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Observations on teaching art to adults

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I’ve been thinking about teaching art lately. In my experience when people ask you to teach them drawing or art they usually preface it with a tentative apology or preface what they say with sad explanations. One of the most common is; “I can’t draw but…” Usually when you ask them where they got their information it turns out some teacher or adult told them that in kindergarten or grade school. Rather than be encouraged they were discouraged. Probably by people who were told the same thing when they were eight or so.

I think most people just want permission. They want to be told that it’s all right to want to learn something such as drawing for whatever reason, even if they don’t plan on becoming a world famous artist.

I was wondering about this conspiracy of discouragement that seems to permeate the culture in America and wonder where it’s from and why it exists?

Now art is the only thing I’m passably good at, so not being able to do it, or listening to folks that attempt to tell someone else they can’t draw is a kind of mystery to me. Why anyone would want to listen to someone tell them that what they did was stupid or lame if the speaker give no evidence of being able to do it themselves?

I suppose there is a certain contingent of serious academically trained art critics that think such trash talk is merely proof that I am some kind of uneducated lower class buffoon for suggesting that a cook shouldn’t be able to say something about a recently baked croissant if they can’t bake one.

Safe to say that art is not a theoretical exercise but actually involves eye hand coordination with a set of special tools used with special knowledge and if one can’t actually make a painting say, then one shouldn’t bad mouth those who do or make up psudo-philosophical/psychological reasons as to why it doesn’t meet some kind of suddenly officially recognized set of aesthetic criteria that the critic copied out of a book for a test when they were in school.

I think secretly that many art critics actually think of themselves as artists, and imagine that they are actually part of a mystic process by which art is brought into the world by other people who actually do the real work, and that somehow by the critics “participation” in that process that they think they become artists too. They think of themselves from that point on as actually responsible for the work.

The fact that I took a large number of philosophy courses and then studied the history of art doesn’t make me an expert if I can’t draw something more recognizable than a stick figure. In point of fact being able to draw well proves that one can observe the world and knows a bit about how it works as well as knowing how the process of doing art works. Like I said, art is not a theoretical exercise despite what a professor said.

In America people would rather read about art than make it or look at it and form their own opinions about it. We love received ideas. TV, for example is one great big received set of ideas, mostly about selling stuff. Universities specialize in received ideas and are greatly responsible for fostering this amazingly idiotic way of looking at received things and calling them important and academic. They do this by studying texts that have been written by others. Thereby assuring that, as a rule, schools exist as a place where one can go to see art reduced to desiccated husk and made into an adjunct category in the philosophic study of texts. Sadly some of the graduates of these schools go on to become art critics or even teachers themselves.

So when I do teach art, it is in this critical atmosphere where learning art is hard and filled with emotional danger for the folks that are interested in doing it. That’s why they ask so carefully. They have become afraid. It’s that fear they have to unlearn in order to learn to draw or paint as adults.

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About Brian Weaver

  • Nice post. U.S. is probably one of the only “developed” nations that doesn’t support the arts for some reason. Kind of sad. Anyway, I always believed that drawing and painting (or whatever form of media) is something that can be learned and thus, everyone can do it. Creativity on the other hand is much different though.