Learning By Doing
“I’m in an artistic rut. I’d like to do something different, Wendy,” exclaimed Jason. “I don’t have a vision, I just want to do so mething different.” “You don’t have to start with a clear vision, Jason. Most artists don’t,” Wendy suggested. “Perhaps you could hold off on drawing lines. How about painting a background today? The line work could come later. That would be different for you.” Wendy brought over a piece of black foam-board and encouraged Jason to paint strokes of color, moving the brush across the page t o create fields of blue, green, and red. “I like that idea, it is different for me. My work usually begins and ends with hard edges, hard lines,” reflected Jason. Wendy gave Jason a choice of working with two different types of brushes – flat and round – and explained that flat brushes would allow for broader strokes and round brushes would allow for more detailed work. Jason chose to start with a flat brush. Jason swirled different hues of paint together, creating a multi-color background.Occasionally, he would ask Wendy or Lynn to clean his paintbrush or open a different color of paint or put a different paintbrush in his hand. After having painted on the canvas for forty minutes, Jason exclaimed that he had a vision. “I want to entitle this ’laughing in the face of anger,’ and I want to draw a face and torso on this background. The face of someone laughing.” “That sure is different for you. You haven’t really drawn faces or torsos before,” mused Wendy. As soon as Jason articulated a vision, Wendy sat down and started talking with him about how to draw faces.
Wendy got out several blank pieces of paper. “I am going to share with you how I learned to draw faces. When I was in school I was taught to draw an oval shape like this and cut it in half three different times. So, you draw a line in the middle of the oval. Right below the line is approximately where the eyes go. And then you draw another line halfway between the eyes and the bottom of the oval. And the bottom of the nose ends on that line. And then you draw another line between the nose and the bottom of the oval. And that is where the mouth goes. So the lines help you to learn how to place things on the face. Of course, everyone’s face is different.” Wendy proceeded to draw another oval, and she went step-by-step through the process again, demonstrating the process while she was talking. To illustrate how the artist can exercise creative license, Wendy drew the second face with a Mohawk stripe of hair.
She then placed a marker in Jason’s hand, and encouraged him to try. Jason’s first attempt looked like a crescent moon. On his second attempt, Jason drew an oval, followed by two lines, eyes, and a nose. Repeatedly, Wendy affirmed Jason’s vision and abilities. “This second face is a hallmark moment. And the more you do this, the better you will get Jason.” She went on to demonstrate how to draw the human eye, from the contours of the iris to the pupil. “You might try thinking of a football when you are drawing an eye,”
Wendy shared and then drew the upper lip as a capital M and the bottom lip as a fat letter U. “Of course, we will have to figure out how to draw an angry mouth that is laughing. Perhaps we can collaborate on that?” asked Wendy. “You seem like you really dig my idea of trying to draw someone laughing in the face of anger,” Jason shared. Wendy exclaimed, “Of course, your imagination is just going crazy – I love it!”
Passion Works is a learning laboratory in which staff and client artists alike explore new genres of art and develop skills using different mediums and techniques. Staff artists function as both teachers and collaborators, following the interests and desires of clients. Wendy affirmed Jason’s inclination to stretch his artistic horizon and drew on her own experiences to assist him through the process. Wendy used several heuristic devices, or rules of thumb, to help Jason learn to draw faces and torsos (e.g., dividing ovals three times). Such heuristics provide concrete starting points for how to accomplish an abstract learning principle (e.g., envision an eye by starting with the shape of a football). Wendy and Jason created an environment that fostered growth and renewal through experience-learning by doing.
The interactions between Wendy and Jason represent the experiential learning and creativity that is unfolding constantly at Passion Works. The goal is clearly to keep everyone moving, developing, and exercising their imaginations. This is accomplished with a constant eye toward capacity and creativity, rather than a focus on deficiency that so often characterizes modern education in our culture. Everyone in the studio is reminded that they are “unfinalizable” and capable of outgrowing where they are today. Artists are able to set the pace and open the windows to their next creative breakthrough or new direction. The instruction was a shared exploration into where a certain technique or idea might take them together.
Many client artists have spent a lifetime being reminded of their limitations. In the studio, those limitations represent and create monumental opportunities for unique creative expression. Both Wendy and Jason have the potential to unlock in each other something that never could happen without the involvement of the other. Their differences make that potential even greater, especially in an environment where you bring what you have to offer-creatively, pedagogically, or experientially-and let others taste of it and then run with it. Jason’s capacities and horizons grew this day in the studio, as did Wendy’s vision and experience of faces, Jason, and collaborative possibility.Lynn M. Harter, Ph.D., & Mark A. Leeman, A.B.D, School of Communication Studies, Ohio University, March 1st, 2006 Mark A. Leeman, A.B.DSchool of Communication Studies, Ohio University, March 1st, 2006 Dr. Lynn M. Harter (Ph.D., University of Nebraska) is an Assistant Professor in the School of Communication Studies at Ohio University. Her research and teaching interests focus on the discourses of health and healing and organizing processes, feminist and narrative theory and practice, and communication and social justice. She has published numerous articles in outlets including Management Communication Quarterly, The Journal of Applied Communication Research, Health Communication, and Qualitative Health Research, and serves on multiple inter-disciplinary and disciplinary editorial boards. She lives in Athens, Ohio, with husband Scott and daughter Emma Grace.