Can’t be helped?


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Raymond Kowalski of Cleveland, Ohio, wrote, “A woman in my classes refuses to take suggestions. She likes the way things are and says she doesn’t need improving. She says she doesn’t have time to learn basics — composition, color theory, design, technique. She gets excited watching a demo, then ignores what she might have learned. She devotes a lot of time to her art, but she’s not really improving. I’m at a loss to help her. Any thoughts?”

Thanks, Raymond. I’ve had the runaround from the same woman. It’s quite endemic these days, with all the talk of freedom of expression and painting from the heart. All this heart stuff is one of the main reasons there’s so much substandard art around. It’s enough to make you think it doesn’t matter.

Accepting that many folks are just in it for the fun of pushing paint around, here are a few things you can do to get the girl to raise her standards:

Without focusing on her, give short, low-expectation exercises that run against people’s standard repertoire. Make them time sensitive (finish in twenty minutes) or media limiting (use only three colours). While telling students they can go their own sweet way if they wish, make the exercises fun and be prepared to give out cigars. Draw your students in with a sense of exploration and excitement. Give them the idea they’ve nothing to lose.

It’s a fact of life that some people don’t want to learn. But I don’t believe in just coming out and telling people their art is poor. You have to let them discover that for themselves. A useful ploy is to praise the work for whatever virtues you can find in it, however slim, then ask them to tell everybody how it might be improved. Teaching art is an art that sometimes requires a slightly devious approach.

Many workshop students have a problem with the instructor-student axis. You need to invite other workshop participants to quickly chime in with their opinions. Further, you can sometimes effectively influence a student by quietly giving attention to another student who sits nearby. Other times, when addressing the whole group, you can hammer home specific points by making thoughtful eye contact with the slower learners. No matter how flawed, everybody is special.

Best regards,


PS: “The best way to teach somebody something is to have them think they’re learning something else.” (Randy Pausch)

Esoterica: In the conduct of your own affairs, understate and over-prove. Give well-planned, information-rich demos. Let folks make up their own minds and take what they want for themselves. Make your comments short and precise. Tenderness and your own humility count. People are human beings first and artists second. Thankfully, some will pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, no matter what you have to say. And while there will always be those who stay put, a properly conducted workshop can be a place of miracles. “The burned hand teaches best.” (J. R. R. Tolkien)


Freedom in the classroom
by Nina Allen Freeman, Tallahassee, FL, USA


“Wild bird”
watercolour painting, 15 x 11 inches
by Nina Allen Freeman

A few years ago when I began teaching a few painting classes, I thought it would be an easy way to earn some extra money. It’s not easy, and it’s not much money either. However, teaching is almost as much fun as painting. I love watching my students grow in ability and create paintings they couldn’t conceive of in the beginning.

I use the group process. I ask them what they want me to demo that day, then explain as I go along what I am doing. Everybody gets an informal critique of their painting. “Let’s get a long look at this” and put it up across the room. I ask the class, “What does this need?” I involve them in discussions of design, color, value, etc. so everyone learns. This is all done informally, casually, with good humor and while everyone is painting. I have had students who refuse to change, or who don’t work in class, just talk and visit. I just allow them to get what they can out of the class. Each person is responsible for her own learning.


Re-ordering the pecking order
by Rod Cleasby, Witney, Oxfordshire, UK


“Save me”
3D digital art
by Rod Cleasby

Sometimes the ‘approval of peers’ can be more powerful than the disapproval of the tutor. Here is something I’ve done in class: after getting each student to ‘present and talk’ about their last piece to everyone in the class, the entire class gets to rate approval for their colleagues’ work in a practical manner.

Here’s one way to do it: Lean all the canvasses up against the wall at the front of the class, in a rough order, where the obviously better ones are to the right. Students are then asked to pass by the line and if they like one piece more than its neighbour, to swap them over, best to the right. If the student dislikes the piece, swap it with its neighbour to the left. You can only promote or demote a piece by one place. This takes out a lot of unnecessary emotion in making that choice. Limit the number of changes they can make to about three, four with bigger classes. This rapidly re-orders the line into an order that is the ‘approval of peers’ and as such the pieces to the right will be the best.

Here the tutor only needs to congratulate those in the top spots, and students not achieving those positions will draw their own conclusions. After a few weeks of this regular event, students will be more focused in getting their piece onto the right hand side of the line up, and not surprisingly, the weaker students will begin to ask the tutor ‘what can I do’ as well as looking more closely at the techniques of their colleagues.


Point her toward abstract work
by Beth Deuble, San Diego, CA, USA


“Delicate Drama”
by Beth Deuble

Perhaps another way to go is to point this type person to abstract expression. She has the impetus now she needs to channel her energy — she needs direction.

I would introduce her to the artists from the 50s when abstract expression and action abstraction bloomed; I can recommend three excellent books:

1. Action/Abstraction, Edited by Norman Kleebat

2. Lee Krasner, Edited by Robert Hobbs

3. American Abstract Expressionism of the 1950s, Edited by Marika Herskovic

Have her study abstract techniques so she can discover parallels in her own vision. Challenge her to ask the question: How did they do it? And more importantly, why?


The nuanced classroom
by Carol Anderson, Camdenton, MO, USA

As a teacher of art and painting, this teaching information has really spoken to me. As an artist who has had a three year course from Art Instruction, Inc. and several workshops, some from wonderful teachers and some from college art professors who didn’t teach art, but taught me how not to teach! As a mostly self taught artist, I am always reading and trying new techniques to improve myself and teach in my classes. At any rate, after 30 years of giving classes from my home and now studio, I know exactly what you are saying when you talk about teaching one student but really talking to another. Some of my students come to really learn and some come for the social side and just a little art. I am always so proud when any of my students win a ribbon or sell a painting — it makes me feel that maybe a little of the drawing, values, composition, etc., etc., etc., has made sense to someone else! Many of my students will get up and watch while I demo for a beginner or critique a painting. That is when I know they are really interested or at least curious of what is going on. And of course, there is always the person who has taken classes from many famous artists, thinks they know all about art, but either does not know a thing or refuses to use what they do know for the freedom of expression!!!!


Advice not needed
by Jim Rowe, Lakefield, ON, Canada


“Thinking of Fishing”
original painting
by Jim Rowe

I am one of those people, with “sub standard work” and didn`t want to listen to the teachers, who really don’t have a clue to the artistic path their students are on. They think because they are on a certain path that everybody should be on that path also. The problem is, that once they have sucked their students on to the “teachers path” it is hard for them to find their own individual paths. To find one’s path is a hard thing. And to have someone else showing you your path is like the blind following the blind. I really can`t stand to be around any other artists either. One really helpful hint one artist was able to get through to me, was graying my colors, I was really struggling with the control over my colors and this was like magic, I ate it right up. But that’s pretty well the only time I ever listened to any kind of advice. Joe Mendelson once said “The only rule in art is that there are no rules.” And after all these years of working away at what I do (I am 54 years old), I have created my own personal standards that don`t really compete or relate in any way to the rest of the art world. Of course, none of my art work is selling and probably won`t in my life time. Van Gogh had the same problem, and that kind of sucks. And I would love to sell my work for lots of money. But is that what it is all about?

There are 6 comments for Advice not needed by Jim Rowe

From: Alice — Sep 10, 2009

Jim, it is interesting that you say that you do your own thing an dthen you conclude thet you don’t have sales. Why do you think that those two things are connected? There are artists who do their own thing and sell well, and those who are copycats and still sell well. I don’t think that your uniqueness has anything to do with sales. There must be something else in the game. Perhaps your solitude extends to getting your art out to the collectors – that would affect the sales. The piece above is not a substandard work by any means – it just needs the right collector.

From: L. R. — Sep 10, 2009

I love this piece,’Thinking of Fishing’ is very graphic, and well titled. I think it would be ideal for a motivational poster of some kind, or psychology magazine cover. For me, you could put an artist on the top, and call it ‘Thinking of Painting’! I haven’t painted since college, but think about it every day. As they say, you cannot plow a field by turning it over in your mind. … OK, I’m going to get right on that, …tomorrow. Sigh!

I love your thinking, and style! You do what works for you. Way to go. It’s about the money if that’s important to you. Probably just a marketing thing now.

From: Susan — Sep 11, 2009

yes, maybe you are looking to sell in the wrong market. IMHO this piece should be competing for illustration jobs. It’s original, humorous, and skilled. As a gallery director once told me, “why not try illustration while you’re waiting to become a famous fine artist?”

From: Anonymous — Sep 11, 2009

I too, love this piece! And I agree that it’s superbly marketable. Get an agent. Let the agent do the footwork, and just keep thinking and painting and discovering. Stay secluded enough to keep it up. Huzzah! Susan Holland

From: Gary Irish — Sep 11, 2009

Jim, I looked at your painting, looked out my studio window, looked down at a sketch I am working on for a large painting, looked out the window,— partly cloudy, warm morning, looked at your painting— got out of my chair, gathered my fly rod and my packet of flies and I will be on the pond in fifteen minutes! — Thanks to you. Thanks man. Your’e a genius.

From: judy — Sep 13, 2009

Mendelson Joe was right, but I do think you need to know the rules before you can break them. Otherwise, we’re all just bower birds.


The fostering of ‘geniuses’
by Sandra Muscat, Toronto, ON, Canada


original painting, 24 x 30 inches
by Sandra Muscat

Years ago I was lucky enough to study with Lupe Rodriguez. Lupe had such passion for art and for teaching it was impossible to leave her workshops without feeling like a genius. One of her techniques was group critiques — even for the most basic exercise. At the end of each one — whether we had spent 10 minutes drawing or a weekend on one painting, students would hang our own work and Lupe would critique it both as individual pieces as well as a group body of work. She had the most incredible ability to find the excellent qualities of each piece (however small) and delivered her critique with true passion. “This one reminds me of Picasso”… “This one shows such powerful energy” …No matter what the result, she had everyone striving to do better simply to raise the collective bar. A student who is unwilling to change things may be afraid. Perhaps she feels what she creates is good enough and if she tries to conform, she will be “bad.” A series of in-class “experiments” (rather than instructions or assignments) frees the terrified from losing what they consider to be control.

There are 2 comments for The fostering of ‘geniuses’ by Sandra Muscat

From: jbmi — Sep 11, 2009

Now that’s a teacher from whom I could learn and progress. IMHO any teacher who can not find one good thing to encourage a student shouldn’t be teaching. Believe me I’ve had one.

From: bell — Sep 11, 2009

How funny, my thought was opposite – I don’t feel that I could learn anything from a teacher like this. It’s amazing how we are all different in some ways and same in other! Lesson for the teachers – you need to get the kind of students that matches your style of teaching.


So what?
by Irene Chaikin, Jerusalem, Israel

In my humble opinion, there are enough accomplished artists in this world, that no matter how well they paint, how great their composition is, and how much of themselves they put into a painting, they are far from making a living or being recognized by the world. So if this student is enjoying ‘doing her own thing,’ and finds her painting exhilarating to herself, I say, let her have fun. She obviously wants to do her own thing. Maybe in this way a new painting style will be discovered, (my tongue is in cheek), and if not, so what?

There is 1 comment for So what? by Irene Chaikin

From: Caroline Stengl — Sep 13, 2009

hear hear! Thank you for saying so.


Bad apples must give it up
by Elaine Fraser, Australia


“Simple Pleasures”
original painting
by Elaine Fraser

I was that woman. Having plodded with painting for 15 years (getting nowhere fast) I attended my very first workshop. The instructor was a well respected Australian artist who wanted to open the eyes of her students. I was the one bad apple in the barrel, becoming like a goat head-butting at everything she wanted to teach me. I was completely unprepared to get out of my comfort zone and found it more than difficult to face my fears. I became angry about her pushing me, not leaving me alone. I thought she had something against me. At one point during the 5 day workshop it became quite an emotional war between the two of us, that day ending with both of us in tears.

However, there was a turning point at last. An “Ah ha!” moment when I saw something I was working on (the process of which was completely foreign to me) come to life, and my eyes were opened. I saw then that she had nothing against me, but rather could see things in me that I could not see myself because of my own foolish pride. She knew I could paint from the start and wanted to show me the way to success. She believed I was worth the battle and I thank her so much for winning it.

That was 5 years ago. Since then I have held exhibitions, have work selling from galleries and have commissioned work going out to other countries. To all “bad apples” I say… give it up!

There is 1 comment for Bad apples must give it up by Elaine Fraser

From: Anonyme — Nov 25, 2009

I must have developed synesthesia in the short time I’ve read your response, because looking at your painting gives me a taste of soft airy bread in my mouth, with a hint of some kind of alcoolic beverage. Delicious!


Why take it away from her?
by Carol Putman, Clayton, CA, USA


“Mare Island From Vista Point Crockett”
original painting
by Carol Putman

I’m slightly confused as to why this woman is taking classes if she isn’t receptive to instruction. It’s possible she isn’t there for the instruction as much as she is for the company of other artists. If she is happy with what she is producing, she’s far less neurotic than most artists I know who are never really satisfied with their work, and she deserves the right to paint what makes her happy even if it doesn’t make the instructor so. Perhaps she is simply process oriented and doesn’t care as much about the end result as she does about the joy of making marks with paint on a canvas in the company of others who do likewise. Why would you want to take that away from her?

There are 7 comments for Why take it away from her? by Carol Putman

From: Libby Dodd-s. Florida — Sep 11, 2009

Good insight. Allowing for this option, the missing piece in the studio class may be communication. The teacher has one agenda and this student a different one. Assuming this is true, how “simple” it would be for the two to clarify what the student is really looking to get from the class.

From: Jan Ross — Sep 11, 2009

I understand the comments made thus far regarding the woman resisting the instructor’s suggestions or teachings, however, when there are limited spaces available for a workshop, and a waiting list to get in, this person is wasting the instructor’s time and taking the place of an artist sincerely interested in learning! Having an eager and receptive student is a joy for any teacher….so why should they both be disappointed in the experience?

From: bobby — Sep 11, 2009

Jan Ross, your comment would be valid for government subsidized classes. As long as the student is paying, they have the right to be there. That’s capitalism.

From: Lindy Santa Cruz CA — Sep 12, 2009

Perhaps it would help both student & teacher if the students tell the class what they hope to get out of the class on the first few days of class. This would give the teacher some insight hopefully.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Sep 18, 2009

Linda, I believe the best is to ask at the beginning what the student expects to get out of the class. I always ask my students this question before we get started with the actual teaching or demonstrations. They also must tell me a little about themselves in their art. But, I do believe there are students that only need the company of other artists and also maybe the enforced time to do art they cannot get except for paying for a teacher’s time.

From: Marie Kazalia — Sep 22, 2009

I am against labeling artists behavior as “neurotic”. Self-doubt and dissatisfaction with ones work may be part of the creative process. As the authors of *Art & Fear* so wonderful illustrate with a piano student saying to his teacher “I hear the music so much better in my head than I can get it out of my fingers* and his wise teacher replied “what makes you think that ever changes?” With this, uncertainty becomes an asset.

“Vision is always ahead of execution”. So dissatisfaction natural…

From: Carol Putman — Apr 04, 2011

Your’s so right Marie! In have since decided that disatisfaction with one’s work is not “neurotic.” It is more a by-product of the creative process. But, I still believe if she’s happy with what she gets in the end, that is what is important and it would be cruel to try and convince her otherwise.


Holding students accountable
by David White, Calgary, AB, Canada

The challenge that many of us 50 somethings have with the gen y’s is that they were so closely parented that they have not experienced a burnt hand and even if they did make a mistake it was probably cleaned up or glossed over so that they think even at 20 something like they are incapable of mistakes and don’t recognize them when they happen. Our role as leaders is to hold them accountable sometimes for the first time in their lives. Interesting times we live in.

I thought I would share a quote from a singer/writer I grew up with, Jimmy Buffet from his book, Where in the World is Joe Merchant. “The best navigators are not always certain where they are, but they are always aware of their uncertainty.” — Billy Cruiser — aka Jimmy Buffett. This is related to the current letter in that navigators learn early that their instruments are accurate within a range and this range provides uncertainty to their location (even GPS is only accurate to within around 5 m). Artists, including musicians, need to know that there is usually a range to what others will enjoy to look at or listen to and there are usually ways to define the range. We can push the limits on the ranges and maybe the recipient will appreciate it and we’ll both grow but going outside the “lines” is like Frodo going out his door, fraught with danger. We usually need a good reputation before others will even think about looking at something too far out there to see the merit. Like all good artists/ blues musicians, you gotta pay your dues.

There is 1 comment for Holding students accountable by David White

From: Dayle Ann Stratton — Oct 03, 2009

For various reasons, my children were not too closely parented, and all of them have suffered burnt hands, more than I am comfortable acknowledging. I have to confess that on an individual level, they often baffle me. But I have learned more from them about what being an artist entails than from any other source. What I do is very different from them, but for decades they have encouraged me and set me examples of what being a serious artist is really all about. Gen whatever… I think we lay too much on separating generations into discreet cohorts. When I was young we were all juvenile delinquents. Now we are the baby boomers. Labels that in reality have no meaning, either demographically or in the particular. I am proud of my children and hope they are proud of me. I am as much their creation as they are mine.


Keep your brushes dancing
by Taylor Ikin, Tampa Bay, FL, USA


“Southern Belle”
original painting, 30 x 26 inches
by Taylor Ikin

I have been teaching for over 20 years and have the distinction of being known as the YUPO Queen. I paint in watercolor but my class has evolved into a mixed media — paint what makes you merry — sort of arrangement. I demo daily and circle the room to give all a hands-on chat. My goal is to support all efforts to make the best painting possible. The student who is inclined to be deaf to my instructions is always a challenge. I endeavor to get around this by having Class critiques in which I ask the class to comment, as well as myself. Often another student’s observation will carry more strength than mine. I think this is great because all are involved, have to think and verbalize clearly in order to explain their reasoning, and by analyzing another’s painting, they in turn can better understand their own work. Frustrating as they may be, the “Happy as I am” person, as long as they are not boring and complaining, can be a teaching tool for the rest of my class, myself included! Keep your brushes dancing!


Second thoughts on teaching
by Nancy Reyner, Santa Fe, NM, USA


“My garden”
acrylic painting
48 x 36 inches
by Nancy Reyner

I have been teaching art for over 30 years. Yes, there are some “high maintenance students” as all teachers know. However, when someone does not want to take my advice, even though that advice has taken years of experience, and worked like a charm with students 99% of the time, I like to still take some time to question if the suggestions are sound. Perhaps I am incorrectly imposing my standards on someone else’s work. Perhaps that student is working on something not yet visible in the work, and using the standard set of processes (composition, color range, focus, etc) will inhibit their progress, rather than help it. What if this student is the only one who is seeing differently, and just needs the energy of the class to keep progressing? I think there is a danger for teachers in thinking they have the only answer, the correct process, the only way to paint. Sometimes a difficult student is just what we need as teachers to take a new look at our own work, and our teaching tools. I learned long ago that every class I teach teaches me. There’s always a new approach I can use to keep my teaching and my art fresh. I just like to stay humble.

There are 3 comments for Second thoughts on teaching by Nancy Reyner

From: Virginia Wieringa — Sep 11, 2009

Stay humble about your teaching, but you don’t need to stay humble about this painting! It’s brilliant in more ways than one!

From: Kirk Wassell — Sep 11, 2009

To say your thoughts are inspiring would be an understatement. Those who learn with you, can consider themselves very fortunate to have shared the experience of learning with you, bravo.

From: Marsha Hamby Savage — Sep 18, 2009

Nancy, You have said it best in all the comments I have seen so far. You truly must be a wonderful teacher. And the painting is fantastic.


Thoughts on ‘not enough time’
by Bill Smith, Duluth, GA, USA

I caution you to not be so quick to judge her impatience and not “having the time to learn new techniques.” Our son was a gifted pianist with a natural talent and I tried to get him to take lessons. His response, “I don’t have time.” A natural athlete and great golfer, I tried to get him to take lessons. His response, “Dad, I don’t have the time.” Shortly thereafter, he was diagnosed with leukemia and died about a year later at the age of 22. Quite frankly, he didn’t have the time. Did he know? Who knows? I certainly didn’t. But I remember his words and how frustrated I was by his response. Today, I am more frustrated by my unwillingness to accept his answer. We simply don’t know what life has in store for those we try to help. We may be helping in ways that we don’t understand, even if they don’t take all that we offer.

There are 2 comments for Thoughts on ‘not enough time’ by Bill Smith

From: Tommy McDonell — Sep 10, 2009

I may be that student, in fact I am sure I am from time to time. It seems to me that one problem the teacher has in the original letter is that the class is totally artist or teacher centered. In my classes I don’t copy what the teacher does. I use these methods and try to do it in a way that makes sense to me. My peers like my work, and some of it does sell, and some doesn’t. Some of my work also wins awards. So what.

All but two of the teachers where I take classes expect that students will copy their work. Only two of them recognize the difference between methods and expression.

Before you decide that your student is not listening to you, make sure what you are asking him or her to do.

From: Jan Ross — Sep 11, 2009


My impression is that the teacher who wrote to Robert expression frustration at the student’s resistance to instruction, was trying to teach the basics of art, as it has been taught for generations. Having observed and learned from numerous successful instructors, it becomes apparent there are students who are simply duplicating the instructor’s work rather than truly learning the lesson. Sure, they may be great at copying, but they’re no more enlightened from the instruction.




Red fish

oil painting
by Len Sodenkamp, ID, USA


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Nora Gross of Dartmouth, NS, Canada, who wrote, “Oh boy, that same person has been in several of my classes and she then proceeds to tell others how to improve their pieces and I have had to undo her ‘improvements.’ Finally had to say that when you get paid the big bucks, you can head the class — otherwise I am the boss.”

And also John Barrell of Brigantine, NJ, USA, who wrote, “For every student who resists ideas during instruction there are a thousand professional artists who are even more resistant to new ideas. They feel because they have a degree their art is flawless.”

And also Margaret Cooter of London, UK, who wrote, “Slip of the pen?? — “get the girl to raise her standards” — disrespectful of the student, in my opinion, and will probably raise some “feminist” hackles too — though saying “the boy” would be as bad. Wording like this CAN be helped.

(RG note) Thanks, Margaret. I apologize for the word. I meant to say “chick.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Can’t be helped?



From: lynn decnt — Sep 07, 2009

it is impossible for an art teacher to judge a student’s art is poor… as your article says for the teacher to give the student excersizes to improve yet the student was happy and satisfied not asking for this effort. If she is satisfied then she has created her art. In addition, much learning is assimilated and may be applied at a later date whne other elements come to synthesize the full effect of a teacher’s lessons. Your time constraint of a class length for her to be at your par is understandable for the task of assigning a grade, however your sincere disapproval is only your opinion i believe.

From: Vivian A Anderson — Sep 07, 2009

One of the funniest experiences I had with a teacher was when we reached the end of the colour class and did show and tell. She was obviously concerned about my lack of colour knowledge, but instead of critisizing my pallette, she very kindly said: “Vivian, I see you are enjoying the use of complimentaries”…but what she meant was, I’d completely greyed out all the primaries and the painting had got lost in the colour exercise, and was totally uninteresting. The penny didn’t drop for ages, and I do laugh now at her subtlety, and the lesson was learned painlessly. A lovely lesson for the tutor and for me.

From: Faith — Sep 08, 2009

This is certainly a sore topic and one that is very close to my ongoing experience.

Firstly, if this participant attends Raymond’s workshops, she must be getting something out of them. Maybe the first step would be to find out what makes her come back.

Raymond is a caring person, but that might just be the wrong approach. Maybe he should be saying to her: If you don’t want to learn anything, stay at home! He’s risking a customer, but on the other hand, he’s wearing himself out with irritation and frustration.

Having said that, I have to ask about this woman. Is she talented? If she has no talent, the best advice is to let her get on with it and pocket the fees thankfully. If she has obvious talent but just lacks technical skills, maybe she is not getting the right tasks to bring her on.

Advice in many books and places is to change medium and that may be the key to getting on the same wavelength as the “student” (she doesn’t seem to want to get on Raymond’s wavelength). Give them all a stack of large format Bristol card and some charcoal. I believe that everyone appreciates getting back to basics – the more efficient and advanced they are, the more likely they are to jump to that bait. The topics don’t have to be identical, but a series of fast sketches which can be developed later into something more painterly is not time wasted.

I’m wishful thinking here. I joined a workshop in the summer to do watercolor landscapes, which I had never attempted. The tutor is a mild, gentle man with a soft speaking voice and a surprisingly aggressive personal painting idiom. The 6 sessions were enough to tell me I knew nothing about the medium and must persevere! I spent the summer trying to improve. Then we started the next sessions 3 weeks ago and I was surprised to see that acrylic abstracts were on the menu – I had unfortunately not received the mail announcing this change of medium! I don’t want to paint acrylic abstracts. I want to paint watercolor landscapes at those sessions and leave the abstracts to look after themselves for the time being! The sessions are useless to me, not just because of the topic, but because it reveals how little instruction is actually available. The tutor said we could do what we liked (!) or paint abstracts. My colleagues don’t seem to be into abstracts judging by the results. The sessions are awful and every week I have come home and painted over what I’ve perpetrated (aggressive, angry, messy, useless). One problem is that he want us to paint abstracts from other people’s abstracts. My intuition rebels against that. I am a lame duck!

I know I’ll spent the whole day trying to decide whether to go to the next session and I know that I won’t continue the sessions after this batch. I want to improve, but can’t because I am – to translate a German phrase – in the wrong film (im falschen Film)!

As a language and music teacher of long standing I know how tedious it can get for the teacher when a learner doesn’t (or can’t) respond, but the answer isn’t always to try and entertain the students! Piano pupils (or any would-be instrumentalists) who constantly refuse to practise any scales and arpeggios never become proficient pianists. English students who think grammar and syntax are superfluous will never speak good English.

From: Cindy Wider — Sep 08, 2009

Raymond, I empathise with you and I am impressed that you have brought this issue to the table for discussion. Obviously you really care about the results your students gain and it can be enormously frustrating when someone wants your tuition yet doesn’t want to listen. You know how much you could help her if only she would just apply a few simple principles to improve her work. I have taught live for almost a decade and the last two years moved over into internet tuition which I find profoundly facinating and the teaching experience is gaining phenomenal results for my students. I have an excellent re-enrolment rate and I put the success down to the student’s willingness to learn. Although most students are willing learners, I too battle with my odd few ‘resistant’ students. I hope this info helps you a little;

I teach absolute beginners (mostly people who have never drawn before) to draw and paint in seven virtual classrooms on the internet. The before and after images that my students gain are so exciting. I have been fascinated in the process of teaching people how to draw for almost two decades, and teach art with dedication and passion. In an online environment I have to work hard to encourage, inspire and motivate people to do their best work just like we do in the live classroom. I have had many people like the lady you mention throughout my years of teaching live and now I also get them in the virtual world. Over the years I have realised that the bond between the teacher and the student is absolutely crucial to the success of their learning experience. The student needs to let down their guard – this lady needs to allow (or give permission) for you to come into her private world of creativity. This requires a lot of faith in you as her teacher. It sounds to me like she hasn’t let you into her private thoughts yet.

Here is what I do; I find out what their goals are for attending art classes with me in the first place. You could try this; ask the lady what she loves the most about her weekly tuition visits to your studio/classes. It might that she is coming just for the socialising??? I don’t think so though, it sounds as though she wants to get good results but is afraid to admit she doesn’t know how to do whatever the task is in front of her. Sometimes these people bumble along secretly hurting inside that they just can’t do it. You really need to communicate with her and genuinely have a heart-to-heart chat; if not for her for you. One person out of sixty that I teach each week can really affect me if I don’t nip it in the bud. These people arent too common though thankfully. We do need to love them through it and do our best to work out what they really need.

If she really does want to genuinely improve, you can be honest with her and tell her that you would love to help her improve even more than she is currently improving. I always point out the good things about my students work but I also tell them honestly where their work needs improving and more importantly how and why. By pointing out areas that are needing to be improved the student then also sees the problem and they are given the option to fix the problem or not. If you did this with the lady, she might see the benefit of gaining more tuition from you. In otherwords, point out the area to her tenderly eg say somthing along these lines, ‘Mary, I love your use of colour and your composition is excellent’ (if it is good in those areas of course, you don’t ever have to lie, I always find what is genuinely good about the students work and am usually quite enthusiastic about it, it also gains their attention and respect ready for the other side of the story. Obviously if we just continually praised no one would improve much at all…like you are saying about this lady. I bet you have already tried telling her or suggesting things to do, but she just justifies all of her actions. Once you have told her the good things, you can honestly tell her what is incorrect or wrong about her image such as…’ But this area here lacks the three-dimensional quality you are learning about today. This is because you haven’t placed your shadow-edge area dark enough, you have left it as a level 4 tone when really it needs to be a level 8 for true depth. Just try adjusting it and see the results for yourself, let me know what you think?’

This way, you have brought her attention to the exact area of the problem in her work and if she fixes the problem she will see the great results and this will be evidence for her to listen to you some more. I use many approaches in the virtual classroom and vary my approach with each individual person but in general I always give an absolutely honest opinion. I never ever say their work is bad or not good – never. Instead I say things like,’The left eye is quite a bit different to the reference photograph. In the reference photograph this line that you have drawn is on an angle towards the left. Here you have drawn the line as a horizontal line.’ or ‘you have used a level 4 tone in this area but remember that in the shadow-edge area you need to use level 6 tones to successfully create a three-dimensional image on a flat surface.’ I always take the student back to the basic fundamental principles and ask them to have a go at making the changes to see the difference. Hope this helps you a bit to handle this student, you are wonderful that you even care:)

From: Laura — Sep 08, 2009

Great topic and good responses from everyone, it seems we all have had some kind of experience like this in our classroom setting and it’s good to hear how others work through it with their students.

From: Darla — Sep 08, 2009

Just wanted to say that Len Sodenkamp’s “red fish” is a very exciting painting!

I’ve come up against people like your pupil before — they insist that the way they do everything is perfect. If so, then why are they in the class? You can’t learn anything if you already think you know it all.

Unfortunately, the more answers I get, the more questions I have.

From: Greta — Sep 08, 2009

I come from teaching primary education – way back. I believe each individual’s work is sacred in the hands of the creative process; individual and a product of where they are at that moment in time.

As adults we sometimes get stuck in that (time) frame and don’t appear to move, but something is happening inside. The unseen forces of one’s connectedness to the ALL of creation is ever at work. Who knows when that time will come; break forth and transform to a more complete being?

I have learned from both teaching and learning that movement (I did not use the word improvement) can not be forced or coerced. It can lovingly be guided however. My life as a pshychotherapist taught me this -to walk beside as a guide can be the life changing asset to anothers journey.

Respect for where one is at the moment is key. We are not Gods to manipulate anothers process. It is theirs to discover, with our loving help when appropriate, and the help of their own insight; their inner guides at work.

Remember, please – it is NOT the product that is key, it is the PROCESS of becoming a whole human being. And this, my friends, is not up to us.

From: Libby Dodd — Sep 08, 2009

“here are a few things you can do to get the girl to raise her standards:”

You may be joking with your choice of word (“girl”) but you apparently have no idea how truly off-putting your choice is!

From: June Raabe — Sep 08, 2009

I smiled reading about Raymond’s student who didn’t want to learn. Sounds like two people I knew, my mother and an Art group member. My mother was an art class “groupie”. She loved meeting the artists, the teacher but like as not she would fall asleep during the instruction period! I attended one with her, and was SO embarrassed to see her nodding away! At home she “learned” from Walter Foster books, or at least she copied…these paintings everyone in the family wanted when she died. Her “originals” didn’t tempt many, she seemed to learn nothing from the copying, and after years of painting her perspective was off, her figures were poor, and her colours garish. I have hung one I liked, and my daughter laughed and said “I see why you picked that one, it’s like your paintings!” The other person, a retired nursing instructor was very determined to learn art. She even went back to school to get formal instruction. What was notable about her was that when she asked for help she seemed incapablable of comprehending what the teacher or friend was saying. She was a “naive” painter. Someone best left to go along in her own way. The only irritation was her tendency to want to momopolize people for “help” which required a lot of attention from the person she asked, but gained nothing, and left the “helper” frustrated! This was an intelligent woman who had risen to the top of her profession before retiring and taking up painting.

From a personal view I realize my own tendency to be an art class “groupie”, and now check out the class carefully before signing up. Do I like the teacher’s work? Do I have an idea of his or her teaching style and personality? Do I think I can learn from this person? I take copious notes in demos and classes, I type them up later and re-read at leisure. Do I learn anything? I hope I do. I try new things, I decide what is comfortable for me and what I cannot adjust to. I prefer the type of teacher who demonstrates, then allows the group to work on their own thing and goes around observing,commenting. Unlike many, I don’t necessarily get upset if I don’t get “my five minutes,” with the instructor. I appreciate the moments when we all gather around one person and the instructor makes a point. I also dislike instructors that touch MY work! They can doodle on separate paper! That’s a childish instinct I still have at 3 score and plus ten.

I think Raymond needs to decide with a new class, which ones are ready to learn, focus on them, and let the “do my own thing” person join in or not as they wish.

I think Faith’s disappointment in the watercolour -becoming acrylic abstract class was a lack of communication. Probably would have been better to not go at all. On the otherhand we all need a challenge to change, and when we find ourselves in the wrong class with the wrong teacher, perhaps we need to at least try and learn something from it! June R

From: Ron Unruh — Sep 08, 2009

I applaud some of you art educators for the patience and understanding that your responses profess. I am confident that this approach is successful for you.

However, Raymond’s presenting case concerns a woman who in his words, “refuses to take suggestions” …”says she doesn’t need improving” … “doesn’t have time to learn basics — composition, color theory, design, technique….” but “she devotes a lot of time to her art,”… yet, “she’s not really improving.”

Doesn’t it sound like she is content? Why try to improve upon that? Clearly she is not drawing comparisons between her work and that of other artists. She is likely stimulated artistically by the group involvement. She is satisfied with her results. Let her be. Focus on the students that invite your suggestions for improvement.

From: Karen Martin Sampson — Sep 08, 2009

What perfect timing for this topic! I have had the same difficulties on occasion with students and felt the same frustrations. A student I have now is displaying the same tendencies and attempts to manipulate the lesson, go too fast over areas that don’t interest him, and generally not pay attention to my advice. Still, I see promise in his work and when he makes small advances I praise it and never, never denigrate what needs improving…I say something like, “this area isn’t working as well as it could,” and go on to suggest how to change it. One step forward, two steps back, but if he persists and practices, (and I think he will), he will get better, possibly in spite of me!

From: sitting by the river — Sep 08, 2009

That woman sounds like me when I was an art student. I often didn’t agree with my teachers’ criticisms because they seemed based on personal esthetic preferences or some “rules” of artmaking. I attended many art classes (at the University) that churned out disciples and clones of the teacher’s style. I think this girl should be left alone. That fact that she shows up for class and paints while she is there is enough. People make art for different reasons, and that is OK.

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Sep 08, 2009

My experience as a teacher has been that sometimes people join an art class to fill an emotional void or need. I have frustrated myself in the past by focusing most of my attention on students like this one, beating myself up because I wanted them to take away some knowledge of art and what I had to say about it, and in the process ignored those that were there for specific instruction. All sides lose in this situation. I think the hardest lesson for me to learn as a teacher is that sometimes I have to drop my ego and just let people join the class for whatever purpose it serves them. Give them a little kindness and encouragement without excessive hovering (or false praise,) meanwhile, instructing the students that are there to learn. They will be listening…maybe not doing, but listening :)

Thinking back on it, I don’t think many of them wanted to be great artists…they just wanted to be a part of something that seemed wondrous to them. The lesson was mine to learn :)

From: marj vetter — Sep 08, 2009

Can’t be Helped, I remember one of the best comments I ever had from an instructor, the late and much missed Paul Braid, when I was just taking up the art. He very carefully looked at what I was “trying” to paint picked about a 3″x3″ spot and said; “I really like what is happening here”. Well that made a world of difference to me and I felt much encouraged, and improved!

From: Peggy — Sep 08, 2009

Painting from the heart doesn’t necessarily lead to substandard art, Robert. The public can tell what comes from the heart, and they often prefer it to technically perfect stuff that leaves ya cold. “What comes from the heart goes to the heart” as I’ve heard it said.

From: Hildy — Sep 08, 2009

I’ve only had a single art course, an evening adult watercolor class at a local college. The instructor was a local painter. After several classes she stood behind me as I finished a crocus in a pot– it was Spring– which she’d set up as a model. “Hildegarde,” she said, insisting on using my rather archaic first name, “your colors are insipid.” I was flabbergasted, until I went home and looked for a more precise definition of insipid. She was absolutely correct. It took over two years of pushing, but my coloration could never again be called insipid. The important part of that last sentence is the time frame. It took a lot of concerted attention, and time, to rectify my tentative use of color. But I did it. I think a teacher owes a student the truth, in whatever way the teacher deduces it will have the best effect. Other than that, it’s all on the student, the would-be artist. Mr Kowalski of Cleveland is doing his job, and should rest easy. It’s his student’s responsibility to do more than show up. If she doesn’t, there’s really nothing left to be done.

From: Helen Hermanns — Sep 08, 2009

I am an aspiring artist, who has no formal training, but reads a lot of books on the basics of art. The foundation stones, if you may. I used to train horses, and I had found the same type of people taking riding lessons… They didn’t want to learn the systematic way of riding, they thought that they would do things in a “kinder kind of way” sort of like the ‘Horse Whisperer” but with horses, you need to be very strong in your basics and firm in hand or you find 1500 lbs walking all over you, or even worse… There are rules in place, for success. The same is so important in learning about Art. The basics are the foundation of great work. You may not be injured in the process, but it is of equal importance in the long run.

From: Yvonne Moyer — Sep 08, 2009

As a long time art educator, I would venture to say that the woman in Raymond’s class has gotten by on a certain amount of luck and artistic intuition. She is quite comfortable there whereas learning skills puts her in an uncomfortable position. To her the skills seem like an overwhelming amount of information to incorporate into her work. I suggest you concentrate on one skill at a time when she is working on a painting. For example, choose a shadow that is good and compliment her. Encourage all her shadows to be that good in the entire painting. Don’t be afraid to go overboard in your compliments to her. In reality, she is very insecure in venturing out and trying new skills. You will be building her confidence one skill at a time.

For the next painting choose shape or detail or line or color. Breaking it down to one skill at a time for her will help her feel less overwhelmed. Eventually she will be incorporating many of the learned skills into her work and the quality of her work will improve.

I would also suggest a survey to ask why students are in your class. What is it they would like to learn? Tell they you want them all to improve over the course of the class or they are wasting your time and theirs. Then set about to help them accomplish their goals, one at a time!

From: Kenneth Cadow — Sep 08, 2009

At the risk of using a cliche, as a high school teacher of art, I take some consolation to those frustrating times when I have a student who isn’t interested in getting to another level by remembering the saying:

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.”

I’ve heard this saying ascribed to Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and some famous Rabbi, but whoever said it first, they probably used it rightly, and not as an excuse. Just like you, I keep on trying, even though I may not be the teacher who has that satisfaction of making the difference in that student’s work or life perception.

From: Carol Jessen — Sep 08, 2009

I, too, have had an experience with a student who wants to paint well, but is resistant to the notion that he must study. It is very discouraging to discover week after week that he can’t remember the primary colors, which colors you mix to make green (“red and yellow?”), or which colors are warm or cool. The larger issue for me is that many people resist studying. Some justify it by claiming time restraints. My answer to that is, you make time for what is important to you. Others label those who study as elitist or intellectuals. To those, I ask, what is the opposite of being intellectual, and is that what they would offer to the community. I have often said that the day you fall in love with a subject or an activity is the day you really become a student.

From: Michelle Madalena — Sep 08, 2009

I too seem to be one person that doesn’t appear as if I can be helped but it is’t true. I enjoy painting my feelings yet I know that it rarely captures the attention I desire unless I use a subject and which I no pratically nothing. It is not because I despise tecnical instruction its because I want to find my own way. I have watched other artists paint and I have asked many questions and listened to critique of my work by the instructors. Some times I hit it on the nail and the instructer will rush over and tell me its finished and sometimes my work has even been held up as an example to the others as to what the instructor is trying to teach. However it is all hit and miss and mostly it depends on wether my imagination can go with the ideas and instruction not . When I can not understand I ask questions and look at what other people are doing but honestly I have a huge barrier against authorotative figures or better artist than I and it is extremely difficult to be a sheep at the worst of times. I still keep trying though because art is my passion as is my writing and there is no limit to what can be learned or expressed. New ideas come up all the time even from thoughs who appear not to be able to master tequnics. We can not forget Einstein.

From: Eleanor Blair — Sep 08, 2009

I have also had a few ‘difficult’ students over the years, and tried everything to get them to let go of what I perceived to be bad habits. But I’ve learned some very important lessons from each of them. Some people sign up for an art class because they need to spend time just doing something that feels easy and fun, like the eye surgeon who only wanted to do splatter paintings; no rules, total freedom, happy accidents. More often, ‘unteachable’ students are simply working towards a goal that I can’t see. I struggled for years to get Judy to loosen up, but every time I turned around, there she was with the one-haired brush again. Then she discovered doll-making, and all those years of practice with what I considered to be the wrong brush had given her amazing skill painting precise eye lashes and tiny lips. Each artist’s path is unique and none of us can tell where we’ll end up. As teachers, it’s our job to teach what we know, and let each student decide what to take, and what to leave behind.

From: Bonnie Adams — Sep 08, 2009

It is my belief that, when teaching, the biggest problem students face is their own insecurity. The fear of failure, not measuring up, looking silly or stupid!! The first lesson for a new student is, to make them feel unique and special, “one of a kind”. The better painters are the more experienced painters, more work, better painters! How does one get to Carnegie Hall? To make each student feel, there is only one thumb print like theirs, only one DNA! If one does not like the teacher or their paintings, they can still learn from them. This approach has helped me teach & make the student feel more comfortable. I love to give the joy that I receive from painting, that is a huge payoff! I teach watercolor & sumi-e painting at Sapphire Valley, N. C.

From: George Covington — Sep 08, 2009

I guess I missed the point, if she is enjoying painting and having fun then who cares. Some painters are there to paint, others for a large variety of reasons from social interaction to needing to get out of the house if a caregiver. If that is all she wants then give it to her and leave her alone until she is ready.

From: Anne Nye — Sep 08, 2009

Love your letters, by the way. I wished I’d had this input during my brief stint of teaching. I had mostly spoiled, rich kids right out of high school at a Graphic Design school. I taught color theory and traditional painting.

I remember trying to teach a very talented, but stubborn, student about ambient color. I suggested using color from background for shadows, rather than black.. I met with stiff opposition because everyone had told him forever how good he was. The exercises might have worked, rather than approaching it directly.

I’m convinced, however, that not everyone can teach. I have great admiration for those who have that gift…..and it too is another kind of on-going learning.

From: Paul deMarrais — Sep 08, 2009

I’ve seen this woman a few times as well. If she doesn’t want help from me, I just kind of let it go. I am friendly and give advice as usual, but I lower my expectations accordingly. I often wonder why a person would pay money for a workshop but have no interest in listening to the instructor or at least trying his/her way of doing things for a few hours. Fortunately you don’t run into many people who are fighting your efforts to help them. All I can do is to try my best. My classes are small, so if a student doesn’t want to listen to me, another student gets more of my attention. I won’t kill myself to force a student to do what they don’t wish to do. If the woman mentioned here enjoys herself, let her push the paint around. No harm done. Artmaking is supposed to be enjoyable.

From: Marianne Mathiasen — Sep 08, 2009

I am an Danish artists. To keep improving my art I take art classes every year. This year I got a tutor who takes over my paintings. I love to see how the tutor paints, but at the end of the day I feel the painting I end up with is the work of my tutor, and not my own work. I do understand that he might need to show me something, but he takes over my canvas, and some times he even finish a painting on my canvas, and then tells me that I can have his painting for free. I talked to some of the other students, but they are very fascinated with him and find that it’s ok he takes over their canvas. The tutor has a degree in art from The Danish Royal Art Academy, and his works sells very well. Should I tell him how I feel? I feel like dropping out!

From: Carol Zika — Sep 08, 2009

Oh, yes, I’ve met that certain student, too. And I’ve learned to compliment where I can and walk away, knowing that any suggestions for improvement will fall on deaf ears or elicit vehement comments on why his/her way is better. And there are those who get angry or insulted when a poorly matted or framed piece is rejected from an exhibit. A successful teacher must be adaptable and occasionally have a tough skin, in addition to being humble and positive. These same students come back year after year, so it means they have found the right environment for their creative efforts.

From: tatjana — Sep 09, 2009

Years ago I was in a class where a woman couldn’t grasp the basic color theory and kept asking things like – how do you mix a green, or she would add a red to the blue and ask – how come this is not green, or she would start painting an object anywhere on the paper, run out of space and wonder why it didn’t fit. At one point the instructor blew a fuse and told this woman that she was hopeless. I felt sorry for the woman even though I have to admit that her constant questions were disruptive to the class since she wasn’t able to keep up. She never did any of the homework assignments either. I recently visited an art group and found her there, happy as a button organizing shows and enjoying the socials. I think that she just wanted to be a part of the art community and somehow contribute to it. Perhaps we should be more patient to understand the needs of the individual and provide the right guidance to help them get where they want to go. This woman tells her teacher that she is happy where she is – maybe that’s all there is to it

From: john ferrie — Sep 10, 2009

Dear Robert,

Oh, I love these types, Bless their little helpful hearts.

You see a lot of these types of folks in first year art school. They are usually part timers and often of an age group not like the others. They show up in a hand made and bright coloured apron, brimming with enthusiasm and usually have enough idiotic questions to fill their brush filled wicker basket! I remember one lady like this who did paintings of her famous swedish meatballs and gave out the recipe in class as well. I had to wonder, was the knitting class full?

These are the types of people who also waste others time. All these exercises in futility and showing them the “quicky” way of doing something only makes the others suffer.

I always recommend a good critique where, in an honest opinion, you can really lambaste their crummy work. This type also never says anything bad about others works in order to only get hi phrase in return. So, best be ready for some “crying on que tears”. This may seem harsh, but they are usually not back the next week. They have either moved on to an open studio at the community centre, or maybe there is finally room in “learning to knit”.

People often ask me to look at their work. Rest assured, if I say “Have you considered Knitting”, it means you have crummy work.

John Ferrie

From: Marian — Sep 10, 2009

I agree with Tatjana. Perhaps, the woman simply loves art and feels good just participating. Is it vital to her to perfect her technique? Obviously not. Her joy may come from just playing with the paint, not unlike the child who, while fingerpainting, exalts in the color and texture and pure fun of the experience.

From: Humanoid — Sep 11, 2009

Chick … priceless.

From: janet Sellers — Sep 11, 2009

It isn’t necessary to butt heads with anybody. I respectfully tell my students that “I can’t see inside your head, so let’s do this in terms of what I am teaching here (and that is what you paid for) and then, by all means, do it ‘your’ way as well. Much is gained by trying out the method I am presenting and your emulating that as well as trying your own way to solve the visual problem. I look forward to seeing both results. Go for it.”

From: Softie — Sep 11, 2009

Robert, this letter is softer, kinder than usual, almost as if someone else had written it. I enjoyed that kinder side of you. However you blew it when you used the phrases ‘I meant to say ‘chick’. Although I’ve no doubt it was meant as a joke, it was rather flippant.

From: Hank Lobbenberg — Sep 11, 2009

Can’t be Helped?

From the perspective of a student, these people who almost take over an art classroom can be extremely annoying. Two years ago I enrolled in a daytime community centre Advanced Watercolour class in North York, Ontario. One person in particular seemed never to stop talking even while the instructor attempted to teach or demo. The teacher was unable to quiet her.

Most of this class used the time to paint and gab, and would immediately re-register for the next class.

After a few weeks, I just quit the class and vowed never to enroll in a “cheap” art class again.

From: tatjana m-p — Sep 11, 2009

John Ferrie, you always make me laugh! One of the harsh realities (especially here in Vancouver) is that there just aren’t enough serious art students. I used to go to an excellent private art school which discouraged the types that you describe. At first that had a few crafty classes and over years they cut them out to align with the school’s mission of mastery. Unfortunately the result was that they came down to 5-6 regular students with serious intentions which were not able to keep the school financially afloat. I really missed the school after it closed down – looking back, I could tolerate some crafty stuff to keep the school alive.

From: Pepper Hume — Sep 11, 2009

This problem must be ages old! When I was in college 50 years ago, there were students who didn’t want to bother with learning basics. They wanted to pick up where Picasso left off. Faculty tried to explain that you had to start where Picasso started to achieve that. He learned all those basics, he could draw. He knew that you had to have them to know how to grow beyond them.

My question about such people is, what are they doing in a class if they don’t think they need it? What are they spending their time and money on if not to learn? I fear they are so in love with their own produce, they are really there expecting to be praised to the skies, to be told they don’t need improvement. It IS hard to deal with them. Give constructive criticism and they reject it. Ignore them and they assume they’re so perfect you have nothing to suggest, and are probably jealous of their brilliance.

Peer critiques involving all the other students is probably the best approach. Fifty million Frenchmen….

From: Laurel McBrine — Sep 11, 2009

Looking back at my artistic journey so far, I can see that in order to understand some things, time needed to pass. I needed to spend time doing my work.

I know that I have often had “aha” moments where I finally got a concept that I had previously read or heard about from a teacher. I was just not ready at that time and had not a clue about the concept when first hearing about it.

For an artist who has not yet arrived at that place, with all the other learning behind them for support, there is no way to force their understanding. They must do the work and eventually, with time, the understanding will come.

This is one reason why painting is endlessly interesting and no one ever arrives.

We are all eternal students.

From: Jill Brooks — Sep 11, 2009

The lady you describe may be a providing a great example of the phenomenon of resistance. She is split — one part of her wants to move forward and another part wants the security of staying just where she is.

Fear is the culprit. Fear of the unknown and the risks involved in embracing it. It is entirely likely that she is encountering resistance in her life beyond the classroom, in the wider world, and she is mirroring this in the microcosm of the workshop. When you realize that this hesitation to move forward is based on her life experience, it is easier to relax and be gentle in your teaching and wait until such time as she is ready; What is that quotation : when the student is ready, the teacher will appear?

From: Chris Roughton — Sep 12, 2009

I like the comment connecting science and art. It is a science..the research, the journal notes and sketches, bending the mind towards something new and difficult to grasp. Then running with it! Free to interject creativeness, having more truth in it then many times people admit. Great fun!

From: John L Brown — Sep 13, 2009

If I may refer to Roberts article, with respect to teaching and inspiring students not receptive to knowledge and information offered in a class room setting, or workshop. His approach, and suggestions, constitute the essences of enlightened and compassionate erudition. I suspect most teachers would ignore, at best, or worse berate, or verbally chastise students that refuse to incorporate the indicates methods or techniques taught. I am persuaded that Roberts approach reflects a genuine understanding of the human condition, sufficient to nudge, provoke, awaken, and attune to the discipline and humility necessary to engage the process of creativity, experimentation, and play. Learning necessitates the ability to suspend, on the one hand, certain relevant assumptions, equally, one the other hand, learning necessitates the ability to relate and integrate, in a logical manner, new, relevant knowledge, or information. In my view Robert has set the ideal framework required to include, if not save, otherwise, non-receptive students from their lack of understanding to open up to a more complete, and intuitive grounding into the very nature of artistic reproduction. Firstly reproduce life, only than are you qualified to create impressions, not the other way around. Is this not common sense? Learn the craft, then explore, experiment, and play. The rules are clear and fundamental, and consistent with early childhood learning strategies. Thank you.

From: Nancy Newcomb — Sep 13, 2009

In my 12 year of teaching Elderhostel Watercolor Workshops around the USA I have gathered some funny stories-here are a few.

At a watercolor workshop I was teaching in New Hampshire, an elderly couple were seated at the front table so I could readily hear their conversation. After the first demo and the students were well into their work, I could hear the woman saying to her husband,”Harry, Harry, don’t do it that way. Look at mine and do it just the same way I do it” This went on and I observed their interaction at lunch and during the afternoon session .I came to the decision to “relocate” Harry under the guise that we had a hearing impaired classmate who needed to be closer to me. I relocated my friend in the class-who was really not hearing impaired-next to Harry’s wife. My friend did me a tremendous favor but more so, a great favor to Harry-who at the close of the week long workshop came up to me and hugged me saying,”Thank you, this was one of the more peaceful and relaxing weeks I have had in years”. He also did some very nice work-which when his wife saw it, was quite surprised! Let’s hear it for the “Harry’s of the world”!

Another funny story from the same New Hampshire workshop:

The worktable space was arranged so that two students worked per table. Well into the first day, I was hearing some comments about a table partner from a fellow in the back row. During the second morning, the comments became louder and I realized that one fellow was really “hogging” more than his share of the space. Before I could step in, it came to a head with the table partner asking me in a loud voice to borrow my roll of masking tape. He then grabbed the tape and marched to the back of the room-pushed the other table partners painting materials to its rightful half of the table and marked a line at the half with the masking tape. He then announced so all could hear, “If you dare to cross that line, you’re going to be in bigger trouble than you are now.”

During my first class ever in teaching Elderhostel, the newly retired Dean of the art school I attended was in the group. I was quite intimidated and laid awake thinking I should revise my lesson plans knowing the the Dean was a class member. I did not do so .The first assignment was to paint a lake scene with a far horizon, a pier coming from the near shore at which two sail boats were docked-one at the end of the pier and one to the side. At critique, it was easy to see that this gentleman knew little about drawing or perspective and could not comprehend when I was demonstrating. His sailboat looked like a dark brown Nasa rocket launching straight up into the sky rather than narrowing down as it pointed out to the far horizon. He asked for help and knowing that he had painted the boat with a heavy staining dark-scrubbing out the image was not an option. I just could not find a solution so I asked my teaching assistant to come over to help the Dean(as he insisted we all call him-even though retired). I then told my assistant that I had to go to the office and I left for twenty or so minutes. When I came back, she whispered, ” I know what you did, you rat! Come and see how we fixed it”. They took this impenetrable dark brown form and turned it into an interesting gnarled old Weeping Willow tree hanging over the dock and boats. It actually made a better composition and design than my original demo piece. Goes to show, you can make sailboats out of Weeping Willow trees.

From: Bruce Griffiths — Sep 14, 2009

Hi gents from sunny Gold Coast in Aus.

Couldn’t help myself adding a comment on the subject. A few years back, I had the pleasure of attending a Robert Wade workshop for a week. Great opportunity but I was amazed that a number of students were happy to paint but talked incessantly. So much that I moved closer & closer to be not distracted. We all spent money away from work, accomodation & travel.

After the workshop I wrote the attached poem & sent it to Robert. He is such a gentleman that he said nothing in the workshop.

There Is No Penalty

There is no penalty…………if you do not listen

Although I’m here to show you a way

Yes, I know the price of petrol and I know the price of hay

If only you could listen … then longer would I stay

There is no penalty…………if you do not listen

You’ve paid a lot of money to have a little fun

And now I want to know, before the day is done

That you have it all inside you,

please say there’s more than none

Travelled all round the world, picked up ‘ere and there

Yes the brush is that pointy thing & the board it is flat

Who cares if the chooks are laying or Mrs Jones is fat

Just listen to contrast, yes the black dog upon the mat

I won’t say you are silly, or sometimes a little rude

But I’m spreading bread on water, looking for the fish

I’m looking for the eyes…..that stand out like a dish

I’ll share years of knowledge if that too is your wish

There’s no penalty this time & I may not be here again

You do not have to love me or think my jokes are fine

Just seek out the colour of water, look for every sign

Simply, see what I have seen as I went about my time

Please show me all your wares & what you hope to do

We’ll sign a pact, we together, for all you can fit in

I’m looking for the eager ones, think failure is a sin

There’s room too for the happy ones,

yes it’s only paper in the bin

Cos it’s family & friends that most do count

when it is time to pack it in

And there is no penalty,

yes no penalty at all

I just can’t give a replay

when I finally go through the door.

Bruce Griffiths

From: Mel — Sep 14, 2009

As a high school art instructor, I can say that your prompts are spot on to reaching even younger students. I use eye contact, touch encouragment, winks and thumbs up gestures, verbal compliments, and many other forms of communication to sway the students to their errors in basics. I encounter a few who refuse to attend to suggestion, stay in their rut as a result, and wonder why in the world others win the medals at art competition. Thanks for your real-life words of wisdom from someone whose been there, done that, and found them true in high school.

From: Pepper Hume — Sep 14, 2009

This problem must be ages old! When I was in college 50 years ago, there were students who didn’t want to bother with learning basics. They wanted to pick up where Picasso left off. Faculty tried to explain that you had to start where Picasso started to achieve that. He learned all those basics, he could draw. He knew that you had to have them to know how to grow beyond them.

My question about such people is, what are they doing in a class if they don’t think they need it? What are they spending their time and money on if not to learn? I fear they are so in love with their own produce, they are really there expecting to be praised to the skies, to be told they don’t need improvement. It IS hard to deal with them. Give constructive criticism and they reject it. Ignore them and they assume they’re so perfect you have nothing to suggest, and are probably jealous of their brilliance.

Peer critiques involving all the other students is probably the best approach. Fifty million Frenchmen….

From: scottsdaleglk — Sep 15, 2009

I love it. The negative space is beautiful and I feel relaxed looking at it. Thank you.

From: Lucille — Sep 22, 2009

All of the comments above have some validity, enough said. The best you can do with that student, and I have been her – sensitive, withdrawn, opinionated – is to ask politely if she’s happy with her work so far, if there’s something she needs help with. If she doesn’t need feedback, then you should leave her alone and be satisfied that (hopefully) you left a message that you are there if she calls.



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