Sunday, 13 March 2011

Creative for whom?



When I first began one of my current teaching jobs I was tasked with the additional responsibility of leading a life drawing class once a week. Back when I was a student of Fine Art Photography we had to attend life drawing classes one day a week, the theory being that such skills were essential to the budding artist of whatever discipline. I actually enjoyed the classes and on a good day I could turn out one or two fairly reasonable drawings. So when the responsibility befell me to lead a weekly life drawing class I felt it was my duty to make the sessions as engaging and creative as possible, in part, I guess, to mask my lack of experience. Perhaps this is the telltale sign of all eager new teachers: an overzealous determination to have an appreciable influence. I remember frequent nights lying awake trying to think up innovative new exercises and ways to reinterpret the conventions of the life room. Each week I’d come armed with yet another alternative take on the subject, a new approach, set of rules or limitations. One week I had the students bring thick charcoal but instead of doing drawings I got them to sculpt the charcoal with scalpel blades. Another week I had the model pose in one room whilst the students walked back and forth to their easels in another room whilst desperately trying to cling to the memory of what they had just seen. Other times I had one student describe the model while another had to draw from the description. I had a whole list of such exercises.

Many of the students clearly enjoyed the classes and found them stimulating and challenging. We’d often get involved in group discussions about the different obstacles and solutions. I always felt that I had plenty of challenges up my sleeve, even for the most accomplished students.

However, despite the generally positive feedback there were nonetheless students who were less engaged and who would comment occasionally that they never felt they had a chance to simply draw in a more conventional fashion. These students almost always tended to be less confident and it was clear that they yearned for an opportunity to consolidate their skills rather than being constantly disrupted in their perceptions. They sought fixed parameters against which they could evaluate their progress. They longed for the feedback of seeing their current drawing working out better than the last one. Rather than creative stimulation they desired the opportunity for practice.

Slowly it dawned on me that the problem lay with my assumption that the classes had to be creative all the time. What I’d managed to do was demonstrate - to show off in fact - how constantly inventive I could be, rather than supporting the students and helping them to become more confident with their own risk taking and uncertainty. Indeed, my creativity wasn’t just intimidating them, it was almost literally tying their hands behind their backs.

3 comments:

Fred McVittie said...

I've made that mistake so many times it's kind of embarrasing, particularly when I was new to teaching and keen to impress students with how creative their teacher was.

J. Hamlyn said...

It's certainly an occupational hazard isn't it? And strange how creative teaching can actually inhibit creativity.

Seán said...

The tenzo said, "If you want to understand words you must look into what words are. If you want to practice, you must understand what practice is."

I asked, "What are words?"

The tenzo said, "One, two, three, four, five."

I asked again, "What is practice?"

"Everywhere, nothing is hidden.

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