Monday, September 12, 2016

Teaching Art

Armand Cabrera

Art is a big tent as the saying goes. Under the idea of art there are an infinite number of ways for artistic expression. Everyone who decides to make art chooses their particular means of expression based on their personality. It’s easy when making art to get trapped into another us against them mode. Modernism against traditional art, art for sale against art for art’s sake, the list of reasons to denigrate another type of art is as endless as art itself.

The same applies to teaching art. When I teach, I focus on craft. I teach mechanics of picture making based on my own particular style of painting. I also try and instill a sense of curiosity into my students and give them the tools I think they need to explore art making for them and take it as far as they choose to take it. I don't want my students to paint the way I do. I want them to be the best painters they can be irrespective of the style they choose for themselves.

I constantly hear from students that my teaching style is unique and they learn more from me than any other teacher. I think one of the reasons this is true is I teach how to problem solve. Yes, I teach the mechanics of craft and some ideas about how I solve problems along with demos to back up what I say but I am more concerned with how to approach problem solving than the answers themselves. My approach came about in response to my own experiences as a student.

I am primarily self-taught. When I did start taking workshops and classes I was already making my living as a professional artist. I found most teachers even when they were good painters to be bogged down in narrow dogmatic approaches to process. I call this approach the “my way or the highway” school of teaching.  Since it was their class I would follow the directions I was given completely, after all I was there to learn something new. Working as a professional with my own career, I did not need to adopt everything I was taught. While I respect my teachers and their abilities as artists my style is my own.  I kept what was important to improving my way of painting and discarded the rest.  The outcome of that is I don’t paint like my teachers. I’m proud of the fact that no one has ever thought of my style as a copy of someone else’s work.

I despise authoritarianism and dogma in regards to teaching art. In my opinion it’s the laziest way to teach anything. Second, it doesn’t produce better results than a more nuanced, individual and thoughtful approach does.

Having made my living as a professional artist for many years now I know for a fact there are many paths to success. Teachers who demand a certain style from their students and ignore individual expression fail to realize this and do their students a great disservice.

If you're interested in taking a class with me, I will be teaching a watercolor class next year at the Bascom in Highlands North Carolina August 2-4 2017