by Jane Guthridge
Questions were asked by Joanne Mattera after listening to the 90-minute panel on teaching at the 8th International Encaustic Conference (“Raising the Bar: Standards and Practices in Teaching Encaustic” with Milisa Galazzi, Sara Mast, Cherie Mittenthal and Toby Sisson):
If you are a teacher, what kind of experience do you bring to teaching? Just technique? Technique with some encaustic history? Technique and history with an understanding and articulation of where encaustic fits into the mainstream of contemporary art? Do you hold an undergraduate or graduate degree in art? Are you an experienced teacher? Do you exhibit regularly?
If you are a student, what do you expect of your instructor? Technique only? Or a guide to larger issues in encaustic and the art world in general? Do you look for a teacher with exhibition experience, a degree in fine arts, teaching experience? Or is it about price and proximity?
A: I look at the description of the workshop, lecture, or demo to determine if I want to attend it. I want to know that the person presenting is knowledgeable whatever that might mean determined by the description. I respect all the education the presenter might have but it is more than just formal education. For a workshop I look to see what the work looks like, what the artist actually says about her work and what s/he will bring to to workshop. What will be covered in that particular workshop? Sometimes it will be a particular area of their expertise. You can’t cover everything in one day, one week, etc.
Cheryl D. McClure
A: For me, it’s less about encaustic and more about formal art considerations – how do you make a painting, how do you look at your own work and evaluate it, what makes a good painting specifically, etc. How to use the medium enters into the conversation but only as an aside, not as the primary focus.
A: When/if I’m looking at learning something new, I look for an arts center with an established professional standard (Kala Art Institute in Berkeley, CA is one). No matter what I’m setting out to learn, I want to learn from someone with extensive experience in the subject matter. Otherwise I’d probably be disappointed and be wasting my money. Being picky serves the quality of my work.
A: I think first someone has to have an interest in a workshop. There may be fine artists with interest in a workshop, and there may be people who are just in a position to pursue knowledge about something that interests them. The exchange of ideas is vital to keeping forward momentum. Techniques without ideas and the understanding of art in a larger sense and development of a personal vision will only go so far. The pursuit of more and deeper knowledge will depend on the individual. There will be a natural falling away of those who just jumped in because it seemed like a fun thing to do and those who are truly curious and seeking more ways to express their artistic visions. I do not think an art degree necessarily makes a person a good teacher. Some people are born teachers and do not have a degree. To get back on subject, the level of teaching professionalism in a workshop will attract a similar level of student. I appreciate the discussion you’ve begun here, Joanne.
A: The level of teaching professionalism will also inspire a student to reach higher than s/he might have thought possible.
A: I have a BFA and MFA and have taught studio and art history courses at the college level. My favorite part about teaching is finding ways to help the students locate their voice. That is the point. There are many ways of doing this, including but not limited to technique. I always have a slide show component in my teaching as a reference point about how other artists may have approached an idea. It is meant to provide a ‘jumping off point’ for students to begin their ideation/brainstorming process and I feel it is a successful way of framing what it is we’re doing. I also don’t spend a ton of time doing demos in the classroom. I prefer working one-on-one and having that face-to-face dialogue – as each student is unique and a ‘one-size-fits-all’ style of teaching doesn’t work. This is why YouTube videos on working with encaustic are a joke! (Talk about ‘no standards’…) As a student, I learned the most from a mentoring kind of relationship. I have been on hiring committees for faculty and someone who ‘looks good on paper’ does not always translate well in person, so it’s not just about having degrees.
A: I realize that a lot of un-degreed artists who teach may be feeling defensive, but education is in large part what makes a good teacher a great teacher. Because of their BFA and MFA, they see a world–and live an art life–that is broadly scribed. They maintain a studio practice, show regularly, interact with other artists. They know art history, they keep current and–really important–they know how to talk about art, something they can convey to their students. In selecting presenters for the Encaustic Conference, I look to the university model. Most of our presenters are degreed with college or university experience, or many years of entrepreneurial teaching. Deborah Kapoor states this well. I also know that there are gifted teachers who do not have a broad personal practice, or those with an established practice who do not have academic degrees. But, but, but, right now in encaustic there are way too many artists teaching after having taken one workshop. They are doing a disservice not only to their students but to the encaustic community, teaching watered-down versions of what it takes good teachers years to learn.
A: Printmaking is by it’s nature a fairly technical enterprise, encaustic less so than intaglio and other disciplines, and the root of learning printmaking, whether artistically or simply technically is information and enlightenment. I always tell my students that there will be lots of technical information coming at them, but the key is how they put it all together and the “why.” It’s akin to learning a foreign language. One studies vocabulary and grammar, but it is how one puts those components together that governs how well one is able to communicate and communication is key. One has to have ideas and a need to say something in order to fight through putting the fragments of language together and forming a phrase. Teaching art is no different. One is instructing students how to communicate utilizing a visual language. And printmaking can, at times, be a demanding technical exercise. Anyone can string a few words or some technical skills together, but it is learning to communicate that takes time. Communication begins with having something to say and then taking the tools of language and putting them together in a fashion that communicates one’s point of view. But, it all starts with the idea and the why, the need to communicate. Ideas and a point of view are essential. All students share the need to communicate in varying degrees; the key to great teaching is guiding that student toward putting the tools together in a way that translates the ideas more fully, either technically or artistically, and connects them more organically, articulating those ideas and communicating them to others.
David A. Clark
A: As a student or teacher, I think “informed feedback” is the key, i.e., constructive critique and dialogue. A process of working, talking, working talking – both sides of the brain – both parties involved. Inching and leaping forward.
Q: We’ve heard a lot from the teachers. Now how about from the students? What do you look for in a teacher or workshops? Can you describe a great workshop you’ve taken?
A: I know artists without an art degree who are strong artists and teachers. And the skill to teach does not automatically come with having a BFA or even a strong studio practice. Teaching is it’s own skill. As a student, learning/brushing up on a new technique (by which, I mean a new skill: bookmaking, printmaking, using my digital camera better). I don’t want an instructor to spend half the workshop talking history, etc before focusing on the skill I want to acquire, but good discussion is part of the foundation of a workshop. It also depends if it’s day-long or several classes. When a teacher has a depth of knowledge and experience, it’s communicated even in the little conversations that happen. I’ve been to two versions of the same class: one was taught by a gifted teacher whose knowledge of the material went deep. The other class was also taught by an artist; although her work and teaching style were adequate, I wasn’t inspired.
A: I’ve taught for 25 years professionally and have recently found that there are certain things I look for in a workshop. I am usually familiar with the artist’s work and in many cases the artist. When I’m not, I will contact the organization hosting the workshop for additional information. I recently considered taking a local plein air workshop by a visiting artist. When I contacted the organization to get more information (materials list and painting sites), it took them a long time to get back to me. When I did get the information, I could tell that the artist was leaving a lot open ended and I didn’t see much in the way of visible structure for how the workshop would be conducted. This made my decision easy; this workshop was not for me. I look for structured learning experiences that are thoughtful, organized and knowledge based.
A: I have always sought out teachers with expertise in their fields, whom I consider to be masters in their fields, who have art degrees, exhibition experience and teaching experience. I also hold undergraduate and graduate art degrees and I’ve apprenticed with some of the best. As a well seasoned college art faculty and chair, I have taught many techniques while interjecting historical and contemporary exemplars. I also give assignments that challenge students conceptually and personally. Of course “the principles of art” are always a part of it. Proximity means nothing to me. I have studied with mentors, artists, as far away as California, New York, Indiana, and New Mexico and Provincetown of course.
A: Following up on Jennie’s comment: I took a Post-Conference workshop with Patti Russotti on “Imaging for Artists” because I wanted to learn more about preparing my images in Photoshop. From the moment I walked in I could see that Patti was prepared (she had installed a particular version of Photoshop on every Castle Hill laptop), organized (she covered her topics point by point) and generous (she allowed us to download a huge amount of information to take home). She took material that was difficult for a non-mathematical thinker such as myself and made it understandable. I came away with an enormous body of knowledge about what I need to do next.
Patti is a professor in the Photographic Arts and Sciences at RIT. Her education, training and experience were present in every word she spoke. When you have a good teacher, this is apparent.
Jane Guthridge’s work is inspired by the natural world – the rich colors of the land, the play of light on water, the way light and shadows continually change. A fascination with light and it’s transcendent qualities has shaped her work. Guthridge’s work is represented by galleries around the U.S., is contained in numerous corporate collections in the U.S. and abroad. She was selected as the 2008 artist of recognition for the State of Colorado and her work was recently added to the U.S. Department of State’s collection of American Artists.