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   Welcome to my blog! I'll be posting thoughts about art, photos, happenings, and other things that strike me--and hopefully my readers--as interesting. And please visit my website by clicking the link to the right--thanks!

   Also please check out my second blog, The Painting Archives to see older (pre-2004) paintings for sale.


Sunday, August 25, 2019
  asking questions

Jerry Mclaughlin and I have just finished co-teaching two oil and cold wax workshops in Italy at the beloved Cascina Rodiani (at Drezzo, in the northern province of Como), a green hotel run by Samuel Crisigiovanii and Mimma Della Cagnoletta, who is an artist and well-known art therapist. This was my third time teaching at the Cascina, a beautiful 17th century farmhouse surrounded by beautiful gardens and parkland. 





It was a lovely and intense time--lots of great food, wine, and conversation at mealtime, the two 6-day workshops, and a few days of rest in between sessions in a small village on Lake Como. Jerry and I taught both a beginning and an advanced workshop in the rustic, outdoor atelier. Between them both, we covered everything from the basics to an exploration of form and content and painting in series. 





On a daily basis, teaching means constantly evaluating my interactions with students and considering the best ways of explaining the processes involved. Jerry and I both want to provide information and encourage critical thinking but at the same time, we want to support intuitive and spontaneous approaches--to avoid over-thinking. That's a tricky balancing act. As with so much in art and life, there are dualities underlying the process: spontaneity/control, analyzing/intuiting, enjoying the details/considering the big picture. 




Being able to work with opposite ideas at the same time is considered a mark of creativity, and it frees you from total reliance on one approach but this is not easy to teach. We encourage students to recognize the need for practice, patience, and acceptance of new ways of thinking. Fortunately, in the supportive workshop environment, many people do have breakthroughs in their understanding and in their work. But having no absolute answers or path can also cause frustration, anxiety, and even blockage. 

And it always leads to many, many questions. These include calls for help ("how do I fix this mess?"), requests for specific directions ("should I add orange here or blue?") or opinions on how a painting is progressing. Sometimes people want formulaic answers to questions like, "do you always work from dark to light-- or the other way around?" Often there are objections to what we're teaching in which questions are implied--"I don't get why you say to keep adding layers." Some questions are about the process as a whole or aspects of the art business. Some contain insight and thought. Of course, there are no bad or stupid questions, and we always do our best to address everything. But the hardest questions are ones that arise from fear of failure. This is because the context of the question is much bigger than the specific information requested. 







Something I read recently made me think about the nature of the questions we all ask--an article that Mimma shared with me--her written response to an essay by Shaun McNiff called Ch'i and Artistic Expression. Both of their articles are fascinating to read, but at the moment it is Mimma's line, "The inner beauty of every creative act is the generation of questions, arising from the process itself and the contemplation of its results" that has me thinking. She goes on to describe this questioning as comprising curiosity and the unfolding of the flow of life.  

I think if I could ask for one thing when I teach it would be for questions that arise from true curiosity and a desire to align with the process, rather than from performance anxiety and the need to get things right. I also love Mimma's idea of questions arising from contemplation, which I think of as a calm, thoughtful consideration of what is present. With this approach, a person can still request any kind of information that is wanted or needed but has become a more positive and thoughtful participant in the process.

Of course, I'm dreaming a bit here--although many artists do simply want to learn, banishing insecurity and fear of failure for many is a huge issue. I hope that in offering these thoughts, perhaps a small shift toward curiosity, wonder, and objective contemplation may result.


view of the Swiss Alps from the grounds of Cascina Rodiani





 
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       Rebecca Crowell