Working with Students

Recently I was asked to do a mural for the celebration of the 175th Anniversary of Stockbridge and the surrounding areas. This mural was done over 5 days in the Heritage Elementary School in Stockbridge. I worked with several hundred 5th graders over a period of 4 days, and then finished the final details on the mural.

It is always an amazing experience to work with students. I find that young adults have no fear and with a little instruction, can paint in exactly the style that is required. Of course, it helps if you have a strong vision for the mural, but you also have to let go of any expectations. Sometimes wonderful things can happen, like running paint that creates branches or an unexpected large flower added by a student.

In meeting with a young artist the other day, I was struck by her enthusiasm and energy. Her ideas were big, and at the time, all I could think about was how much work it would take to make them happen. Then, I remembered a conversation I had had with an older artist about 10 years ago. He had taken on several interns from the University of Michigan who were helping him with his projects. He asked me why I didn't have interns working with me to create my large murals. I laughed at him and said that it would take longer to train them and correct their work than it would to just create it myself. He smiled and reminded me gently that someday I might not have the same energy level, and that working with the next generation passed the skills on to them.

Today, I understand the wisdom of his advice. We are losing skills every year as a nation, and as artisans. The old ways of doing things are going away, and the newer "better" ways are taking over. In some cases, such as in information distribution, the new ways are better, but in others, like illustration and painting, using the computer is limiting and in some cases the technology drives the design to the point that many artist's works look similar to each other. We have a responsibility as "masters" of our trades, to pass our knowledge on so that it isn't lost in our fast-pace digital world. For my part, I am finding working with students rewarding and inspirational. I hope others will follow my fellow artist's advice.


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