Why do I teach art and not just make art all the time? There are several reasons – as you will see below. But overall, I think that I must love teaching art as much as I love creating it.
Teaching is somewhat of an obsession for me. When I learn something, I want to teach it, to pass it on, share it with others. Not only art – everything. I teach yoga too because I love it and want so much to show others how they can benefit from it.
But teaching art is especially rewarding. Giving people the tools and techniques to create what they see not only challenges their assumptions about themselves and stretches them, but it can actually ignite creativity in a person, and THAT’S exciting!
And the truth is, that whether I am teaching beginners, intermediates, advanced or established artists – I always learn more from them than they do from me.
Breaking down complexity…
I think my love for teaching has something to do with how much I enjoy breaking down complexity into easily comprehensible parts. I (blush) do have a gift for rephrasing concepts into small, learnable bites. You must be able to do that in order to teach well, and I’ve practiced doing it for many years as an art teacher in Florida public schools.
My heartfelt belief is that you can’t fail at art. Art is a way of seeing things and translating what you see to what your hands do. It’s about developing new connections between your brain and your hands.
When you break art techniques down into digestible bites, you give someone the tools they need to translate what they see to their hands. And once they make something with their hands – it gives them the confidence and inspiration they need to go even further!
How did I make that?!
When a student envisions something they want to build out of clay – they will ask me how to do it. This means that I must stop and think about how I do it. And this in turn requires thinking realistically about the steps involved in actually doing it.
Some of those steps would be familiar to me already, so I can think about them, break them down into smaller and easy-to-follow steps, and then pass them along easily to a student. But sometimes the question will inspire me to think about how to build something from a completely new angle or in a new way.
In art, we figure out things along the way, and therefore teaching art has a lot to do with guiding students to find their own solutions and ways of doing things. Guiding others toward inventive solutions may mean that I will incorporate new ways of doing things into my own work. Or - sometimes I will simply improve upon my ability to explain, teach and demonstrate familiar techniques!
What is creativity?
Some people believe that in order to be creative, an idea must come to them out of nowhere, and that if that doesn’t happen, they are not talented! But I believe that creativity is something that grows out of the way we start to SEE things.
For example, a student makes an egg in clay, and then wants to shape that egg into a pig. And so, they must LOOK at a pig and see what it really looks like, and then they must transform the clay egg into what they saw. And because they really looked at the pig and really SAW it, they’ve made something that looks like a pig. Now there’s no going back – they’re doing art!
Creativity is exactly that - the process of learning how to LOOK at things and then use techniques and tools to transfer what we see into our desired medium. Keeping a sketchbook, writing down what you see, moves an idea into the two-dimensional. Once you’ve done that, then moving it into the three-dimensional is easier because you’ve already started building those connections. The idea is there, and you have begun to create traces from your mind and eyes to your hands.
Then as a teacher, I can really build on those traces and foster that creativity by teaching techniques and ways to implement your ideas: how to make a coil, a cylinder, put ears onto a pig or a handle onto a cup, help you determine what kind of knife you need to cut this clay, or how to make a slab.
Once people have techniques, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to use these techniques to create, and then - they are empowered to do art.
The joy of watching others realize they can create!
When I was teaching elementary and high school art, many kids would tell me: “I don’t know HOW to draw, so I am going to fail this class!” And so, I would give them simple techniques and very specific projects to do with those techniques. Gradually and often imperceptibly, I increased the complexity of those projects. And when they saw their projects after being fired in the kiln – they would laugh, because they had really thought that it was impossible for them to create art.
Then there is the persistence of those who know they really want to create art, worry that they cannot, and then do it anyway. Such courage! Once you show these students some simple techniques, they fly! And they keep on coming back to class and they keep on creating, because they realize that they absolutely can create art when they have tools and skills.
And that’s the BEST part of it for me – when people think they can’t do art and you make it SO simple for them to do, that suddenly they are just doing it anyway!
I am a social being….
Being an artist can be a very solitary exercise. I tend to spend long stretches alone making things, with only my cat and some movies for company. Teaching breaks through this creative isolation and forces me to be more social and to communicate. It draws me out of myself and into a community of people who love art - and being with others who are creating inspires me to look at and think about things differently.
Doing clay, working with your hands, is addictive. We humans seem to have this unquenchable and primal urge to create art, many of us through the medium of clay. Teaching clay art, and thus providing the tools, techniques and encouragement to students so that they’re able to fulfill the urge they have, allows me the special privilege of witnessing those moments of joy that result from them being able to create art. This joy, in turn feeds my own creative fires!
I love to educate people about clay, and am passionate about how it works; joining it together, kneading it and making it do what you envision - and then firing it.
I am Peggy's sister. I love what she does, and have set out to show off her work! I am the webmaster here at PTCA, and I write some blogs too. My background is in building a values-driven business.