I recently taught a six-week abstract painting class. I don’t know why I didn’t say anything here. Maybe because it was such a new experience for me. I’ve never taught nor been taught about abstract painting. That doesn’t mean I’m not qualified to teach it but that I needed to figure out how to teach it. I’ve been working in abstraction for fifty years. It was a commitment I made long before I went to art school. Non-representational painting just feels right to me. But I had to learn about it on my own.
My education in art school was not representational but process oriented, with objects for reference. Now, if you understand that, you can paint abstract! To translate, we studied how to create form with color (or marks of color) and the form includes the space the objects live in. I hope that makes sense. It is a difficult concept for young painters to understand. I’ve tried to teach the way I was taught but rarely find a willing student. It took me two months of struggle in art school to even begin to understand this way of working. So I thought abstract painting would be a more enjoyable subject for me to teach since it is my main preoccupation. It’s something I know a lot about now, after so many years of painting.
In the class I gave them lots of exercises that were taken from ways in which I approach a piece of artwork. There were times when various students expressed frustration with the exercises, with abstraction, with their work, my teaching methods. But in the fifth class, suddenly everyone in the class got it. A very thrilling moment for all of us. I felt I could eat the excitement in the room with a spoon. I plan to teach the class again in the fall, with a few changes, additions, and this time I’ll know it can be done.