22 thoughts


Thank you for the opportunity to reflect on your 22 theses. I felt very at home reading most of them and have therefore only commented where I felt our approach differed in some, perhaps interesting, way.

If I was to describe the points overall it would be to call them person-centred. Initially a counselling term, its use has widened into many areas which involve some personal interaction. For me its core components are:-

Empathy – the ability to put oneself in the other persons shoes (but, I was taught, also keeping ones own socks on).

Non-judgemental. So being open and accepting of the views of others and their lifestyle choices which may conflict with mine unless they are impacting negatively on those same aspects of someone else’s life.

Genuineness. That if our relationship is to be adult and helpful then you have a right to expect me to be open and honest with you in a productive, non- destructive way.

I think that it’s somewhere within this last one – genuineness -that my interest is piqued, so let me explore what it means to me and how I work and see where that takes us.

If I am counselling, coaching or teaching and someone says something, or presents some work, which I feel shows they are missing something important, or perhaps in some way is less that they are capable of, then if I am to be genuine as in the position I am in they have a right to expect that I will be, I have to decide when and how I am going to reflect that feeling back. I do that having put myself in their shoes and in an open non judgmental way. Possibly in the form of a question or an invitation to reflect on some aspect? Depending on the circumstances I may not do it there and then but for me I am letting the student/ client down if it doesn’t become something talked about at some stage, and if necessary pursued over time. Often they know it themselves and the by showing honesty and genuineness the relationship is made more solid.

Extrapolated to teaching art. Yes, begin by finding the positive but if your inner voice is struggling with some aspect then I think that it should be shared in a person centred way and for the benefit of the student not the tutor (so its not to prove I know more or have better artistic taste, its about me valuing and respecting you enough to share with you some thoughts or misgivings I may have, that may in turn, help you see things in a different way. The decision to adopt or decline the new perspective is always for the student to make whilst recognising (as they do) that at the end of the day the teacher marks, and in some way judges them in comparison to their peers or to some agreed external criteria which must always, to some degree, taint the pure person centred relationship.

Taking this perspective into your 22 theses, (I have left out those with which I entirely agree) I share the following:-

  1. Students should be accorded respect; teachers should earn it.

Both students and teachers should be accorded respect as a given in the relationship and teachers should always strive to be worthy of it.

  1. Any dialogue about work starts from what the student has actually made, assumes it is made with the best of intentions, finds what is good in it and proceeds from there.

Certainly always begin with what is good and proceed from there. There will be a positive intention from the student in presenting the work but teachers know that in some students the positive intention is to avoid some aspects of the work or perhaps to avoid a struggle to move on. I believe then that the role then is to encourage and also appropriately challenge. Other students usually know, for instance, that a student is trying to pass off a poor piece of work (because they have shared that with their peers) and a teacher risks losing respect if they don’t show in some way that they recognise this too.

  1. When we’re presented with a piece of work that seems banal, clichéd, badly executed, overly sentimental, gratuitously unpleasant, that makes our hackles rise, that seems like an affront to everything we value, it’s at that moment we should most entertain the possibility that we might be mistaken. This will be an occasion to identify some common first principles and to work slowly and carefully forwards from them.

Agreed. Looking again the counselling model, it’s a time to avoid being judgmental or defensive and try identify what is happening for you. Being open at this point can bring with it new learning or understanding for the teacher too. If necessary process your reaction after with a trusted colleague.

  1. The more the lines between student and teacher are blurred, the better.

I am far from sure about this. Its helpful, that as the teacher, you can bring a different perspective (and your wider knowledge) to open up the world for the student. But also, students are always alert to the fact that at the end of the day the teacher sets the task and standards and give the marks on which their futures depend. There is a power dynamic here which may not be helpful, but its there and to some degree reflects the world of work into which the student is to move.

  1. Any criteria based system of assessment of art is necessarily blind to what might make work great.

Yes, and yet that’s the world on which both teacher and student operate, and whilst the teacher is aware of this I’m less sure that the student is which must impact of some of the 22 principles.

  1. Teaching art is like shouting from one vessel to another in the middle of a force ten gale.

I don’t teach art and so I don’t recognise this, but applying my model and way of working, I feel have to ask why it feels like this and want to help to explore what might be done to change it.

  1. A refusal to be easily satisfied, a restlessness, a feeling of only-as-good-as-one’s-latest-work, the capacity to work flat-out; also, the grace to accept gifts, to know when no further work is necessary or when to grit one’s teeth and continue – in short, a mature artistic conscience – cannot be imposed but developed only from within.

Yes, but the evidence of that mature artistic conscience and its value, is modelled by the teacher and encouraged in the student by the teacher.

  1. The one thing you, and only you, can and have to know, or at least be prepared to bet on, is when and whether it’s any good. No-one else can tell you this (or even what ‘this’ means), though there are many siren voices in this matter.

…..and so a key role of art education is to encourage the development of that awareness through supportive, and appropriately honest feedback.

Keron Beattie  Former teacher, manager, counsellor, consultant and now (finally) art student