Robet Henri Class, New York School of Art, 1902
The Art Spirit by Robert Henri
I love to learn and I love to teach. To me, every day is a learning opportunity. When I have the opportunity to teach others, I consider it my sacred duty to help my students expertly express their own unique ideas rather than imitate me. I want them to experience the thrill of self-discovery through art.
In this country, the spring/summer art workshop season is upon us. Some of us will teach at these venues, and others will enroll as students. So, it's a good time to think about how we learn. In his book, Robert Henri offers good advice to students. In the excerpts that follow, we could change the word "school" to "workshop" or "art instruction book/video."
Some students possess the school they work in. Others are possessed by the school.
Let a student enter the school with this advice: No matter how good the school is, his education is in his own hands. All education must be self-education.
Let him realize the truth of this and no school will be a danger to him.
The self-educator judges his own course, judges advices, judges the evidences about him.
No one can lead him. Many can give advices, but the greatest artist in the world cannot point his course for he is a new man.
A school should be an offering of opportunity, not a direction, and the student should know that the school will be good for him only to the degree that he makes it good. (p. 120 - 121)
I've encountered many types of students during week-long painting workshops that I've attended over the past decade. Some students are open to instruction and enthusiastic experimentation. They are the self-educators. Typically, a few students appear to want to learn but really want just to show everyone else how great they are. They spend the whole week painting exactly as they did when they arrived. And then, there are a few students who seriously lack self-confidence and spend the week making excuses and putting up emotional walls. Progress is almost unattainable despite continual encouragement. Inevitably, there's usually one student who relentlessly challenges the instructor with a firm stubborness that can only be interpreted as "there's nothing you can teach me!" I always wonder why that person spent the time and money to enroll in the first place.
One type of behavior among art workshop students that's become increasingly common is intense socializing. Now, I'm no party-pooper, but when I'm painting I must concentrate. Distractions aren't welcome. On the other hand, I do enjoy the comraderie of artists and getting to know some wonderful folks. After all, a classroom should be a friendly place. It should also be a place that's conducive to learning.
No matter what the situation, the responsibility for learning always rests with the students. If we aren't willing to self-educate, not even the greatest teacher can help us. And, isn't it more fun to discover for ouselves anyway?