I played the viola in the 5th grade. I probably ended up with the viola because I returned the permission slip late. I remember the screeching as the bow scraped across the strings. I could play Hot Cross Buns. The red velvet case, with the block of rosin, was all mine. I loved the smell of rosin. I was so cool. I was not so good. But I remember my Mom saying “Lee, you’re getting better!”
As a high school drawing and painting teacher, I rarely say “you’re so good” because what is “good” anyway? I want my students to improve, to get better. As hard as we try to “get good” at something, the bar keeps moving and who determines what good is, anyway? Good is an arbitrary, subjective term. It’s a preference. My dog George is good. Pizza is good. Why not try to get better? Be better?
I lined up my art in chronological order. After getting past my giant pile of “neverminds,” it was time to get serious. There are countless areas of improvements I could tackle. Composition, value structure, brushwork, color, edges, to name a few. I realized I am making the same error over and over. I decided deliberate brushwork is something I want to be better at. I tend to over-work and over-paint. I lay in too many colors (that sounds weird, but you know what I mean!) In order to improve, I need knowledge. We artists are nuts for information, googling everything until we are experts. So, I have started to read selected books, blog posts, articles about brushwork and actual paint application. I am watching videos, looking at details of master’s art on Google Art Project. With each painting, I am attempting to be more deliberate and focus on this one area of improvement.
Why does it matter? Couldn’t I just keep on painting, throwing caution to the wind, content in the pieces I paint? Sure, I guess. It’s not like the painting police will take away my brushes. But I want to get better. And if you’re reading this, you want to get better, too.
True story: Today, after two weeks of intense figure drawing lessons, I overheard my students say they finally “get it”. They said how after a few years of drawing people, they finally understand the steps. As they were filing out of my classroom, one student left her drawing face up on the pile. For a second, she just looked at it, pausing. In that moment, she was on top of the world. It’s a tiny gesture, but as a teacher, it meant the world to me. She was proud; confident. A minute later, another student asked for charcoal for more practice. Is she “good” at drawing? It doesn’t matter. She is better. She is on the path to improvement, where proud moments happen along the way.