My teaching adventure has ended. It’s been an instructive 10-11 weeks. Maybe the students learned a couple things as well. It’s hard to tell when you can’t even see their faces. I’m glad I did it, but I don’t know if I’d do it again.
Every Monday night I had trouble falling asleep, knowing I had to get up at 6am to get ready for the ride to school. My mind would run through upcoming class over and over. Then I’d come up with good excuses to skip it, call in sick. I’d read my book, then turn off the light, toss and turn, turn the light back on, read, then repeat, repeat. It would sometimes be 4 or 5am by the time I drifted off, only to be roused by the alarm, seemingly moments after.
I thought up all kinds of lessons during those sleepless hours, but applied very few. Partly, this was because the Tuesday class was all laid out in terms of curriculum. There was little room to maneuver or tweak things into forms that made sense to me. I ended up half-assing the parts I disagreed with, namely, anything with rulers, viewfinders, or one- and two-point perspective. I couldn’t help but blurt out that these were just tools invented by people to make a complex world seem simple and logical. Who knows if my doubts were useful or just served to further confuse a bunch of kids who’d spent very little time making marks to render the world around them.
In the last week, we were all obviously phoning it in, running on fumes. My one problem kid, the one who fought me on everything, did the absolute minimum, and left class whenever he felt like, departed about an hour in, and I was relieved. The kids who stayed, finishing up their final drawing all laughed about him. We agreed a dumb drawing class was the least of his problems. I want to fail him, but that would open a can of worms I have little appetite for. He’ll get a C- (the lowest possible mark, because, apparently D’s are now extinct), and we will never have to deal with one another again.
The Wednesday figure-drawing class was a lot more fun than the Tuesday beginner one. No rulers or cones or spheres or viewfinders; just a nude model and five mostly engaged, interested students. I brought a speaker in my second week, and played music while they worked. It did a lot to break up the quiet and gave a pace and rhythm to the four hours spent weekly in that room.
As the semester wound down, I spent less and less time correcting their drawings and gave more thought to changing up the duration of the poses and compositional assignments. I applied my own experience, that told me, for instance, that doing one or five minute sketches is mostly a waste of time. The longer they had to work on one drawing, the more they got out of it. Eventually, we were doing just one a class.
I had them draw the whole room, then had a model take two poses, but had them put him in the same drawing, as if he was two different people; one standing, the other sitting. The results were weird, but had more personality and feeling than the typical anonymous-looking figure study.
On one of the sleepless nights before a class, I came up with what they’d do on our last day. They started their drawings as usual, but on the first model break, I told them to each move over one easel and work on their neighbor’s drawing. There were a few groans, but then an interesting thing happened. All semester they had basically only been interested in their own work. Two were obviously friendly, but the rest kept to themselves. Now, they were all engaged in every drawing in the room. As they switched spots during the breaks, they gathered as a group and talked about how it was going; what they liked and didn’t like. Freed from the insecurity of their own limitations, they could see the thing they were working on as separate from themselves. If I never teach again, I’ll at least be proud of this one moment.
When I quit grad school after one semester in 1994, it was because I was done with school and didn’t want to be part of the problem going forward. The problem was, and continues to be, how higher education is administered in this country. Tuition has metastasized to the point of keeping students in debt most of their lives, while little of what they are taught is applicable to their actual experience. After a full year of receiving most instruction via screen, even the very young ones in my beginning class were asking what exactly they were paying for.
I’ve waited all this time for the college bubble to pop for nearly thirty years. How much longer can it last? It’s an outmoded technology. Then again, I’ve devoted my whole life to a thing that probably peaked in the 19th century and is nothing more than an unpopular fetish the grand scheme of current society. So what do I know?
If I’m asked back, I’ll probably accept. So long as there are no rulers, protractors, spheres, or viewfinders.