Sense and nonsense of workshops…(part2)

July 4, 2007

What do you need a workshop potentially for?

Inspirational purposes – now this is a really tricky matter. Ask yourself – do you really need a workshop to find some new inspiration?

I have realized that workshops which are not run under the clear imperative of teaching technical skills do in fact have some huge disadvantage: the work the students create in workshops and even afterwards often are complete derivates of the teacher’s work. Could this really be the teacher’s intent, to grow hundreds of clones? I know that for teaching artists exactly this is the #1 problem.

This not only happens with teaching offered outside art colleges with other goals than that of getting a BA or MFA in Fine Arts, but also in the very same colleges. Teachers themselves are “at fault” that this happens.

Good teachers of the past (or the masters as they were called) had a vision, a concept of making art and their understanding of art. Thus they felt the obligation to pass knowledge and capabilities on to their students. The students normally were not allowed to develop their own techniques and practices, rather they were expected to work exactly as the master they learned from. That’s how it was in the past. Today is different.

Today artists are sitting between 2 chairs: on one side they want to teach what they have learned in many years, pass on their experiences, their learning process in order to help and support the new generation of talented artists, pass on their knowledge as every good teacher would do. That’s what’s teaching about – right?

On the other hand a teaching artist wants to foster and develop her/his own skills, her/his own vision, wants to continue to create work that is recognized for its uniqueness and originality. They normally don’t want students to create derivates of their work, but develop their own original work based on what they have learned.

If the artist has no sponsor or other financial resources s/he will face a dilemma very soon: either the artist starves due to a lack of cash flow if s/he decides not to teach or s/he starves because s/he cannot sell her own work any more because s/he has taught too many competitors who flood the market with a formerly original idea and who (the competitors) might have even improved their skills above the teacher’s. This would really be a catastrophe.

If you watch an artist’s work over some time you often can see which workshops s/he has attended – they are leaving footprints! At least if you are familiar with certain trends and follow a medium you know well, where it is easy to follow the tracks (the family is small). Not really good for the teacher and not for the student either. Who would not say that it is annoying to see a student’s derivative work being appreciated as an “original”? That’s why art competitions regularly refuse work made in a workshop – but that does not always help.

Why is it apparently so difficult to learn something in a workshop and not to imitate the teacher?

Because if you work within a group over some time you are subconsciously influenced by your fellow students whether you like it or not. This is a socio-psychological fact. If you want to read more about the interrelations of working in groups check out this website: Study Guides and Strategies.

Sometimes something enormously positive derives from working within groups (see the point about synergy) as many examples in art history have shown. But it is definitely not the right place to develop your own un-influenced independant style and it will become extremely difficult to get away from other working style.

So if you are really looking for inspiration you should rather go outdoors and open your eyes for all sort of images, patterns, form and colours. Visit a museum or a gallery and check out work that you are not familiar with. You would be amazed how inspiring that can be.

(…to be continued)

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