I have had the joy of being is classes with some truly wonderful teachers. I got goosebumps in a class at Eurosynergy 2014 with Ronna Sarvas Weltman. She is such a generous, enthusiastic, encouraging teacher. On her website she says that helping students develop their voice is as much fun for her as creating her own art. And you can tell that when she teaches.
I was already a little bit in love with Ronna but when I read this quote in her profile in Sage Bray’s Polymer Journeys: The Art and Craft of Polymer it was clinched. She says: I…think that our wearable art serves as little devices calling out to other members of our tribes so we can find each other and get all excited about our kindred soul connection. Sort of like a secret handshake, only more fun.
As the wearer of the occasional whopping necklace (see below – borrowed bling) I could SO relate to this. As the woman who sometimes notices jewellery before she notices faces, I knew what Ronna meant about that kindred soul connection. I liked that she mentioned tribes! There is a real sense in which we sense the sisterhood by the wearable art!. At polymer gatherings, there is a tendency to frankly stare at one another’s chests and this was gently mocked by Anke Humpert who wore eyeballs that stared back! Thanks again to Sage Bray for letting those of us who couldn’t get to Bordeaux in on the joke through the pages of her The Polymer Arts blog!
Artists who teach often discuss the benefits of teaching techniques vs. projects. Some teachers wonder if teaching a project prevents the student from discovering their own voice, or following their own creative nudges. Overwhelmingly, my students tell me they want….BOTH! They want to learn techniques AND (because life so often seems an eternal list of unfinished To Dos) they love walking out the door wearing something they have actually finished!
For a teacher, it might seem easier to teach a project where students undeviatingly follow a specific path. I think you can be flexible. With a willingness to not always KNOW outcomes, you can give your students wriggle room. You can teach techniques in the context of a project but also teach about other applications. Provide examples, encourage exploration, model creative risk taking. I think that is the role of a good teacher. You often need to sing a few known songs with someone you know before you find your own voice. Hopefully you are teaching songs, making harmonies and inspiring new work!
That metaphor is ironic coming from one who sings like me!
I was thrilled by what happened after a recent class. Local enthusiastic polymer artists wanted to learn about cuff bracelets, extruders and good finishing techniques. I designed a class to bring these things together. Seven ladies participated and as well as making the specific cuff in the project, we talked about variations, the value of mistakes*, and looked at lots of samples. We discussed extruder use in many other contexts. I provide extensive notes. Each lady walked out wearing a gorgeous unique cuff. (One walked out too early to have her photo taken!) They saw for themselves you can all start with similar techniques and end up with something that is them!
KBV went home and, using the techniques she’d learnt in the class, made an entirely different item! A gorgeous bead which she strung on a collar, wore to work and was asked to make by a colleague who loved it so much. Her very fist commission. She had made a project, learnt a technique and sung with her own voice!
*This was in the contexts of Neil Gaiman’s inimitable advice to Make Glorious Mistakes!