Thursday, April 9, 2015

Art Workshops - How to Survive (and Profit)

As I write this post I am also preparing to leave for Taos NM for the "Intensive Studies Seminar".  This artist's workshop, in it's 20th and sadly final year, is lead by four top instructors: Catherine Chang Liu, Fran Larsen, Skip Lawrence and Christopher Shink.  I signed up last summer, probably one of the first.  The idea that I will be attending this workshop with these instructors has been driving me and influencing my painting ever since I signed up.  I don't want to look the fool, no one does, but I also want to learn as much as I possibly can.  I started thinking about workshops in my past, dozens of them and what I've learned by attending and by watching other artists in workshops.

The main thing I have learned over the years is that a workshop is NOT the place to show everyone how very fine you are, how advanced your work is, how wonderful you can be, how you are such good friends with the instructor (that actually gets to be annoying if you start to monopolize the instructor's time) or how you can help everyone else.  If you arrive with an attitude, you will make no friends and you might set yourself up for complete failure.  You will not have created the personal space to learn.

The space to learn requires an attitude of humbleness, not awesomeness.   Check your ego at the door.  Volunteer to be the least "successful" in the room, the one you are sure everyone will snicker at or feel a bit sorry for.  After all, someone has to be last.  Volunteer to occupy that post.   My experience has taught me that the bottom post in the workshop is the best post.  I experiment more, I try harder.  I also get more of the instructor's time, because obviously I don't know what I'm doing.  I'm struggling, I'm confused.  I'm just who the instructor needs to and wants to help.

There is another thing I've learned from years of painting workshops.  Not every instructor will give me something that "fits".  In fact, some will rattle my style and my content for a number of months, trying to "paint like the instructor".  Because of that, I've learned to be very choosy in my instructors. However, over the years every single instructor has always given me something, some little thing, some number of things, that has helped me move on in one way or another.  Attending a workshop is never a "loss".  I can always make a list of at least 10 things I learned from the experience and that's 10 more than if I had not attended.

We all tend to focus on the goal, the prize, being the "best", winning the ribbon, hearing the applause.  For me that comes from competition, not a workshop.  If I treat a workshop experience as competition, I lose.  If I treat a workshop as a time and place to learn, to grow, then I gain and the applause and the ribbon is waiting on down the line.

The painting with this post is "Signs" (14" X 21" acrylic on paper).  This was a transitional piece for me, following a workshop.  I take the advice offered by the instructor, I see if it fits, I try it out for a while, and then I either incorporate it or discard it.  I have the space required.