Dec 15 2008

thoughts on teaching / collage inspirations

The image above is a painting created by Jutta Reichardt.  It illustrates the use of an acrylic image transfer, acrylic surface techniques, and stenciled gold leaf that I introduced to my Mixed Media class, taught through Portland Community College last semester. Jutta produced some really amazing work during the class, and I wish my camera didn’t keep running out of batteries every time I wanted to photograph my students works! In this particular piece, Jutta was inspired by learning about a pioneering woman journalist, Nelly Bly, who was famous in her day for traveling around the world in 72 days.  She also revealed the conditions of the working class around the world, and exposed mistreatment of people with mental illness.  It seems to me that having an intense interest in a subject (any subject) can propel the work to its own successful conclusion.

I’m sort of relieved to be on a teaching break til mid January.  It’s good to have some time to get back into my own work more fully, to listen more carefully to what drives me personally… which in the end, I think will make me a better teacher.

I love teaching, as it re-awakens my passion for disseminating information about art.  After all, if making art were just for myself, it would be a pretty selfish thing, wouldn’t it??  The truth of the matter is that the desire to create is both selfish and selfless.  I create because I must, because I am an endlessly frustrated human being if I do not have an outlet for all of the images and thoughts that pour through me.  Whenever I give myself to my creative expression, I return to the most sane aspects of my self.  I become more grounded in my experience of practically everything.  It improves my relationship to myself, to others, and the world around me.  Teaching can also be a very connective experience, and it gives me great pleasure to see anyone grow in their confidence in expressing themselves.

The catch-22 about teaching is that creating art is not merely about having a handle on technique.  Yes, techniques are important.  They are the tools we use to express ourselves visually.  But it’s having a connection to our personal vision that’s most important, and that’s a very difficult thing to teach.  To some extent, we can learn it from example.  I give my students a lot of examples of what other artists are doing, in terms of both subject matter and technique, which I hope might be inspiring to their own works.  This is the reason I’ve posted so many articles on this blog related to various art inspirations (see index for these articles here).

I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of what the class experience is about is providing a space where students are given permission to allow their creative selves to emerge.  I give specific assignments related to using colors, surface techniques, image transfers, etc… but it’s mostly a matter of giving the students a place to create where they feel encouragement, gentle direction, and the immersion of being with others who are also creating, which becomes a large part of the learning experience.  I think that artists need a combination of experiences which include the isolation of working alone, the creative atmosphere of learning from others, as well as a number of other life experiences that provide the ideas that feed their work.

I strongly suggest some form of journaling to record one’s thoughts (both visually and verbally).  Sketching, doodling, or photographing things of interest to you are all helpful in gaining access to your personal sources of inspiration.  Your process of journaling and what to include in it really depends on what ignites your creative furnace.  You might also enjoy gathering things from walks in nature… or gathering ephemera from old magazines, thrift store finds, etc.  If you enjoy textures and patterns, you might collect cloth, lace, or decorative papers that can later be collaged into your works.

Susan Tuttle, Exhibition 36: Mixed Media Demonstrations

I personally enjoy a mixed media approach to creating art, simply because it opens up the range of possibilities.  Practically anything can become fodder for creative exploration.  I enjoy books that provide lots of ideas for how to bring ideas together, giving the reader permission to try anything.

I occasionally check on the blogs of other artists to see what they are creating, and I just found out that an artist I’ve been following has just released a book about exploring collage.  I’ve just checked it out on Amazon, and this looks like a really good one to get my hands on, so I’m spreading the word:

Susan Tuttle‘s new book is called Exhibition 36: Mixed Media Demonstrations (Amazon link)

Here’s an example of one of the author’s assemblages, titled, “I Went to the Woods”:

2 responses so far

2 Responses to “thoughts on teaching / collage inspirations”

  1. Peggy Reavey says:

    All I have read is the first page and I am thrilled with your website. I am about to begin teaching after a break and you seem to think about teaching as I do, except you are more experienced, and frankly more relaxed and generous.
    The economy requires me to help my husband in his business for many hours a day when I was used to having that time for painting, but that is just how things are right now and I accept it. I don’t make a lot of money teaching but every little bit helps so I will begin new classes in the middle of March. I have had less time to paint lately than in years, but I try to look at it as time to absorb things, to look around and outside me. The texture of working in a office is very different from a studio, and contrasting textures is certainly a big part of art. I’ll use that somehow.
    I will definitely order that book you describe—or at least check it out.
    What you say about technique as a tool and the importance of a vision says just about all I have to say about teaching. I find that sometimes I do not give people enough technique because I am so interested in helping them find what they want to say. One student I have now has asked for private lessons—this is a woman with a HUGE imagination—but what she wants now is pure technique so I have set up a still life for her so she can really look hard at something and learn about oil painting.
    This is tricky for me since, when I use oils, i break just about every rule I learned in art school, but it’s interesting to think about setting up a palatte etc.
    I also find that in the case of this student and others tthis chaotic and frightening financial situation makes them long for structure. That may be why she wants to sit and stare at a bowl of fruit, and finds that connection meditative and calming as opposed to traveling fearlessly through her unconscious as she does so beautfully.
    I will sign off and read more of your blog now. I’m so grateful to find it,
    a site that does not simply list rules for teaching!

  2. admin says:

    Thanks so much for your comment, Peggy. Teaching is something I’m still finding my way with. It’s something no one ever teaches you have to do, so we all have to chart our own course. No one ever taught me how to paint, though I have a Master’s degree, the schools I went to never taught in a hands-on manner. So I’m learning to teach what’s most important to me while trying to be mindful of individual students’ needs, etc. I’ve replied in more detail thru your email.

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