William Stafford's philosophy of teaching, "no praise, no blame" is something I aspire to. He felt it is not our job, as teachers, to deal out praise or blame, but rather to create an atmosphere where, in the end, the teacher is envious of the work the students have done. I want to cultivate an environment that is not oriented to what others' think, or what the teacher thinks– but that arises from the inside, brings out surprises, and elicits the best each student has to offer. "I would rather be envious of my students' work than encouraging them." (Wm. Stafford)
This is because, as an artist, if you are organized around the praise or blame of others it is a kind of poison that obstructs the solitary inner voice of what only you have to offer. Here is one of the poems on this theme that we worked with:
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.
The Way It Is, Wm. Stafford
In my most recent class at Ghost Ranch, in spite of my intentions, I failed to get photos of the students' work after class was over. Imagine how much more there is to see! Here is an example of the smaller book we made, "A Book of Days", with a pocket for each day of class:
Margie Woods, also a professional photographer, just sent in these photos of her work:
At Madeline Island I managed to get more photos. In all my classes we warm up with writing exercises, without lifting up our tool:
At both Madeline Island and Ghost Ranch, we made woven binding books:
We made marks with shells, plants and brushes, and carved marks by making our own stamps:
Repetition of a mark is a great calligraphy and drawing exercise. Wayne was inspired by an etching he brought to class, and became fully engaged in his discoveries with carving– deciding to make a series of 100 stamps:
"There's a thread you follow."
We went outside, into the desert, or the woods, and retrieved objects to practice blind contour drawing– then we moved to color and paint:
Heidi Johns just sent in the image below– my only regret is that so many images from students are left out.
Even more than this, I wonder, how do I convey the deep feeling of connection that happens in a contemplative atmosphere, during a week of work– the visceral knowledge that we are all tied together? Getting in touch with this part of ourselves, the part that doesn't change, is where the magic is.
I am full to the brim with images and inspiration from my students.
What are your thoughts on teaching and learning? On praise and blame? On how to find and follow your thread? I'd love to hear from you.