Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What does the teacher aim to do?

I just read a very interesting article in International Artist, a magazine written by practicing artists in most traditional media around the world.  At a large conference, artist teachers were asked what they felt were the most important things to tell their students about art.  Many of them at first responded with “traditional knowledge” – the craft of painting.  Looking at the roster of classes at any big quilt conference, you can see that this is the focus of many quilt teachers too.  Piecing, applique and machine quilting are always very popular. Basic dyeing and fabric painting also. 
unicycle Nearly all the art teachers felt that, whatever the medium, drawing skills were essential – I made a mental note to try to include some drawing practice each day!  If only I could draw while I walk or bicycle!!  Maybe I could go on a total liquid diet and draw and suck up nutrients at the same time!! 
An interesting comment by artist Michelle Dunaway was that she felt that teachers often overlooked the thinking process that she felt it was necessary for an artist to maintain while creating.  She states that: “the artist must balance passion and patience while [working].”
In his book The Art Spirit (well worth reading though not I think at bedtime unless you are an insomniac seeking a cure!), Robert Henri wrote: “the brush stroke at the moment of contact carries inevitably the exact state of being of the artist at that exact moment into the work”. Have you ever noticed this?  If you are deeply into some strong emotion (even that rendered by listening to a powerful audiobook) somehow it imbues itself into the quilt you are making.  I could never look again at a quilt I made while listening to Schindler’s List and was very glad when somebody bought it!  Somehow I had unconsciously included all the anguish and fear into the piece.
Dunaway feels that you can often screw yourself by being too worried about a piece as you are working on it, your worry, tension and frustration will then appear in the work.  If you can think in a more orderly and harmonious way, then that would be reflected.  Hmm!  I think I want to make a wild scrap quilt, I’d better play my CD of Carmina Burana !!  
More on this topic later, as  the computer is in demand by the chef!  I’d love any art quilt teachers reading this post to give their views as to what they try and do in the classroom.  All comments very graciously accepted!  And, if you have been, thanks for reading.   Elizabeth
P.S. my class Working in Series begins at quiltuniversity.com this Friday, there are still a couple of place open if you're interested.  This class is aimed at helping you find your own voice in your quilt making.  Don't worry if you would like to take it but can't now, I'm sure they'll be offering it again  later this year.  See you in class!!


Gerrie said...

I had such a difficult year, emotionally, last year. I don't really like any of the major quilts that I made. I think I now understand why. Very interesting. I am hoping for an ebullient year of quilt making, this year.

Jackie said...

How will we know if we succeeded in what we wanted to do if we didn't know what it was in the first place? That applies to pretty much all we do, doesn't it? Thanks for the reminder!

Sandra Wyman said...

As someone who has for most of my adult life taught people of various ages (for most of the time 13-18 year olds) in a creative but not visual art discipline most of the time I'd say my aims as a teacher - and this includes teaching adults surface design and art quilting - were primarily those of enabling rather than instruction - encouraging people to gain confidence and joy in what they're doing by feeling free to play and explore. I think it's important too to teach techniques (feeling you can't do something can undermine confidence and hence the freedom to explore) but without it becoming too mechanical if possible.
I find the difference of approaches in teaching on opposite sides of the Atlantic interesting in this respect: I've found a number of classes in the US (not yours though!) too rigid in encouraging students to replicate the crative values - and often imitate the work - of the teacher (though most of the ones I have taken with US teachers haven't done this I feel they are in the minority) In the UK and Europe there is more emphasis (as in your classes) on creative freedom and finding your own voice.
Art courses also seem to exhibit similar differences - with more bias in the US on technique and elements and principles of design; whereas in the UK it is all about finding an individual voice - with traditional skills in many instances no longer taught.
As with many things, I think the answer lies in taking the best of both!

meredith said...

I am an artist who doesn't draw. Although at times that skill would be helpful, my lack of drawing has not hindered my creative process. I am new to quilt world, but I think all art comes from within. My inner eye serves as my sketch and I allow the work to speak for itself and take me to places I hadn't imagines.

I do think it is possible to over think a piece and in response the work gets fussy and too stiff.

An artist's state of mind is always present in the work. How can it not be as art is an expression of the maker.

Elizabeth Barton said...

Thank you for your comments - very interesting and several different points are made. There are distinct cultural differences, though, as you point out Sandra, there is also a lot of overlap in style. In many arenas ( I read that the space craft development was one), Americans like more precise categorization. I think this makes a good basis, but not if that is all there is! When I was a university teacher I found it difficult to get students to think beyond the facts and synthesize and conjecture.
I don't think planning ahead inevitably leads to overworking if one only plans the main structure, shapes, communication etc but I do agree that planning down to every last dot and tickle can make a piece very stiff..there always has to be room to manouevre!!

Kit Lang said...

Like you and your Schindler's List quilt, I made one while I was struggling through months of depression - it was the only thing that brought me out of it though it was slow going. The resulting piece is, I think, quite beautiful, but everyone who looks at it tells me it make them "sad". http://kitlangfiberart.blogspot.com/2010/06/sparrow-in-rain.html

I've had similar, opposite experiences as well - that quilts I`ve made when I`ve been feeling joyful impart that happiness as well. Some people cook their feelings into their food, and some people quilt them into their work I suppose! I`m glad I`m one of the latter.