The Ministry of Teaching Art
By Bob Kirchman
Bezalel and Oholiab, along with everyone whom God has given the skill and know-how for making everything involved in the worship of the Sanctuary as commanded by God, are to start to work.” – Exodus 36:1
This marks the second season I have taught art with Amanda Riley at the ACE Coop in Augusta County. When I got pneumonia as a result of a reaction to a mural clear-coat I was applying, I was forced to prioritize life anew. Even in recovery my energy has been somewhat limited so I find that in addition to the obvious drive to spend time with my granddaughters, the things on top of my priorities are getting back to full speed teaching our high school and middle school studio courses. You see, I find a lot of purpose in teaching art these days. The reasons surprise me as well. These days I am not so impressed with what I can teach in the way of technique and background – though that is important. Knowledge is not the end, but rather a means toward the true end. That is allowing each student to discover that part of IMAGO DEI that drives THEM to create.
I find myself being taught by my students more than they are being taught by me. I spend less time lecturing and more time observing— ‘catching’ our students in the act of expressing that part of the Divine nature. And the class has never been so much fun! What’s more, I take great joy in the fact that my apprentices Kristina and Savhana both are actively teaching young people now! This is a far greater joy than comes from simply being copied. The world is richer because another generation has entered the game!
The True Reason to Teach Art
This is not so much a criticism, but an observation. I do not think many of us who teach art understand the true importance of it. I think art instruction can miss the mark aiming high or low. The first type of program I will discuss certainly aims high. That is one whose goal is to produce professionals. This particular program, of necessity, is concerned with technique mastery and measurable goals. That is not a bad thing in itself, especially for those who are so motivated. In such a program it may be sometimes observed that art loses its ‘joy’ as a student becomes more proficient in technique. Furthermore, if the program stresses non-representational art, the professional opportunities may not be as widespread as the course description suggests. You might have best in show in your student exhibition only to find that you cannot sell your work in the greater community. For me, architectural rendering was a way to do art and get paid for it. Some do not consider it ‘real’ art. That is beside the point.
The other tendency is to aim low. Art is seen as part of a ‘well rounded’ curriculum, but is not pursued for its own sake at all. At university, our art faculty was constantly dogged with the expectation that they ‘contribute to a well-rounded education,’ but were always subservient to ‘academics.’ Some of us DID need to pursue professional opportunities, and so Ray Prohaska, my mentor, exhorted me to “Get out there, work and learn stuff!“ That was probably the best advice anyone ever gave me. He had been a successful New York illustrator before his ‘retirement’ where he taught in a succession of Southern colleges. Indeed he knew that you had to take your portfolio and go knocking. Ray knew the mixture included inspiration AND perspiration, His strength as a teacher came precisely because he had been in the New York art scene, not academia, for the bulk of his career.
Ray saw something in me—not unlike the something I would see in my own mentees. That is now most instructive as I have struggled to become a teacher in my own right. Our job is not to make students in our own image. They are already made in the image of One better according to Genesis 1. Our job is to help each one of them discover the genius within them. We do that best when we watch and encourage. Yes, technique is important, but it is a tool to be given to the aspiring artist. They are like young plants that need to be nurtured – and care must be taken not to trample them. Since I have been encouraged in this direction, teaching is a lot more fun! The discoveries have been amazing! I am thankful for the opportunity to teach this way.
Most people, I have found, can do a pretty good drawing of items that they are passionate about. This is due to their self-motivated observation in these areas. That should be a springboard for introducing technique. We just looked at the life of Leonardo da Vinci and it is clear that his art fueled his inventiveness in a range of fields. The skills of observation evident in his notebooks shows us that art can be so much more than a nice ‘rounding out’ of our education—it can help us develop fundamental skills in observation and interpretation in just about any walk of life. Thus art instruction should embrace the unique individual and seek to train the hand and eye – as preparation for Divine inspiration and service. That is consistent with the belief that our service on this earth in any field can be elevated to worship.
Profession, Hobby, or Foundation for Critical Thinking
One of our graduates last year planned an important mural project during the Summer. She was somewhat apologetic about her plans to study nursing in the fall, like “if you are strong in the arts, you should pursue them as a profession.” I am actually thrilled that she sees opportunity in what should be called the HEALING ARTS. You see, if Da Vinci’s drawing skills helped him gain new insights into anatomy, why shouldn’t the modern day personification of the Renaissance person find similar insight in her own studies. So often I have seen doctors struggle to “see it” when it comes to a diagnosis. The trained eye and hand of observation could just be the edge necessary in a critical point of diagnosis! And guess what? Later in life there may be opportunity to see where the path of art leads. England’s great wartime leader Sir Winston Churchill became a very productive painter later in his life.
When Alan Bean went to the moon, he was also an artist. The mission of an astronaut is all-consuming but Bean would add a critical element to our observation of the moon through his art after the Apollo Program ended. Georg Wilhelm Steller, the German botanist, zoologist, physician and explorer, who worked in Russia and is considered a pioneer of Alaskan natural history, sailed with Vitus Bering on his voyages of discovery. His drawings added much to the understanding of natural history in the newly explored region.
My point is that art can (and should) become very much a part of a person’s methodology in observation. Our training should lead us to become better observers and better imaginers to the end that we might all be better at analyzing and solving the challenges we face in our lives. Although it may indeed find fulfillment in profession or avocation, art should be seen rightfully as another tool of critical thinking.
And Moses said unto the children of Israel, See, the Lord hath called by name Bezaleel the son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah; And he hath filled him with the spirit of God, in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge, and in all manner of workmanship; And to devise curious works, to work in gold, and in silver, and in brass, And in the cutting of stones, to set them, and in carving of wood, to make any manner of cunning work. And he hath put in his heart that he may teach, both he, and Aholiab, the son of Ahisamach, of the tribe of Dan.” – Exodus 35:30-35
About Bob Kirchman
In 1982, illustrator and designer Bob Kirchman set out to provide accurate artistic architectural renderings for the architectural design community of Charlottesville, Virginia. Working for a few great clients he gradually built a reputation for quality hand-drawn work. Over time, Mr. Kirchman became involved in residential design and moved into fine art and photography. Currently, he teaches art to young people in the Fine Art Program of the Augusta County Educators Home-School Coop and a summer program for young artists. For professional designers, Mr. Kirchman offers a workshop in hand drawing as a tool for imagination-based design.
Mr. Kirchman recently published his first novel: PONTIFUS, The Bridge Builder’s Tale in Three Parts. He lives in Staunton, Virginia with his wife Pam. They enjoy exploring the mountains of the region together.
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