The Laws of Nature

Monday, November 22, 2010

Foundation, Four Walls and a Roof

Image: The Law of Conservation of Mass
by Katharine A. Cartwright, 2010
watercolor on paper

Our discussions of John Dewey’s text inspired me to evaluate the structure of how I teach painting to my students. In my last post I stressed the importance of coupling intuition with knowledge in order to control and advance our artmaking. This viewpoint is the foundation to what I teach. Here are the four walls built upon that foundation:

Wall 1: Concept development. I use a process that I've developed to help students find their own voice. This voice expresses their individuality and unique relationship with the world around them. Until the student artist knows what to express there’s little need to continue. Therefore, this is the first wall up.

Wall 2: Material selection. Once my student has an idea of what to paint and its significance to him/her, we begin the process of selecting the materials most suitable for expressing that concept.

Wall 3: Construction. Next, my students carefully consider the symbols, style, composition, and palette that best support the central concept of the work. This step unifies all the elements of the painting so that self-expression is focused and unambiguous. The voice of the artist is transformed from a mumble to an articulate audible voice.

Wall 4: The student paints. I show them how to master painting techniques in their chosen medium and also offer critiques that allow them to analyze their own work and make corrections.

Intuition is essential during the construction of all four walls. Without it, student artists won’t be able to express their own unique style in their own unique "language."

The Roof: Gaining perspective. Finally, I help my students gain perspective of where their work fits into the contemporary and historical art scenes. It is from this perspective that they begin to understand their place and how to advance.

This building process requires me to nurture creativity, impart analytical skills, and encourage artistic maturity. I suppose I learned this teaching style by realizing how I best learn.

How about you?

15 comments:

L.W.Roth, said...

Your teaching method reads well thought out and thorough. I like that you help students find the medium that best suits their perspective. I had to more or less guess which medium to major in when I went to art college. I chose sculpture. The third dimension was always easy for me. I understood plan, elevation, perspective and construction. Sculpture seemed the way to go. Career wise however, design/build has been my expertise.
I can design, draft and build structures. They didn't offer that discipline in art school. I was really in the wrong place.

Art classes in grade schools and high schools are where art oriented students need education--not only in mediums, techniques, history, etc.-- but in the number of careers available to artists beyond the fine arts. I really would have liked to have taken 'shop' instead of 'cooking' when I was a kid.

Dan Kent said...

Continuing where LW left off, I took one art class in school - a second semester, I believe (I was so excited), and the teacher had me make a paper mache' hippo with a group. I was so disgusted that I swore off any further art training. I ended up illustrating all of the covers of our literary magazine (the art teacher was so upset - a victory!) and being the newspaper cartoonist. Then I went onto a real-life career.

Now I am teaching myself by doing and doing and doing, by reading about art, examining art how-to books, and communicating online with artists, mostly through blogs. More than once I've said "I wish you were here," Kathy.

Re my development as a student, I have my voice, I think. I combine all of the rest of your steps, alternating between them. I've done ink & watercolor for its convenience. Now I am wrestling (with a capital "W" with acrylic), and spending an inordinate amount of time painting a person. Each part - eyes, nose, eyebrows, etc, has been a trial (a delightful trial). Thinking I knew how and this was just bigger, was an illusion.

I believe in a previous post you invited questions - so here's one (I hope it's okay) to all you experienced artists: I am working on a canvas on easel, and will eventually have a drafting table for larger watercolors. My indoor light is inadequate - I cannot distinguish colors as well as I would like. What do I buy - what type of bulb, and what lamp is easily attachable to both (if any), and I assume you light it from above?

And - don't think I didn't notice your latest magnificent painting - I love the gold and pink weaving throughout. I love this series.

Peggy Stermer-Cox said...

I thought I saw a new painting! Stunning! I like the visual image of the foundation, four walls and roof. Your approach is nicely illustrated.

My situation is sort of like Dan's in that I am largely directing my own education. I don't have a formal art education. Even so, there is much to be learned from books. And, I grew up in an art family.

I have learned that it is through work, study and observation of how the materials work that I am beginning to find myself.

Dan, I have a daylight lamp (Verilux) and daylight/natural overhead light in my studio. I use both. The lighting is great! I love it! I even have one in the living room next to my chair so I can draw there in the evening. Good luck!

Mary Paquet said...

Kathy, your course sounds really well put together and I look forward to taking it when you come to teach in Santa Clara Valley.

My personal history was very lean on formal art education prior to beginning my painting career in my 50s. I've made a point of getting educated through extensive reading and visits to art museums as I travel. I've also taken some workshops from some awesome instructors. So my path to becoming educated has not been direct, but has given me a good base. I guess I can relate to Dan's background, though without his early success.

Your painting, The Law of Conservation of Mass, expresses your title beautifully. Kathy, what a wonderful series you are creating.

Carolina Moon Arts Studio said...

i can attest to Kathy's "foundation" teaching. It has been a tremendous help to me in finding my voice. As a self taught artist who ran on intuition these building blocks really helped to solidify the foundation of my new work. If you have an opportunity to work with Kathy i highly recommend it. Sorry Kathy if i'm making you blush. Just using that "voice" i found!!

Celeste Bergin said...

I painted many years "in my head". I was VERY surprised that painting was much more difficult in real life than it had been "in my head".
What I have learned (as a student of painting) is that many paintings won't meet expectations....but that those "unfavorable" paintings are necessary. Failed paintings are really our best paintings...because they teach us the most.
Kathy, Love your painting in this post---it is gorgeous!

hwfarber said...

This definitely sounds like a great teaching method. Finding your place and picking a path would be the tough part.

-Don said...

The Law of the Conservation of Mass is an outstanding composition. I won't say it's my favorite so far, because then I'd be starting to sound redundant. But I will say that my jaw still can't close yet. I like how the gold and silver 'bands' are nearly opposites of each other. It makes me ask "what happened" when they loop around and 'run into' each other. The red 'blood vessel' adds a bit of an organic warmth in the midst of all the metallic coldness. I am very curious about the three octagonal shapes that this vessel flows through. Is there a significance to the shape? to the number of them? I didn't look this law up before giving my take on the painting. Now I will...

I like the description of your class and know that I would absolutely LOVE to be in the midst of such a challenging workshop. Instead of a "how to.." workshop it sounds more like a "how come?" workshop. Do you sometimes have students that become discouraged because your class is more about them asking questions of themselves instead of you showing them how to do something specific?

-Don

Kathy said...

Hi L.W. - It is interesting that many art programs do not offer a well-rounded curriculum that prepares budding artists for the profession of art. Rather, it's more about producing and understanding art. I guess they figure you'll deal with the business aspect out in the real world, but that's a tough way to enter the professional arena. Like you, I would have preferred a shop class to home ec.

Hi Dan - geez! I'm glad you had enough gumption to rebel against your art teacher and find your own path. I haven't booked any workshops or private classes in your part of the country yet (Florida??) but hope to one day.
So, maybe we'll meet after all! That would be great. As for illumination - like Peggy, I use Verilux bulbs in my light fixtures and illuminate my work from above. Thanks for the generous comment about my work!

Hi Peggy - Thank you! It's so neat that your father is a professional artist and you've inherited the artist "gene!" Your work reflects that type of maturity and is great to follow on your blog. You have a unique mix of intuition and knowledge that totally works!

Hi Mary - I'm looking forward to Santa Clara, too!! Thanks for the invitation and scheduling. I've been following your work on your blog and you've made huge strides - and sales!! Wow, you're a quick learner :-)

Hi Caroline - I'm blushing. Thank you!

Hi Celeste - I agree! I often keep a batch of failed paintings at hand in my studio because they remind me of lessons learned. Thanks for adding that point, because it's an important one. And, thanks for the support.

Hi Hallie - yes, it's the toughest part.

Hi Don - Thank you! The octagonal shapes aren't obvious symbols, but do represent connectivity between realms. The "Law of Conservation of Mass" states that the mass of an isolated system cannot be changed as a result of processes acting inside the system. Mass cannot be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, and changed into different types of particles.

About my students: because my class is centered on the "why" or significance more than the "how to" (as you observed) I spend a lot of time up front discussing with them the importance of concept in a work of art and how to arrive at a good one. I've found a good method for relating that to them, so they always get it. But, I usually (but not always) find that it's such a foreign way of thinking to students that they really need help with it. That's why I'm there. Once they construct a single, focused concept and write it down, then they can do all the rest. So, they get plenty of time with me showing them "how" to design and paint their idea as well. However, I never (and I do mean "never") ask students to imitate me or paint the way I paint. That would be a complete disservice to them and I'm very unhappy with the cohort of "how to" art instructors who encourage immitation. That kills the artist inside the student.

Kathy said...

Hi L.W. - It is interesting that many art programs do not offer a well-rounded curriculum that prepares budding artists for the profession of art. Rather, it's more about producing and understanding art. I guess they figure you'll deal with the business aspect out in the real world, but that's a tough way to enter the professional arena. Like you, I would have preferred a shop class to home ec.

Hi Dan - geez! I'm glad you had enough gumption to rebel against your art teacher and find your own path. I haven't booked any workshops or private classes in your part of the country yet (Florida??) but hope to one day.
So, maybe we'll meet after all! That would be great. As for illumination - like Peggy, I use Verilux bulbs in my light fixtures and illuminate my work from above. Thanks for the generous comment about my work!

Hi Peggy - Thank you! It's so neat that your father is a professional artist and you've inherited the artist "gene!" Your work reflects that type of maturity and is great to follow on your blog. You have a unique mix of intuition and knowledge that totally works!

Hi Mary - I'm looking forward to Santa Clara, too!! Thanks for the invitation and scheduling. I've been following your work on your blog and you've made huge strides - and sales!! Wow, you're a quick learner :-)

Hi Caroline - I'm blushing. Thank you!

Hi Celeste - I agree! I often keep a batch of failed paintings at hand in my studio because they remind me of lessons learned. Thanks for adding that point, because it's an important one. And, thanks for the support.

Hi Hallie - yes, it's the toughest part.

Hi Don - Thank you! The octagonal shapes aren't obvious symbols, but do represent connectivity between realms. The "Law of Conservation of Mass" states that the mass of an isolated system cannot be changed as a result of processes acting inside the system. Mass cannot be created nor destroyed, although it may be rearranged in space, and changed into different types of particles.

About my students: because my class is centered on the "why" or significance more than the "how to" (as you observed) I spend a lot of time up front discussing with them the importance of concept in a work of art and how to arrive at a good one. I've found a good method for relating that to them, so they always get it. But, I usually (but not always) find that it's such a foreign way of thinking to students that they really need help with it. That's why I'm there. Once they construct a single, focused concept and write it down, then they can do all the rest. So, they get plenty of time with me showing them "how" to design and paint their idea as well. However, I never (and I do mean "never") ask students to imitate me or paint the way I paint. That would be a complete disservice to them and I'm very unhappy with the cohort of "how to" art instructors who encourage immitation. That kills the artist inside the student.

Kathy said...

Oops! typo: I think the correct spelling is: imitation. No caffeine yet :-)

Dan Kent said...

Thanks Peggy and Kathy for the tip about the bulb! And Kathy, I am in Miami - I will go as far north as - well, shoot, I will go quite north or west in Florida for you. I'm not sure there's a limit.

Kathy said...

Gee, Dan, I'm blushing!! It would be a great honor to meet you as well. Somehow, someday, we'll make it happen :-) Happy Thanksgiving!

Celeste Bergin said...

Happy Vacation!

Casey Klahn said...

Kathy - your new artwork, and your teaching outline had me speechless when I first saw this post before the holiday. Awesome!!!