Thursday, July 12, 2007

Recreational vs academic art educators

Evening. William-Adolphe Bouguereau, 1863

The art of handling university students is to make oneself appear, and this almost ostentatiously, to be treating them as adults, while keeping them in invisible harness and even, when necessary, giving them a flick of the whip. -- Arnold J. Toynbee (Experiences, 1969)

I took part in a discussion today about the qualifications required for teaching art and the subject of recreational versus academic art arose. Perhaps the wording should have been more in terms of professional versus recreational art. There are recreational artists who draw for pleasure and never receive payment or commissions, but how did they learn to draw? And are they able to articulate how to reproduce a drawing of an image using traditional drawing theories or simply create, not quite knowing how they get to the point of creation?

Then comes the discussion of self taught or academic art? Is one more valuable than the other? Or are they simply 'different'? I know that many artists are self taught and produce amazing work through years of practice and study in one form or another and some of these go on to pass on their skills to others. I believe that traditional methods of producing art are essential and recreational artists possess these methods. They just don't know that they do because they've often learned through self discovery, not academic studies. And I know academically trained artists who also produce beautiful work but who cannot teach for beans. The opposite is also true of both of the above groups.

Some recreational artists, buoyed on by success, get bound up in the appealing notion of teaching art and then suddenly find themselves in over their heads. They are often not aware of the time commitment it takes, the hours of class preparation, critiquing sensitive egos without bruising them, encouraging, leading, guiding and giving students the wings to fly, not to become a clone of another artist.

It is quite different to create a simple image for pleasure when your critic is family or well meaning friends than to have students looking to you for guidance with expectation of success every step of the way. Style or drawing/paintings produced are not indicative of a teacher's ability. They are simply a product of his or her imagination and learned techniques. A teacher's ability to translate what art theory and experience is in their mind into a learnable, enjoyable format is the recipe for success. Pareto's rule seems to apply in this case too. 20% of teachers are good and 80% mediocre.


Mary said...

Very interesting post Jeanette and I agree that the art of teaching is not always masterd by those that do master a certain subject.

Anonymous said...

I love the Toynbee quote! I'll have to remember that. I think it's the case in most, if not all, activities that teaching something is a special skill over and above the ability to do the activity well oneself.

Jeanette said...

Thanks Mary. The discussion could go on for ever I am sure. I'm of the old school I guess in that I believe no matter what the subject matter, an individual must learn the basic, traditional techniques of drawing to be able to express themselves effectively on paper.

I know you teach at university level Dave, and I'm sure that quote struck a nerve with you and had you nodding your head and smiling to yourself.

Katherine said...

And you wondered why I gave you the thinking blogger award?

Nice piece Jeanette - and I couldn't agree more. Unfortunately, there's a fair few professional painters out there who also think they can teach - but they can't.

In the UK now, you now have to have some form of training to be able to teach in higher education and (I think) in adult education. Jolly good thing too.

I've got a teaching qualification and it really annoys me when I see what some people think constitutes proper teaching! I am now reining myself in from spouting on a favourite topic of discourse.......

Jeanette said...

Thanks Katherine, I agree, and strongly believe that a lot of individuals with a smattering of information or drawing ability suddenly believe they can pass this on to others. They then realize a quarter ways into the game that they're in over their heads and can't come up with answers to basic questions.

Sorry, my rant is starting here too...please feel free to spout...

BJ_Art said...

I very much enjoyed your "conversations" for this post.
I am an art teacher and it is always a challenge with high school students. Although teaching technique and theory seem easy, the fact that all people learn in different ways creates the first obstacle. The second obstacle, the students, is probably more difficult, because they would many times prefer to just "do it" and not have to actually learn something that can be academically assessed. I always encourage my students to first learn the basic techniques and knowledge for the purpose of assessed education, then try new ideas (self-discovery) with the foundation established.
As a teacher and artist, I certainly hope that I never stop learning, whether through more classes or self-discovery. Either way, I see it as a continuing quest for both knowledge and pure enjoyment.

Cynthia Padilla said...

What an interesting discussion to have had the opportunity of taking part in..and now you have shared it for our discussion. I teach to both the academic and recreational artists but either art types can be in both or either art venues. Under those circumstances it is indeed a mine field for an arts instructor treads.
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