Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Painting for an Audience



Silence 2   50x50"   oil/cold wax on panel ©2012 Janice Mason Steeves



How can you paint when someone is watching? I am commenting here on the recent blog post written by my colleague and great friend, Rebecca Crowell.  Rebecca can somehow manage to focus on her own work during the painting time in her workshops.  And do some serious paintings too!  She finds this to be  a learning tool for the class and is not at all bothered by the audience.

I work in a totally different way.  I am able to demonstrate for my students and experiment in the workshops I teach, but I seem unable or perhaps unwilling to paint in the classes.  While Rebecca views her painting process as a learning tool (and I honour her viewpoint),  I see it in a different light.  I hesitate to paint in my classes, mostly because it is not my nature, and partly because I think it is important for my students to struggle to find their own voices.  I feel that if I were to paint in the classes, the students would try to paint like me.  I know this because I did that.  When I was a beginner painter, I took many many workshops..and each time I did, I painted like that artist for probably 6 months after the workshop.  I tried it out and in the end, took what worked for me and moved on.  Maybe I make it harder for my students.

My paintings are created in a very private inner space.  I can't seem to reach that space unless I am alone in my studio.  However, having been in an artist residency in Ireland with Rebecca, I know that she is able to  paint with others around, as though no one else is there.  This is a trait I fully admire.

I remember many years ago, taking an outdoor-on-location painting workshop.  I found it completely invasive.  One day, while I was nestled (make that almost hidden) in a stand of shrubs, thinking I was totally concealed, I turned around to find a busload of tourists quietly coming up behind and beside me to watch me paint.  I was so annoyed.   Would they come up behind me if I was writing in my journal, I wondered?

For me, painting is a very private, solitary activity.  Try as I may, I cannot seem to paint seriously when people are watching me.  I remember reading that the author Jane Urquhart said that she couldn't write if there was another breathing creature in her home.  I know that I share that need for privacy.

I teach differently than Rebecca yet honour her way of working.  I do what works for me.  The thing is to honour who we are.