Thursday, October 22, 2009

Picking & Pruning

"Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders." - Henry David Thoreau

Today's class was the first of our field trips around campus, to West Ridge, home of the Natural Science departments at UAF. Every semester I take students up to a couple greenhouses: one at the Agriculture & Forestry Experimental Station and the other at the Institute of Arctic Biology. The purpose of the trip was to gather reference sketches for the next critique piece, the Organic Composition, going on the assumption most college freshmen don't have plants growing in their dorm rooms (with the possible exception of miscellaneous molds). It's also an nice break from the sterile atmosphere of the drawing studio, and an opportunity to transplant recently acquired skills out into a lush, fertile environment. Living specimens are the ultimate forms to explore contour line and compositional arrangements with, especially after all the practice we've had so far. Take time to stop & draw the flowers.

"It takes a while to grasp that not all failures are self-imposed, the result of ignorance, carelessness or inexperience. It takes a while to grasp that a garden isn't a testing ground for character and to stop asking, what did I do wrong? Maybe nothing." - Eleanor Perényi
On a grimmer note, this was also a death-knell for attendance-related issues for some errant students; despite repeated advance warnings about the field trip, pointed reminders to not be late, or if missing a class to email me promptly so as to not miss out on crucial details, there's always someone who will have missed the last class and show up to an empty room. Faculty-initiated withdrawls are just around the corner, and I usually present the forms without anything filled in yet to the students first, as the last card on the table before the point of no return and the academic albatross of an "F" gets hung around their transcript's neck.
This is probably the most agonizing aspect of teaching for me and many others: it has absolutely nothing to do with drawing ability, and everything to do with being a successful student. I know this lesson all too well, having flunked my own share of classes: it's a humbling experience for art divas to go through. Sure enough, each and every semester, there are folks with comparatively poorer rendering skills that will receive much higher grades than the gifted & talented. Discipline, determination and devotion will consistently outperform the greatest of ideas and any late masterpiece.

"The fair-weather gardener, who will do nothing except when the wind and weather and everything else are favorable, is never master of his craft."- Henry Ellacombe

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