Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Who's Your Teacher?

Had an interesting discussion with a couple of artists before tonight's life drawing session in the studio.  One had taken some painting lessons from me and then had taken a workshop with two more well-known artists.  The other has taken a couple of my workshops and has studied with a lot of other artists.  Some of her friends couldn't understand why she studied with so many different people.  "Why don't you just stay with one teacher?" they asked.

I was a bit surprised at that question.  In my experience, when you study with a new teacher, you learn a lot in the beginning.  Then the amount of "new" begins to taper off until you're just getting old lessons reinforced.  There's a good bit of value in that, particularly when your natural style, subject matter, and ways of working mesh with your teacher.  And there's a lot of value in having a long and deep mentor relationship.

But taking classes and workshops from a lot of different teachers has value as well.  You learn a lot of different approaches.  The way I paint a figure is completely different from the way a good friend of mine paints a figure.  My way isn't the "right" way any more than his is.  My way is just right for me.  So when I teach, I show the students my way of working.  I tell them why it works for me, but it's certainly not the only way, and they may find another artist's approach that is better for them.  In the meantime, here's a way that may have some value for you.

When I was working on my senior show at UNC Asheville, I had two instructors whose work was very different from each other.  One is a figurative artist who  does a lot of allegorical work.  The other does some fantastic trompe l'oeil paintings.  ("Trompe l'oeil" means "fool the eye" - the paintings are so hyper-realistic that you think the yardstick and apple hanging in front if it are real).  One would beat me up over what the paintings meant, while the other beat me up over the way they were painted.  I learned a tremendous amount from those two artists.  I could not have learned nearly that much from just one.

So my advice to all budding artists: learn from all of us.  Take workshops and classes from different artists.  Find great works that resonate with you and copy them.  When you find a teacher who meshes well with your natural way of working and your personality, then you can stay with them for a long period of time.  But no one artist has THE ONE answer.  You have to find your own way.

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