I love learning unexpected lessons. A few months ago I decided to try my hand at painting – something I hadn’t done in years but secretly hoped I could become decent at or at least enjoy, even if nothing was frame-worthy.
By the end of the day indeed I did learn something. But it wasn’t how to paint or enjoy the process. It was how NOT to teach a painting class… unless, of course, the goal is scare off creativity.
Unfortunately, people who come to me for writing retreats and workshops have had way too many of these experiences… and they thought it was normal. But no matter what the medium – painting, writing or juggling – the bones of how to create a successful learning experience are the same. And… how NOT to do it.
So, for all the creative teachers and students out there (and ultimately we are all both at one time or another), here is my list of the top five best practices.
- Don’t overpromise. In my painting class, which cost almost $400, we were promised a take home manual. Of course I imagined it would be a thick, juicy guide full of ideas on how to continue creating at home. It was 5 pages in a binder. One of these was blank for notes. None had to do with how to paint. (Hint: If you say you are going to deliver something… deliver it well.)
- Create safety. We creatives are sensitive souls. When our confidence and experience are low in an area, the quickest way to send us back into our shells is to blast what we’ve done over the loudspeakers. Metaphorically. At this painting workshop, I was picturing getting a tiny canvas and a private corner for dabbling. Instead, we all began with 3 by 5 foot canvases, almost as big as me, and they were all set up so we could view each other’s work throughout the day. (Hint: I ended up turning my painting away from the class. Do whatever you need to do to create safety for yourself, and speak up about your needs).
- Create agreements… and stick to them. One of the 5 pages in this binder were the agreements for the day. The teacher didn’t make time to go over them. But she did vocalize one rule – there would be no public feedback on our paintings. Guess what happened at the end of the day? As the whole group walked around the room, we were told to stand by our paintings, say an artist statement about our work… and then listen to feedback. (Hint: Use your power of refusal. I politely declined to comment on my work or get feedback)
- Give guidelines. We were told to just begin painting. That’s like throwing someone in the water and saying, just swim. So I stood in front of my painting having no idea where to begin. I finally started randomly slapping paint up there. I wasn’t enjoying it. At. All. When the teacher came around, her only advice was “stay with it.” With what? My breath? My emotions? My inner Picasso? There have to be enough instructions for people to spread their wings, but not so many that their flying feels cramped. (Hint: If the teacher falls through on adequate guidelines, don’t be afraid to ask. Or to leave. Or even to take a break, lie in the grass and look at the sky, which is what I did. It didn’t help my painting, but it did help ME.)
- Don’t compare yourself. Even when the class is billed as one for beginners… you never know who will show up. My painting looked like a monkey had been given a brush and a bunch of colors. Others looked like they might hang in a gallery after class. Comparison always leads to suffering. It’s almost in the definition. (Hint: We are all on our own creative journey, and if the teacher doesn’t speak to it, you need to keep reminding yourself. Your journey and work are worthy, no exceptions).
So if you’ve ever been in a writing, painting, or any other creative class that felt uncomfortable (beyond the healthy stretch you yourself set), give yourself the self-care you need and move on. Don’t shut down. Don’t decide not to ever ever ever (fill in the blank – write, paint, etc.) again. Realize the teacher may not have set the best parameters (of course, he/she is human, too) and love yourself enough to try again with someone else….
To ponder, journal or share on blog comments: What positive or negative experiences have you had with a creative workshop? Please comment here on the website.
Creating Powerful Writing Agreements
Story Circle Women’s Writing Conference
April 15-17, 2016
Do you ever find yourself vowing to… write more, be less perfectionistic, finally finish that novel, find a writing routine? In this workshop, we will create a list of powerful intentions that motivate us in our writing and our lives. These guidelines act as roadmap, coach, muse. To find the ones that deeply resonate for us, we will use writing prompts, guided visualizations and practical exercises. You will leave with a personal set of writing and creativity practices that energize you daily. For more information, go here: http://www.storycircle.org/Conference/program.shtml
Aging: A Journey of Hope
9:30 a.m. -12 noon on Saturday, June 25, 2016
As we age, new fears arise. Using a variety of creative exercises, we will explore what it means to free ourselves to thrive and come fully alive in the second half of life. For more information, go here: http://eremos.org/workshops/