I have taught three art classes in the past couple of months, all with an artist friend, Cindy Griffith. While I have taught other things, teaching art is new to me. On the one hand, I think, “who am I to teach art? I still have so much to learn.” The common wisdom for expertise is 10,000 hours of practice, and I sure don’t have that! On the other hand, I think I am the perfect person to teach this class, precisely because I am not so far from being a beginner myself.
We have billed the classes as “Pastel Painting for the Absolute Beginner.” I like the title: it sounds inviting to me. What I want most from teaching is to make art feel friendly and accessible. I think I have said before that I used to believe that art was made by artists, who by definition were very talented people. My own talent is modest, and therefore there was no point in my making art. But I have since learned that, first, much of it can be learned, and second, that there are things like vision and feeling that count for as much as talent. I did not know! But I want these students to know that. I love making art feel within reach to people. We can never have too much art in the world.
Most art classes, in my experience, are not all that helpful. The workshops I’ve taken usually have a demo time (but seeing the instructor painting rarely helps me paint) and then painting time. Typically you might get a few minutes of instructor guidance. It usually does not seem worth the money to me.
We have tried to put together the class we wish we’d had when starting to paint. So, there is a little bit about materials, composition, color and value (light and dark), But we also walk the students through how to think like an artist and plan out a painting. I don’t think I have ever had any teacher who talked about all the decisions artists make, and how to make those decisions. How do you choose colors? How do you simplify a scene? How do you create a feeling? What choices help with composition? Of course, we are trying to do all of this — as well as to allow most of the class time to actually paint! — so we really just do an overview. But with small classes and two instructors, each student gets a lot of guidance. And I hope that the students come out of the class at least a little more prepared to think like an artist and a little less intimidated by Art.
One exercise we do as a warm-up is to have the students paint an apple. Here is a photo of the most recent class and their apple paintings.
As with any of the classes, there are a couple of students who clearly are not beginners. And a couple of students who struggle more than average. But they have all made fine art. Every single one has a vision: every apple is different….even if all the apples came out of the same bag!