Friday, November 16, 2007

On being a Teacher . . .

I turned in my application for Art & Soul yesterday . . . my application to teach at the Portland event in '08.

One of the biggest challenges is coming up truly new techniques, new projects, or new ways of combining techniques and projects in such a way that they are appealing to students - students, who, in many cases are traveling across the country (or even from another country) to attend. As a "beginning" teacher (I've taught off and on since I was in college, but I only dove into it fully in 2004 with the debut of my Artmaking as Playful Prayer classes), I don't have the advantage of a fanatical following who've been seeing my work in magazines and books for years . . . and, frankly, I'm not sure that I want a fanatical following . . . Meaning, at this point, most people have to be willing to take a risk to take a class with me. There has to be something in the work or the sample or the description that inspires them or grabs them by surprise. And I have to convince the judges who select the lineup of classes that I am worth the time. Judges who are described in the application as "a group of menopausal women," women who, for the most part, make their living by being able to determine what people exploring mixed media want to learn.

No pressure.

So, I've been sweating over this application for a month. The class I wanted to offer, the one I thought would be the most unique, had to do with hats. And every sample I tried came out crappy. (Inner voice: "Defer judgment, Bridget. Those hats were learning experiences.") Ah, yes . . . I'm probably not ready to teach that one yet . . . I really need to get the technique down better, refine it. The thing is, I love teaching. Some days I'm tired or I don't do as good a job as other days, but I really like creating an environment where people can play, experiment, be exposed to new ideas and techniques, and gain some confidence with their own artmaking. And, with very few exceptions, I walk away from teaching a class having learned something new.

I also know that I consider a class worth my time if I am able to do at least one of the following:
a) learn even one new technique
b) gain confidence in working with a technique
c) have a personal insight or push a personal edge or grow
d) have an experience that engages me in making something from my heart.
And I design my classes to provide the potential for these kinds of experiences. Note that nowhere in there do I say that I have to complete something, or even make something I like. I try to keep in mind that this is a priority for a lot of people, but it's still a challenge.

And I guess I'm writing this in part because I got so distracted by trying to make "a product" or a "sample" that might inspire students to want to learn from me (or become part of my fanatical following or make work just like mine) that I forgot the whole reason why I teach and even make art in the first place. Nowhere on the application was there space for "teaching philosophy" or "what you do to engage students."

That said, I felt really good about the way this sample came together:

I was totally engaged in making it, it felt completely fun, and I got to pull all kinds of techniques out of my hat - self-taught, learned from others, gleaned from books, and discovered - and mix them up in a very satisfying way that was personally meaningful.

That, of course, leads us into what it is to be an artist. And then what it is to be a teaching artist, which is a different animal altogether. So, you'll just have to come back tomorrow.


gl. said...

oooo, good luck bridget! thank you for posting about your doubts and your experiments.

Bridget Benton said...

And thank you! Creativity means taking risks, doing thing that might not work out, making mistakes . . . and that's always been the hardest part of it for me! And it's a very real part - so, I'm writing about it.