Thursday, February 25, 2016

Never Stop Learning

Your brain is a thinking organ that learns and grows by interacting with the world through perception and action. Mental stimulation improves brain function and actually protects against cognitive decline, as does physical exercise.

The human brain is able to continually adapt and rewire itself. Even in old age, it can grow new neurons. Severe mental decline is usually caused by disease, whereas most age-related losses in memory or motor skills simply result from inactivity and a lack of mental exercise and stimulation. In other words, use it or lose it.-The Franklin Institute

I'm a believer of lifelong learning.  It keeps your mind and your work fresh and opens the door to new possibilities.  Learning stimulates and keeps those neurological pathways doing whatever it is they do! (Hey, I'm an artist, not a scientist!) One way to do that is to be continually learning new things.  Might I suggest you take a class?

Getting the Most from a Class

There are many teaching styles and many ways to learn.  You need to know yourself well enough to know how you learn to optimize your classroom experience. Most people learn in a combination of learning styles.    I have one student who needs to see the big picture first and then she is able to break down the parts. I learn best with- hearing, watching and doing. I am a visual learner. Tell me how it's done and I'm not as likely to pick it up as quickly as if you show me how to do it.  Most of us learn best combining hearing or watching with doing.  Doing is the key to learning for me. Repetition is a huge factor when learning a new skill. Repeat, repeat and repeat again!

Some Stumbling Blocks to Learning and How to Get Around Them

I've been taught by some outstanding teachers and some not so great ones.  It's not hard to find good artists to teach.  It may be hard to find good artists who can teach well.  I do think you can learn something from anyone, but sometimes you really have to mine the information. I'm not trying to be critical here, but you can make the most of even a bad classroom experience.

Lets look at three common stumbling blocks to learning I've either had to help someone overcome or I myself have overcome. 

One: you're not ready for the information.  Sometimes you may have a really great teacher, but you just don't get it!  It's easy to blame the teacher for not teaching it well or in a way that helps you learn.  But sometimes, you are just not ready for the information.  That's the reason I repeat basic concepts over and over in my classes- even to more advanced students.  I can't tell you how many times I've said the same thing over and over to someone - to have them one day look at me with a knowing look of understanding and I see that light bulb shining above their head!  It's like they just heard what I said for the first time!  (I LOVE those moments-I always get the credit and I don't really do anything but repeat things!) 

The second is when we don't relate well to the teacher or their teaching style. Again, I believe if you look for it you can learn something from every teacher, but it's just so much easier with some teachers than with others.  Why fight that if you are trying to further your skills as an artist?  Your goal is to learn.  Try to find a teacher who you connect with and someone who teaches in a way you can learn if at all possible.  If you are in school, this isn't always a choice.  But if you're trying to learn to advance in a certain area you can eliminate frustration if you and the instructor are on the same page.  

The third thing I see are unrealistic expectations. A student is either too self critical and gets in their own way or feels they are not getting where they want and blames the teacher.  It's a good idea to identify what it is you want to achieve in a particular class.  Discuss it with the teacher if you feel you aren't getting where you want to go.  Keep in mind your responsibility as well and be realistic about your efforts.  Rome wasn't built in a day and you won't paint like the teacher after the first class.  So many people want instant results and a perfect skill set from one class!  You should see steady progress in proportion to the time you give to practicing your new skills, but keeping keeping it real is a key to learning well.  There remains this idea that art is EASY or a divine gift bestowed on certain lucky individuals.  Do we think that about a doctor, lawyer or any other skilled person?  Artists have a set of SKILLS they have learned and practiced for many hours to perfect.  With that in mind, find a teacher whose work you admire and whose teaching style helps you learn. One who can help you make steady progress toward your goal.  And remember, keep your expectations real. 

Personal Experience's

I took a class on anatomy from an arts center.  It was billed as a class that would teach us the underlying skeletomuscular structure.  The real class was basically a figure drawing class which focused on certain areas with little or no instruction. The instructor just said "this week we will focus on the ____.  Now draw that".  A fellow student asked the teacher for a demonstration to a least aid with our approach.  The teacher refused saying basically he didn't want to cheat us from developing our own style by seeing his!  Ok.? I realize as artists most of us are visual learners, so demonstrations are a valid part of the teaching and learning process.  I know that I personally am a very visual learner.  I benefit greatly from demonstration.  ... I do keep demos to a minimum because I don't want to take up valuable class time when students can be practicing their skills-but I felt this was not what I had signed up for. Luckily, I've studied anatomy and drawing so I just used class time as I would have a figure drawing class.  But I heard a lot of grumbling from other classmates! 

One of the best classes and teachers I've ever had is Charles Reid.  I learned so much from watching him paint because-I learn best visually. I could have watched that man paint all day!  He explained what he was doing as he was painting and would stop and answer student questions.  The later half of the day was spent practicing what we had seen as he went and spent time with each individual.  Do I paint like Charles Reid because I watched him paint?  If only!  He has greatly influenced my work, but I believe most artists have a voice and style that is unique.  And I do believe in staying true to your own voice.  

These are two examples of teachers and teaching/learning styles I did and didn't relate to.  Instead of blaming the teacher at the arts center (this first time teacher), I asked him specific questions to help with my knowledge and decided if nothing else I am getting some drawing experience. I decided to focus on hands and just did my own thing, so I still gained experience. I've also decided that sometimes you get what you pay for!

Continuing to learn and grow as an artist is important no matter your level.  I try to take classes regularly, to learn, be challenged artistically and rub elbows with other artists.  This stimulates me to create and grow. I like to take classes from a variety of teachers but I still return to the ones whose work I admire and who have helped to develop my own skills and voice. I've taken from some well known masters as well as some very talented local artists.  No matter your budget or location, you can always find some way to further your artistic skills.  

So, if I were still teaching I'd put in some shameless self promotion for my classes, lol!! Since I'm not, I've decided to take a few online classes and try to take a few local classes as well.  You are never too old or too good to learn. I think your world and art are richer from exploring a variety of experiences, places and people. You do not have to spend a lot, or go too far.  

I will be sharing some of my experiences with you as I take some classes and learn some new things!! Come along with me!!  

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