Friday, April 13, 2018

Nicolas's Questions

Nicolas is a high school student who chose me for his research subject. I sent him some published interviews to cover the FAQs, and then told him he could ask me two uncommon questions. Here they are:

Drawing in scratchboard that I did in high school
1 - What was your biggest challenge in your art career and how did you overcome it?
The biggest challenge has been the change from analog to digital technology. I embraced certain aspects of the new tech, but resisted others. I learned a way of doing video production and social media, but I stayed with physical tools and materials for my art. This decision has allowed me to have originals to exhibit in museum exhibitions and to sell in gallery shows. Your generation will have to decide how your art-making will respond to the developments in artificial intelligence, which will offer with very powerful tools, but it will undermine your confidence. In a fundamental way I think it will force each of us to consider what makes us human and how we want to spend our finite time on earth.

2 - Is there something you wish a Master told you when you were just starting that you only know right now?
I'm having a hard time answering this question without giving you motivational clichés that you've surely heard before. And if I try express them, I can't help questioning them at the same time. I could say "Follow your dream," but I didn't have a dream clearly in mind when I was in high school. I could say "Do what makes you happy," but really a lot of what one has to do is ditch digging and drudgery. Developing the patience for that aspect of your life is important too. I could say: "All problems yield to effort, or work hard." But that's something I already knew in high school. The truth is that I never had a master when I was starting out, and I never really sought one out. I just had a couple of distant heroes that I wrote letters to and a couple of helpful teachers, and they gave me enough encouragement to keep me on my path. I'm a strong believer in self teaching and am inherently skeptical of the master/pupil relationship. I would recommend reading Ralph Waldo Emerson on this topic if you're also the kind of person that likes to set your own compass.
Previously: High School Drawing
Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay on self reliance


broker12 said...

James . . . I wish someone had schooled me in the use of neutrals as it applies to "desaturating: strident colors. I, too, am self taught so I learned early on about this by using complementary colors but that usually resulted in achieving a bucket of unusable mixed goo before achieving the color/value I wanted. When I finally got onto the use of neutrals, it shot me forward, but only after a long struggle with buckets of unusable paint. For the last several years, I've been mixing a string of neutrals every day and with few exceptions, they have served me well. I can achieve neutrals by mixing either a small amount of raw umber or yellow ocher with ivory black, or lately, I've been using Williamsburg's black Italian Roman earth. I mix them in a string of about 5 values.

tolbertm said...

Do you have a link to Emerson's writings on the master/pupil relationship? Or a link to a book. I'd like to read more about it as well.

Steve said...

This post stirs some reflection about education. As someone who taught elementary school for 30 years, I had abundant opportunity to consider how people learn. Early on, it became clear that -- on one level -- all children are homeschooled. It also became clear that -- on another level -- all children are self-taught. There are other levels where competent instruction and (as you said) encouragement can save a student time, provide them with tools, and instill confidence. I'm guessing the respect you have accorded Nicolas by taking the time to answer his questions will, in itself, be an encouraging talisman to which he returns as time passes. The term "Master" in Nicolas's question hints at a relationship that is problematic for many people, and rightly so. The simplistic way of framing this while I was teaching was to arrive at the best ratio between Sage on the Stage vs. Guide at the Side. It would have been a lot of fun to have a nine year old Jim Gurney in my 4th grade class. I would hope I would have had the wisdom to honor and celebrate his curiosity, share with him my enthusiasms and knowledge of the wider world, help him where I could, and then get out of his way.

Lester Yocum said...

I like the more practical, "Love your dream but follow your work." Dreams are vapors. They can be fun to think about and stimulating, but it is the work that makes them real. "I want to design clothes." Great! Do you design clothes? Have you researched the industry, talked with professionals, taken courses, mapped a way forward? Do you have sketchbooks filled with clothing designs and figure studies? If not, think carefully: What is it you actually do? And remember, reality shapes dreams. Dreams and doing can change as you go through life, and that is okay.

Susan Krzywicki said...

There is something deeply interesting about how we learn. Looking back, there were tons of people who helped each of us become what we were, but often it is such a tenuous or indirect cause-and-effect. I think that Mother Nature is very conservative - she never throws anything away! Some small item or thought 50 years ago will roll back around and have a deep resonance just when we need it.

Coincidence is really just the universe sweeping out the corners and throwing all the dust into a pile.

Tom Hart said...

The best lesson for any of us is the truth that we individually need to learn. For me it has been: Do not fear mistakes; you will learn more from your mistakes than from your successes.

James Gurney said...

These are all really thoughtful comments, thank you. I didn't mean to make this a referendum on teachers. I had one great art teacher, Ted Youngkin (perspective), and a couple of older artist friends, just no one that I could call a Master or a Mentor. I did have some tremendous teachers in other realms when I was a high school student in Palo Alto, including physics teacher Art Farmer and English teachers Barney Tanner and Lou Richardson. Lester, totally agree that Dreams need Action to mean anything. Steve, I love what you said about how to work with different kinds of students. Howard Pyle would certainly qualify as an ideal mentor, since he was extremely capable, knew how to communicate his expertise, and (for the most part) from what I've gathered, was able to step aside when a student reached their professional level of competence.

Timothy Bollenbaugh said...

Steve, your entry deserves to be etched in stone! Chuck Jones described their patient development of Bugs Bunny once they realized they had basically a complex personality to handle with care and respect, "learn how to guide the child without steering him".

James, your entries concerning your educational experiences also stand out, prominently. From all the issues concerning plaster casts, to trying schools out, to trends in academia & academies. Several contributors to your "comments" forum reinforced this, and provided further insight.

I wish it all were the prevailing view and voice throughout the arts and sciences.


Capt Elaine Magliacane said...

What thoughtful questions Nicolas posed, and what interesting answers you gave... I really enjoy reading your blog, I often learn something new. Thanks for continuing to do these artist public service announcements.

Unknown said...

I'm interested to read more on this. Who is Emerson?

James Gurney said...

Rich, sorry, I should have mentioned that I was referring to the essay "Self Reliance" by 19th-century American writer Ralph Waldo Emerson. I've linked to a web version at the end of the post.

Timothy, glad you mentioned Chuck Jones. I recommend his book Chuck Amuck for anyone interested in inspiration and creativity.