I have learned over many years of teaching art that it’s a fine line we walk as educators, whether we teach in ‘the system’ or in so-called ‘alternative’ venues. Too many times, when we think we’re imparting knowledge and nurturing self-confidence in aspiring artists we are only helping to create ego.
An art classroom is maybe 95% of the time NOT conceived as a studio but a borrowed or modified space defined by place, resources and time. As teachers, when people feel constrained by any of them, or more usually by all, they feel forced to cut corners. They reduce the learning to projects and hurry it along towards products rather than creating learning experiences. Three essential elements to art making, technique with media, process and concept are sacrificed, set aside as if they are expendable, especially when children and teens are taught.
What we actually impart when we rush a class along from product to product is pseudo-knowledge, the feeling in the students that they’ve learned a subject or acquired a skill. Unless the student already identifies as an artist, is especially dedicated to acquiring skills, is unusually attentive, has exceptional memory and immediately applies the knowledge to personal practice outside of class, little of what is learned will be retained even short-term except the illusion of knowledge.
Self-confidence is encouraged when there is entrenched skill developed by surmounting obstacles and overcoming difficulties both physical and otherwise; students learn to develop strategies by which to create despite their own fears and hesitations. These incremental victories happen as tactile skill development is paired with ideas and understood with more and more emotional complexity. When difficult tasks are accomplished with less and less guidance, the learning experience moves from dependence to collaboration to independence, detail and mechanics are supported by concept. The knowledge structure is created by exposure, application, analysis and aware repetition, attentive repetition, conscious repetition, and fuelled by a mix of so-called instinct and personal, as opposed to imposed, intent.
It’s a tall order. To teach art in this way persons trained to function within the system of imposed constraints would have to become a resister, even a revolutionary. First and foremost they’d have to change their concepts of their roles as educators. Whom do they serve? And what exactly are they teaching? If they claim to teach art, they must make sure they are actually not teaching through art, though if they are themselves products of the imposed system, they might not see the difference.
Once teachers decide that they teach Art, they will then have to change their students’ concepts of themselves as art learners, beginning by never calling them ‘artist ‘until they’ve learned what that actually means. If the teachers themselves are – or even if they were – artists, in all that the profession entails, that task will not be as daunting.