The accidental art teacher

Demonstrating urban sketching to Horsforth Art Society. Look at that face – this is very, very serious stuff!

When I was a kiddo (which is DEFINITELY not very long ago…), there was a well-known advertising campaign to encourage more people into the teaching profession. It showed inspiring Bright Young Things decked out in stylish garbs ruffling the hair of young whippersnappers in school uniforms, transforming their young lives with a wise word and an understanding look. The famous tagline was “those who can, teach”. As a bit of a weird kid who didn’t enjoy my school experience, the adverts jarred with me, and my schoolfriends and I adopted the ironic rephrasing – “those that can, do, those that can’t, teach”. Looking back, I am not sure this is the clever, subversive and rebellious stance I took it for at the time. It turns out that “those who can’t, teach” is a pretty standard take, and it taps into a general anti-intellectual current in the zeitgeist – we have all had enough of experts, the “research” of a nameless YouTube neckbeard in his Mum’s basement is just as valid as that of a leading scientist in a particular area… I digress, but if you’d told 14-year-old me that much of my adult life would involve teaching, I would have probably told you to take a long walk off the nearest bridge.

But somehow, teaching seems to have followed me around through adulthood. I don’t believe in destiny, but it seems to have chosen me rather than being something I’ve chosen, and I’ve realised it is a very good thing to teach. The person asking for a lesson is saying that you have something in you, something of value, which they want to find out about. And this really, really makes me want to share as much of whatever it is they’re looking for as I can! While I’m under no illusions about transforming the lives of the mainly middle-aged-to-older artists who’ve come along to learn with me, I can at least help them make their drawings more lively, and more effectively capture the atmosphere of places. Maybe even that’s too much – some educational philosophers talk about letting learning happen, so it’s more about creating some sort of space where people can figure things out for themselves. Does it take a certain type of person to do that? I have no idea, but I can say that the workshops have been well received.

I’ve also come to see that “doing” and “teaching” is a false dichotomy. To really teach, you need the practice to back it up. On the other hand, I find that the teaching feeds back into the practice – having to explain what I’m doing helps me to figure it out more clearly, and sharpen my own skills. The more I’ve looked into it, the more I’ve found many of my favourite creatives have a teaching practice of some kind.

It’s not for everyone, but for those of you trying to take your creative practice to the next level, I really recommend teaching as one way to improve your own learning.

If you would like to catch up with me in person, I’ll be showing some of my bird paintings at the upcoming Otley Wildlife and Arts festival on the 7th and 8th October in the Courthouse, Otley. On Saturday the 7th, at midday, I’ll be talking a bit about my process, and about the birds I’ve chosen to paint in the Labour rooms. I’m calling these birds “surprise red-listers” – these are birds that are on the red list of conservation concern, but which seem so common that losing them is unthinkable. I also have some upcoming markets at the LS16 Makers’ Market (on the 8th October), the last few days of the exhibition at the Kreiva Gallery, Bridlington are ongoing, and I have another teaching workshop, this time at Café Yoga, on the 14th October. There are a couple of tickets left (at the time of writing this blog, anyway).

Here, by the way, is the piece that resulted from that striking action shot of me at the start of this entry. It is on its way to a very happy collector!

Recent Posts