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Lessons From Teaching

Brian Kinnaman Recaps on Experience Teaching Studio Art at US Arts' Irvine Campus.

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(Photo: Brian holding a pose for a quick figure-drawing lesson.)
During my formative first few months as a teacher here at US Arts, I was busy trying to assimilate the previous teacher’s curriculum, while still making it my own. Over time, one thing became very clear to me: An art education must exercise and flex the student’s creative capacities, yet at the same time it must have an element of rigor (increasing the student’s mastery over technical skill), or else that creative potential will not be able to manifest in a way that gives the fullest satisfaction to the student.

Both of these things –– creativity and technical skill –– are equally important. If, for instance, a student is extremely creative, but lacks technical skill, they are bound to become frustrated by their inability to manifest what their creative imagination envisions. Alternatively, they may not even try –– they may feel too intimidated by the skill level required to draw or paint whatever it is they are imagining. On the other hand, if the student has technical skill, but they have never spent any time exercising their innate creativity, they may not even believe they have what it takes to come up with a “good idea”. Surprisingly, many students are much more timid in this regard, than in the rigorous engagement of rendering convincing light and shadow (which, anyone will tell you, is one of the most difficult skills to master in observational drawing).

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(Photo: Acrylic painting by David Tu (from Brian's class). A great example of combining technical skill with creativity!) 

Some teachers try to teach creativity and technical skill at the same time. Other teachers may not even see a clear distinction between these two faculties. I have found that it is useful to shift the focus from one to the other, back and forth, at early stages. Now a project focused on observational rendering, now a project focused more on creativity, originality and exciting visual design. By alternating between these two foci, I make sure the student is exercising all of the creative muscles needed to produce a well-rounded young artist.


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