Why I Teach

Art is a process of inspiration and creation. In drawing for example, something unique and tangible is created, the drawing, and what is drawn is inspired by something, whether it be an arrangement of fruit or in an abstract, one’s whims and emotions. What is created reflects some truth about the maker; consequently, an artist can look at his work and learn something about himself/herself.

Most things I have learned are not earth shattering revelations, but rather small nuances of my craft. For example, I tend to make eyes too big, but I am aware of this anomaly and I consciously make them uncomfortably small by my standards, so they come out “right” in the finished piece. Informed intuition, developed through work and reflection allows me to make correctly proportioned eyes.

Of course in art there is no right or wrong. So I can make the eyes as big as I want and that can be right for me. However there is an objective truth to reality. If a class is drawing a vase, there are proportions, which can be measured that are the same for everyone, such as the relation of its height and width. This is not open to interpretation, it is a cold fact. This is how I see what I call “greater reality” a continuum of events that are not judged as right or wrong – they just are.

Getting back to the vase, I realize there are really two of them: One is the actual physical object with measurable properties and characteristics and the other is my unique perception of it. My version is influenced by my body, emotions, and experiences. I may find the vase tasteful and elegant while someone else may find it tacky and offensive. The two opposites can be true simultaneously. This may seem only relevant to opinion, which is subjective, but opinion contributes to the objective reality in which we all live. Can I understand the greater truth of the vase in its entirety? I don’t believe so, because I am inescapably immersed in my own personal reality. In this way we are each alone and isolated.

When someone creates a piece of art they are offering a glimpse through their lens on the world. Of course the viewer is seeing the art through their own lens, so they may have responses to art which are unintended by the artist. Looking at art teaches the viewer something about himself to the same degree that the artist gains self-insight from creating it. The bottom line is the deeper one understands oneself the more fully one can enjoy life and be of help to others. That is why scholars and patrons of the arts can be as influential as artists themselves. They know what they like and why and can articulate their perspective, often influencing public opinion.

These mass opinions create forces with which we must all contend. Currently there is a social pressure to be original if one is to be called an “artist”. It is part of the mythology of the tortured genius who creates work of outlandish uniqueness. Some artists make bizarre work just to fit the stereotype. Nothing good ever comes of this, because originality for its own sake is self-conscious and shallow. The pressure for uniqueness intimidates many students who don’t feel they are artists because their work is not obviously original. As a figurative artist, I have had to defend my work against this false concept of originality. Many see skill in drawing or sculpting as merely copying what you see. Why not just take a photograph or make a life cast? The logic of the “original” crowd says that as skill increases, expression decreases to the point where the works of two highly skilled artists working from the same subject would be indistinguishable.

To this I say that drawing and sculpting are acts of creating, not copying. How a subject resonates in each artist’s personal reality will be different, providing unique inspiration and results. If the greatest representational artists in the history of the world were all placed before the same subject, the resulting works would all look unmistakably like the subject, but be obviously different from each other. This is because these masters have such self knowledge, so understand their personal lens and their craft, that they can express their truth in a powerful way that is inherently unique, like hand writing.

The belief that every person holds a unique piece of the puzzle of our shared reality, that each person is simultaneously infinitely powerful and impotent before forces greater than themselves, lead me to teaching and art. I don’t believe in talent. I believe in work, that practice and reflection can unlock each persons unique gifts, that a child with a crayon is the same as the greatest master – an artist filled with the joy of creating.

 

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