Teaching and craft…

There is less than a week until our student exhibit at the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts here on Paros.   It has been a busy three months for most.  Like all previous sessions there is always one or two students who fall away.  This spring has been no different.  One student left and returned home a few weeks ago.  Another has stayed here but has followed a different path from those found on our artistic maps.  So be it.  There is nothing I can do about either case.  I will say, in my own defense, that I was there for both of them in a professional capacity when they needed me and,  in the beginning, helped to guide them through some of our philosophies.  Their individual decisions to take different routes has no bearing on the Center, the teachers or my own labors.

This spring I was given the honor of filling in as Silver Darkroom instructor.  This is not a post I assume to be permanent.  All teachers learn that their own skills, craft and knowledge increase when they pass on what they know to others.  This has been my experience as well.  I have learned more about the art and craft of photography in three months than I thought possible.  It was knowledge that I had already accrued so to give it away freely only strengthened my own foundations.   It was not  review or regurgitation.  I found myself solving problems and asking questions of myself from a new point of view.  One important lesson is to be able to say “I don’t know.  Let’s find the answer together.”  What freedom to not suppose, to not be a fake!

There is an ethos to teaching.  It is not enough to greet the student, spend a few hours or days, and then set them free.  That would be tantamount to showing them a map and telling them to drive to California from New York without first discussing the possible roads west.  As the more experienced traveler it is important to guide these eager minds along the way.  Yes, let them take a wrong turn, experience a sudden detour or two and even run out of fuel, but do not abandon them in the badlands of inexperience.  Let them know that you are there, waiting up ahead at the next marker or traveling alongside.  I have practiced this and it has paid off.  I have gained a level of patience and understanding by remaining available.  I have set up appointments and answered their questions to the best of my abilities, abilities which have grown over the course of three months.  To some this may seem a sacrifice of my own personal time, my own independence.  It is quite the opposite.   I have never felt so free, so happy and, at times, so completely baffled.  At that point I turn to someone more knowledgable than myself.  Such is the nature of education, or it should be.

There is a quote from George Bernhard Shaw: “Those who can, do…those who can’t, teach.”  I must admit that I have found this to be very untrue and can only believe that GBS had his head (beard and all) deeply imbedded in his anus when he thought it up.  The quote should be “Those who can, teach.”    Learning is a cycle:  Practice>Teach>Learn>Practice>Teach>Learn>Practice>Teach>Learn…

Ralph Waldo Emerson had a better idea:

“Be an opener of doors for such as come after thee.”


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