Prompted by an email conversation I recently had with an artist friend of mine, I've decided to post some of my thoughts on the subject of workshops. What better time than now to do so given that I'll be conducting an oil painting workshop in October (yes, that was a not-so-subtle plug).
First, I'll start by making known my particular approach to workshops — both from an instructor's point-of-view, and as an attendee...
As an Instructor:
I believe painting is a skill, and in its most fundamental form, is NOT a talent. Painting, as I see it, is a complicated set of problems that can be articulated and then addressed through practice, technique, dedication and study. Certainly there are those that will excel in the endeavor of painting beyond what most of us would otherwise achieve through simple practice, technique, dedication and study. But the fundamentals of painting can be learned and one can have confidence that if they apply copious amounts of dedication, practice and study, they will eventually become a good painter — maybe not a great painter, but most assuredly a good one.
That being said, I believe it is my roll as an instructor to not attempt to teach style as it pertains to me personally, but rather teach what I know and understand about the process and fundamentals of painting. I believe teaching one's style will typically just produce artist clones rather than give attending artists a set of tools to develop their own personal style. And the more unique the instructor's own style, the more they should limit its involvement in their workshop curriculum, in my opinion.
Does this do a disservice to workshop attendees who want to learn to paint from an artist whose work they admire for its uniqueness? I believe not. Artists that attend workshops for the sole purpose of learning the style of another artist are the only ones doing themselves a disservice.
Which brings me to...
As An Attendee:
To be completely honest, I have never attended a workshop. There are several artists whose work I greatly admire and who I believe would have much to offer me as a student, but these artists are exceptionally unique in their personal styles and I'm afraid that too much of that style would find its way into their workshops. The result would be that rather than learning tools to become a better painter, I would pickup "tricks" to paint more like them. I didn't say this was a justified fear, rather just my fear as an artist.
If I were to attend a workshop, I would first consult artists who've previously been a student under a particular artist I'm interested in and find out the instructor's approach. Did the instructor communicate well or did they keep their mouth closed and spend most of the workshop wowing attendees by performing demos without much in the way of instruction? Did the attending artist feel the instructor was honest during critiques? Did they offer criticism from an emotional reaction or was their criticism more technical in nature? And simply, did the student feel their instructor was a good teacher?
My motivation for taking a workshop would be simple; To learn from an artist whose work I respect in order to improve my own work. My motivation would not be to learn how to paint like the instructor, or to have a forum from which to demonstrate my own skills as a painter to the other artists (this may sound strange, but as an instructor, I've seen it). My motivation would be to immerse myself in learning, plain and simple.
If you decide you are going to take a workshop, take a moment to reflect on your motivation for doing so. If you're going to be teaching a workshop, maybe think about what approach will best serve your attending artists. I know I definitely am (lots of pressure).