Last month, I took an encaustic “workshop in a box” from A Smith Gallery. It’s a great concept, they ship everything you need to you and then you zoom - and it’s a good example of how we need to start thinking in new ways. The experience energized me and kind of snapped me out of a vague mist I wasn’t even aware I was in. It brought me back to my life.
Since leaving my full-time teaching gig, it’s been really hard to even know how to think about my life at this point. A lot of that (most!) is because of the complete chaos we’re currently living in - but a portion of it is because I’m in a big transition from a life full of “have to” and I haven’t really figured out how I want to proceed. For the past two decades, I’ve been driven by that large exterior engine and now that’s gone.
Which actually leaves me back where I was before I took the job in the first place - which was life as an indi artist. My “have to” is now internally driven - the energy and the deadlines are something that I have to make myself. That’s why the workshop was such a wonderful reminder of who I am and the life I want to live. It was great to connect with other creative spirits and just lose myself into the process. Yes, it’s much harder to do with the twin chaos-makers of our political landscape and the virus - but life is impermanent and that is the eternal lesson I’m taking from this.
Last night I had my last class critique at LBCC. It’s hard to say if this is my last critique ever, because I will probably find ways to teach in some capacity in the future, but when you teach full-time in a program, you build longer relationships and that’s what I had with this group. Right afterwards it felt monumental - I was glad to be able to text my son (it was after 11pm - a 5 hour crit - yikes!) because I needed to share the moment with someone. I felt like somehow, things have happened in a blessed way because while it wasn’t the “last crit” that I dreamed of, it was with a good group of students whom I had known for years and it made it possible to feel companionship right to the end. What a wonderful thing, plus there was the added bonus that they really did beautiful work. Someday I will enjoy having a party here at home with them and get to relax and spend time together in person.
I feel like I need some type of ritual to mark this experience/moment. Right now, with the protests and riots, it doesn’t feel appropriate to share this on Social Media since what’s happening on the streets seems so much more real and important. But, my friend and colleague Neil had a different opinion - he felt that now, more than ever, it is important to mark and acknowledge these milestones - that our own personal moments remind us of who we are. It makes me think about all the people, throughout history, whose celebrations, milestones, birthdays were swept away in the wave of human events. That must be why my adopted grandmother Suzie always loved a celebration. She had lived through so much and felt that when you have the chance to celebrate, you should grab it.
So I want to acknowledge the moment and the journey. This job changed my life in ways I never expected. I got the chance to build something - to create a community, to have daily relationships - a family of sorts. At the time, everything seemed so difficult and intense, but looking back, I can see it all more clearly. We had free festivals, events, speakers, contests - I got to watch so many students grow into artists and adults. How fortunate to have had this experience.
You often hear the phrase that “I’ve learned as much from my students as they’ve learned from me.” The problem is, the experience is much more nuanced than that. While teaching others has lead me to push my own work in directions I might not have explored - one of the biggest things I’ve learned from my students is the impact that even casual actions can have on others. My behavior, the environment I created, how I treated others, what I included in my lectures - all of those things had a big impact on students that I often wasn’t aware of at the time.
In class critiques, I always referred to my students as artists - because they are, but I was also inspired by an anecdote from writer and actor Spalding Gray about how thrilled he was when an English film director called the “artists” to the set. Recently a student told me how shocked she was, in our first class together, when I asked for an “artist’s response” from her in a critique. It made her reconsider her long-held belief that she wasn’t a creative person.
Everyday behavior made a big impact throughout the years. Treating awkward students with respect and patience taught the rest of the class that I’d treat them that way also. Of course, I wasn’t always sunshine and light, on the negative side, a very sweet young gal avoided my classes for a year because she’d walked by a hallway conversation I was having with a student who was acting out in my class.
Over the years, my teaching style has changed from macho to (somewhat) mellow. I learned to apologize when I’d been too harsh and use a lighter hand when balancing all the energies in a room. I am always truthful, but I’m now (hopefully) much more thoughtful in my approach.
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