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talent (how to teach?)

updated tue 30 apr 96


Marvin Bartel on sat 13 apr 96

At 08:27 AM 4/13/96 EDT, you wrote:

>. . . . . I see
>some of the known "talented" art students come in and get really
>frustrated with the wheel. They do the least they can to get by then go
>back to drawing or what ever they are best at.
> Give me those kids that
>want to work, work, work.... any day!
>Charlie Gareri
>Pike High School Art Dept.
>Indianapolis, IN
I understand this problem from my own experience. After becoming fairly
proficient at working with clay, both as a potter and as a sculptor, I
found a very nice chunck of marble near the mine in Colorado. I decided to
carve a piece of stone sculpture. I spent hours pecking at it with mallet
and chisel. While I carved, my mind was constantly thinking about doing
this with clay. Needless to say, it was never half finished.
Why did this happen? In my estimation, this was not because I was
so talented with clay, but I simply didn't feel much intrinsic need to
develop a new skill at the time.
As a teacher, I think about this a lot. A new skill takes so much
time and energy and can be so hard to learn for a person who already finds
an easy success with another related skill. I like to call these abilities
"skills" rather than talent. Sometimes drawing skills have been learned at
such a young age that they appear to be talents, but I question the concept
of talent.
It sounds simplistic, but one of my main jobs as a teacher seems to
be to find ways to make the hard stuff easier for those who are discouraged
and make the easy stuff harder for those who are fast learners or already
have more of the skill we are working on.
When I teach throwing to beginning students, I do what I can to make
the hard stuff easy at first.
Example: I used to require a certain height of cylinder before they could
keep anything (as a way to assure quality). I've changed this and now they
make, TRIM, AND DECORATE any 12 bowls, but they have to select only 5 of
the 12 to fire (this is college). The rest are soaked. Once they feel some
confidence with the easy bowl shapes, I show them how to control the clay so
it goes up, and they have to do the tall pieces, trim them, and again fire
only a percentage of them after trimming.
When I teach photography, I actually think a lot about making the
easy stuff harder because every student knows they already know how to take
pictures. The truth is, they know very little, but just don't know it.
I hope this helps us teachers think a bit about why we exist.
Marvin Bartel, Art Dept
Goshen College, Goshen, IN 46526
See Goshen Alumnus Dick Lehman
on the cover of April Ceramics Monthly