Friday, 25 July 2014

The Art game


Yesterday I bought about three tons of marble - literally - and today I am about to buy the same weight in biscuits.

Yes, H.I.'s Summer School is about to start again, and those people certainly know how to put away the biscuits. You would not believe how many biscuits they can get through in a five day period - secretive locusts come to mind.

Some people are born teachers, but I am not one of those. If I have anything of value to pass on to others, it's probably not teachable in any case. Teaching Art just has to be an absolute minefield of an area to find yourself in, especially as opinions on what constitutes it vary so widely, even within its own confines, so H.I. just sticks to what she knows to be the real, measurable thing - Painting and Drawing.

A friend of mine once asked me to take over his sculpture classes to adult amateurs for a couple of evenings, and I agreed to do it whilst stressing that I would be acting as a technical assistant only. This was easier said than done, because every single student in the class seemed to believe that they deserved more attention than the short time allotted for all of them put together.

The first one I dealt with was a woman who I saw struggling to get a particular shape from a resistant lump of limestone, and I was alerted to her plight by the scream she emitted after smashing her finger between the chisel end and the wooden shaft of the iron mallet.

This can happen to the best of us, but it is more likely to happen when you are looking at the end of the mallet rather than the end of the chisel, as you must in order to see what you are taking off with it. These are the basics.

I told her that in order to have a clear idea about the shape she was trying to find in the stone, she really ought to make it in clay to begin with. She said this was the last thing she would be doing because she was a professional potter, and wanted to take a break from clay. I left her to her mistakes - there was nothing else I could do for her. People - initially - become blindly embroiled in the medium and technique, completely forgetting the whole point of the activity, which is the end result.

Then I spotted a man who was covering a head-sized object with wet plaster, so I wandered over to see what he was up to.

There is another type of student who - far from being overly needy for attention - just wants to be left alone to find out the hard way. He bristled with hostility at my approach, and told me that he was casting a head he had modelled in clay the previous week.

His technique was to simply slop plaster over the whole thing without any joints, trapping the object inside it without any way of getting it out in one, undamaged piece. I told him that he really must turn it into a two-piece mould whilst he still had a chance, but he said that he knew what he was doing thank you, and would I leave him to get on before the plaster went off.

My friend told me he had to smash the thing to pieces the following week.

Then I saw a lovely, very old lady who was struggling to model a life-sized Robin in wax, using a hot spatula. When you model directly in wax, you can then 'invest' the wax positive into a fire-proof mould, melt the wax out and fill the cavity with molten bronze, and this is what she intended to do - make a bronze Robin.

As you know, Robins have very spindly little legs which make life very difficult for elderly people whose hands perpetually shake as much as this lady's did, so I asked if she wanted me to add the little wax rods with the spatula.

She had spent weeks - literally - trying to finish this simple task, and nobody had offered to help her. She was too self-effacing to ask for any help, and too dedicated to give up.

I welded some wax rods to the Robin and it took me about four minutes. She was pitifully grateful, even though I was simply doing my friend's job for him.

I saw the Robin in bronze form, and it was the nicest bit of work of the whole class.

16 comments:

  1. I've taught in the UK, the Caribbean, and France, luckily in 2D. All my students became overnight geniuses.

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  2. I went to a one day sculpture workshop. By lunch time I was covered in plaster even in my hair and it wouldn't stick on the head I was making. Everybody else seemed to be getting on well. I couldn't wait to get out.

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    1. Sounds like my life for the last 45 years.

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  3. I don't have the patience required to be a teacher of anything...I have great respect for them.
    I love that you helped the elderly woman with her Robin. My favorite bird.

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    1. I didn't know you knew the old lady.

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  4. As a retired teacher I have to say there is nothing more frustrating than teaching something you really care about. Teaching something you aren't invested in is o much easier.

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    1. I should have taught Business Studies and Economics, then.

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  5. Only two art classes this summer and the twelve year old wants more. Better yet, she wants to start at the beginning and learn how to draw an egg and the horizon, apparently not all in the same sketch.

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    1. 'Learning how to draw the horizon'? What a concept - drawing the point where two things meet rather than the two things. She'll go far.

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  6. I am never comfortable trying to explain to others how things work when asked to train new starters to the fun factory. Much happier being left alone with me hammer and bag of swear words getting machines to behave.

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    1. You sound as though you have your own unique way of doing things anyway, John. I could easily teach young people how to swear - in fact I often do.

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  7. I get to teach adult regularly as part of the curriculum we offer in our business, mostly lampshade making, but today it was free motion quilting. I didn't enjoy it at first, but now I do. However, ALL my classes are very directed -"And now everyone we're going to do THIS". If I couldn't be bossy from the front I'd chuck it in!

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    1. I agree - tell them who's boss right from the start. None of this 'freedom' silliness. 'Free motion quilting' sounds like the sort of thing John's dogs are naturally good at.

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  8. Your last story (robin) almost brought tears to my eyes.
    Sometimes my hand shakes so much that I cannot get my tea cup to my lips!!!
    I have only once been to a drawing class - I was absolutely hopeless - Ijust can't draw to save my life.

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    1. Getting tea to your lips saves your life in a small way Weave, but it's a bigger way than being able to draw. If you really needed to draw, you would be able to.

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