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How Indian art teachers are different from their American counterparts? Blog 5

How Indian art teachers are different from their American counterparts?(Part 2 of 3)

(Note: As I said earlier, the blogs in this series of 3 are based on my limited exposure to the world of art and interaction with teachers in the two countries. I admit it does not represent the universe and someone else’s perspective could be far from what I have narrated here. Use of “She” is just to avoid mentioning both the genders)

In earlier Blog (Part 1 of 2 dated July 9) I had compared the teaching styles of American and Indian art teachers with regard to the “Supply list”, “Specifications of supplies”, and “Explaining the technique”. After the Blog was published I received responses from several readers. They all agreed with my observations, although I was hoping that some would come forward to present another point of view.

In this Blog (Part 2/3) I shall narrate my observations under the following topics:

4. Critiquing the works 5. Demonstrating 6. Explaining while demonstrating

4. Critiquing the works

My teacher in the US would always start the 3-hour class with a Critiquing session. All the students would place their works side by side against a wall. These would be the works they did partly in the previous class and later at home. Each work would be discussed among the students who would say what they like or dislike about the work from their perspective. They would say what should have been done or should now be done to improve the painting. The teacher would pitch in from time to time giving her views. In about 30 minutes or so, every one and the teacher would have critiqued all the works. The exercise would throw up ideas before the student whose work is being critiqued. She would get other persons’ views rather than just getting blindfolded with her own views only. She can then decide whether she would like to make alterations in her approach or stick to her own ideas.

In my view there is lot of merit in this Critiquing session. The formal discussion on a painting brings out many interesting points that lead to mutual learning. The students learn how to critically observe a painting, and how to speak about a painting. Their glossary and expressions improve. The whole exercise imparts art education in my view.

In my experience in India I did not come across the practice of Critiquing the works in a group. The interaction has been limited to between the teacher and the individual student. It is another matter though that some students do take a peek at another student’s work. But there is no constructive and formal interaction. The students in India are missing out on great learning opportunity that is easily available if only the teachers include a Critiquing session in their teaching.

Recently I organized two 3-day Watercolor workshops in Delhi. I included Critiquing sessions in these. These were well received by the participants.

The picture below is of a Critiquing session in artist Sankar Thakur’s workshop that I had organized some months ago.

5. Demonstrating

After the Critiquing session, my teacher in the US would start her Demonstration that would last an hour or so. I think Demonstration by the teacher is an essential part of art teaching, and in the US the practice is followed quite regularly. In my experience in India,the teachers here hesitate to demonstrate. One reason is that there is lack of focus on what to teach. The content for the class is neither concrete nor explained. The other reason is that the teacher is herself not confident of demonstrating. The third (I hope not) is that the teacher does not want to share. Without Demonstration by the teacher, the class remains a casual, unstructured affair in which the student does not get to see how an experienced painter paints. The student forms and struggles with her own notions that lead to incorrect techniques and habits. For example it is impossible to teach stretching of paper, color mixing, playing with different wetness of paper & paint dilutions, applying washes, making watercolor dance on the paper etc. just by verbalizing. In fact, many teachers don’t even verbalize. They are shy (just that?) of expressing and they leave everything to the student. It was only because of the Demonstrations, that I learnt that the board for Watercolor painting is rarely horizontal. I always thought watercolor should not be allowed to flow down due to gravity. What a revelation, at least to me! Even simple things like how to organize the palette, how to clean the brushes, for how long to use the electric dryer to prepare for the next layer etc. can be easily conveyed thru demonstrations.

Demonstrations bring out subtle nuances of techniques that can never be explained adequately by words.

Demonstration by Julie Cohn, the American Watercolor teacher

Demonstration by MilindMulick , the Indian Watercolor teacher

No words can explain the workplace organization for airbrush painting like seeing it in a demonstration in a teaching session in the US like the one below.

6. Explaining while demonstrating

In my view, a Demonstration by the teacher is not effective enough if it is not accompanied by a commentary by the teacher explaining why she is doing what. My teacher in the US would explain what the strength of the paint at that moment is and what is the wetness of the paper, and for what reason. She would speak why she was spraying water on the wet Watercolor and what would happen if she did not. She would explain why she dabbed the brush twice or four times on the sponge. She would explain why she was using Bamboo Green and not Sap Green, and how she was obtaining the black in Watercolor without using the opaque Ivory Black from the tube. She would explain how she was neutralizing the colors instead of using pure colors all the time. She would explain why there was no need to worry when the paint was dripping and how the feature could be used effectively. She would explain that the shine on the paper indicates wetness and its degree. How and why to remove the bead of water at the bottom of the paint area?

Teachers in India do not verbalize enough with the result that the students come out of the teaching session clueless on many observations or they even miss out observing many important actions of the teacher. In the workshops that I organized, I hinted verbalization but with little success. One view expressed by a teacher was that let the students guess and learn, instead of being spoon-fed. I did not quite agree with that approach though.

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