Friday, June 25, 2010

Stuffed & Mounted

Somewhat in reference to an attitudinal shift/academic speed-bump that occurred during the week while teaching, also known as a "bad art week." One of the harder aspects of the boot-camp approach with teaching a highly condensed studio course is confronting the reality of having to see really mediocre, if not flat-out bad art, repeatedly, with no improvement, regardless of any high hopes held out until the long, drawn-out ending. Which is an occupational hazard duty, part of the job, and tends to show up with higher than normal frequency when there just simply isn't enough time to crank out decent pieces within the considerable constraints of a summer session class. As I've mentioned before, the official expectation that a student spends three hours on homework for every one hour spent in the classroom translates into the logistical impossibility of twelve hours a day, on drawing. 
While that's a dream scenario for some, life kinda gets in the way for most mortals, especially adding in one or two other courses on top of the load for mine. But one of the fundamental criteria I use when looking a piece is whether there's any evidence of time being spent on it, period. And whenever I think about relaxing requirements or lowering standards, I think about the next art teacher who will inherit the student after this particular class, and how unfair it would be in the long run to set them up for failure by cutting slack at the outset. And lastly, the final proof has always been borne out over the years of countless examples of this approach working: seeing first-hand steady improvement and evidence of success in the form of some truly great pieces produced and the many talented artists created them.

That's conflated with the observation that most beginning students haven't yet had enough practical hands-on experience working with the materials to develop a style that could accommodate working quicker and with more confidence, and plus the simple fact that many folks either can't (or won't) cultivate the requisite discipline needed to demonstrate the basic, fundamental effort one needs to invest in order to get good results. 
Further complications can arise as one runs the very real risk of damaged goods - inadvertently fostering an attitude of self-defeat that undermines future interest in pursuing their respective talents. Balancing what may be ultimately unrealistic expectations in the name of prioritizing and pushing students to strive for more and better work is as frustrating as much as it is rewarding.

 It's interesting to mull over the tendency on the part of many art teachers (that'd be me) to assume the average person is both willing and able to draw for uninterrupted hours. Whereas I have absolutely no problem zoning out and pulling sessions that stretch out for hours and hours of endless entertainment, it's humbling to realize that that's actually kinda weird compared to most people, not to mention an impossibility given their "normal" schedules. It's debatable whether art attracts the already unstable, or if it will drive you slowly insane regardless.

The above demo was mostly done on-site while culling reference sketches (Critter Spot Illustration assignment) on a field trip to the UAF Museum of the North: total time about a few hours of idle scribbling after roughing in shapes and textures with pencil, then trusty Sharpie + ball-point pen, a dash of wash and touch o' post-Photoshop tweaking. Still not through with the image though - it'll get remixed/recycled into another piece simmering away on the mental back-burners (see the posted mock-up next to the alder pile by the smoker outside Sockeyes, of my favorite local BBQ joints). The museum outing always yields interesting results, and is always better than practicing off the usual plushies, plus points up the invaluable edge one gets working directly from a model versus a photograph. Not to mention on-site sketching usually makes for good fodder while striking up conversations with the occasional curious tourist, who, after not taking up the offer to buy anything, eventually edge away after noticing the amazingly loud grunting and farting noises that kept emanating from the complimentary courtesy-chairs offered by the museum.

“The beaver, which has come to represent Canada as the eagle does the United States and the 
lion Britain, is a flat-tailed, slow-witted, toothy rodent known to bite off its own testicles 
or to stand under its own falling trees.” - June Callwood

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