Sunday, September 09, 2007

Artist as Teacher

This is at the east end of Altona Beach, looking towards the city. A nice place to walk, even when you're feeling lazy. Like today.
In yesterday's Age newspaper, there was a feature on abstract painter, Yvonne Audette, who teaches painting as well as being a recognised artist (her next exhibition is at the Ian Potter Centre here in Melbourne). When asked why she keeps teaching, she says:

"Two things. By teaching the artists, I inspire them. But I also inspire myself. By talking about everything that's important to me, it's like a ball bouncing against a wall, it comes straight back to you. I go away replenished and renewed with ideas. I couldn't paint as well and work as well if I didn't have students to teach. I've only just begun to realise how valuable it is."

It's interesting to hear an artist in another area (painting) talk about what teaching gives back to her. Writing teachers often have these discussions - does teaching enrich you or just drain you of all creativity? I know my friend T was told at a prestigious writing workshop that doing both teaching and writing was impossible and she should give up teaching.

But the reality for many is that teaching pays the bills. The problem that arises really lies in whether you enjoy the teaching or not. If you don't - if you do it just for the money - it probably will kill some of your writing, but which bits? The desire? The creativity? The urge to tell your story? The pleasure of creating and living with your characters?

I like Audette's comment re talking about the skills and the craft to students and how it comes back to you - for me, explaining things such as how to deepen your characters, improve dialogue, add sensory details, examining what is a telling detail, finding excerpts that will show these elements at work ... it all adds to my own writing. I don't think I will ever stop learning how to improve my own stories and poems, and teaching strengthens your own skills as well as the students. If I count my years in community arts, running workshops and classes, as well as the years in Professional Writing & Editing, that's a lot of teaching. And I'm always finding new things to learn and pass on. Like most writing teachers, I don't enjoy grading, but I do like workshopping where you have the opportunity to "open new doors" in terms of the possibilities for a piece of writing.
But I also love the holidays. Write, write, write. Read, read, read.

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