Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Teachers and guides

Teachers are great because they teach you new techniques, correct your mistakes and help you to improve your craft through pointed remarks.

Guides are a rare breed. They will inspire you. They will make a comment that nudges you in the right direction. They teach in a different way. They don’t need to be prescriptive because you admire what they do and you know they bring you something different.

Cacciatore a cavallo by Giambattista Tiepolo

In my twenties, I had a chance to meet briefly Wojtek Siudmak  who was the guest artist at an art show. He looked at my painting and told me I should try to paint more thinly and also study Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. I did both and improved my paintings.

Since then, I came across several instances of artists acting as guides to younger artists. For, instance, Françoise Gilot reports in her book “Life with Picasso” that the painter told her: “Meantime it wouldn’t do you any harm to study Cubism more in depth.” She took the advice on board and it helped her finding her own style.

Guides shape you in more subtle ways than teachers, helping you to figure out by yourself what you need. Herbie Hancock remembered in an interview how Miles Davis would use metaphors rather than give direct instruction. Miles would say things like: “You know sometimes you walk to the kerb and you get ready to step off – and then you step back and go another way.” Miles Davis also famously told the guitarist John McLaughlin: “Play the guitar like you don’t know how to play.”