down us, it's important to be 95% successful in our goals and then next year try to be 96% successful. and the year after 97%! Is education really so narrow and black and white? When employed by bureaucracy I very quickly realised I should set my goals to something easy to achieve, and very measurable. I will complete 6.1 units per hour next year!!! But that's not art, and that's not what we're teaching in our design and composition classes.
When I start a class, I always ask the students what they want out of the class...and while most of them do opt for the items mentioned in the class description, they do it in a way that's not directly and immediately measurable: e.g. " I want to know more about composition so that I can apply it to my work and eventually see myself making stronger work". "I want to find my own voice". "I want to learn how to express myself in color and thread". It's a slow process.
One thing you can do for yourself after taking a workshop is to try to list exactly what it was you gained, and how you will put that information into practice. I'm currently taking lessons, I make lots of notes of the new information...and between each lesson I go over those notes asking myself how I can get these ideas and skills into my hands...my brain...my heart..my creative output.
I just took a week long painting course...surprise surprise my paintings were not significantly better at the end than the beginning! hmm does that mean the course was a failure? But, what did I learn from making those paintings? can I list everything new I now know and can apply in future, gradually practicing so that they become second nature for me too? And then, then, my work will be better. And what I learned from the painting, I can apply to the quilts...what I learn from music I can apply to painting, what I learn from quilts I can apply to life!!
And what if you want to learn to create beauty? How do you measure that? How quickly can that be achieved?
Finally, just what is wrong in learning for learning's sake? Just for the pure simple pleasure of knowing more about something, of stretching our wings a little bit and feeling some slight mastery of a new skill. The great happiness is that zing inside when you feel yourself able to understand or appreciate or do something you could never do before.
Onward and upward! Let's learn!
And, if you have been, thanks for reading. And do please comment....what do you get from lessons and workshops? How do you know if it was worthwhile?