Those Who Can…

You hear a number of students in the arts declare that if their plans don’t go as well as they hope, they can always fall back on teaching. In all fairness, some students target teaching from the very onset, but most think of it as a backup plan. Having a backup plan makes these young people feel more secure, and parents, particularly those who are not involved with the arts, love backup plans because they seem “practical.”

When I hear students talking about “falling back on teaching,” I just nod and change the subject back to the primary goal, whatever that may be. I do this for two reasons: The first is that having a backup plan is one of the ways to not get where you’re going. I know a Shakespearean actor, a former student, in fact, who says that having a backup plan is the worst possible strategy for success. I don’t know if I would go that far, but he does make a valid point.

The second reason is that most students are not aware that teaching requires an entirely different set of skills from making art. To be a good teacher in one of the arts, you have to know not only the skills, insights, methodology of doing the art but be able to communicate those things to students. And, as I mentioned last week, you also have to be adept at asking questions and making suggestions that help the student make choices, think, and explore the possibility of a different way of looking at the subject to yield a different, more satisfying result.

And, of course, there is no real correlation between the ability to create excellent art and the ability to teach others to do likewise. A number of artists have no idea how they do what they do, and could not think about explaining to someone else how to do it. Still they produce excellent work. Similarly, a number of teachers in the arts are well aware of the skill, techniques, and attitudes necessary to produce outstanding art, but are not able or willing to do this themselves. Yet they are successful in aiding their students in advancing their art.

This is not to say that there is no one who not only produces excellent art, but is able to teach effectively as well. There certainly are those who have both skill sets and talent in both areas, but they are rare.

Those artist/teachers who are able to find that balance and are successful at both have, I think, the ability to jump back and forth between the worlds of teaching and creating, realizing that, although there is much shared information, the two activities are very, very different and require very different approaches and different ways of thinking.

Both activities take a considerable investment of time if they are to be done right, and to do both well is difficult—and unnecessary. What is necessary is the teacher’s desire and ability to pass along skills, and, perhaps as important, the ability to encourage and inspire students to grow and develop in their own directions, capitalizing on their own unique talents, developing their own artistic vision.

Helping students realize their artistic potential is not a backup profession; it is rather another legitimate vocation in the world of art. And for many of us, a very important vocation—just as important as producing art.

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Date: Sunday, 3. June 2012 23:54
Trackback: Trackback-URL Category: Creativity, Education

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