Monday, August 16, 2010
Since the age of 16 when I dropped out of high school, I've come to rely on teaching myself what I need to or want to know. Years ago when I started making jewelry, I was very hesitant to take classes or workshops because I didn't want to be so influenced by a particular teacher/artist that I would end up producing clones of their work. Most of how I learned was through looking at images of other artists work, deconstructing their technique and then applying it in my own way. I might "copy" a design one time to understand its structure or form, but would always just add that technique to my overall design vocabulary.
In the end, I did decide to take a few workshops by a couple of very well know artists to see what they had to offer. One of these artists was a woman by the name of Arline Fisch- who would turn out to be one of the most influential teachers I would ever meet.
Arline Fisch is a pioneer with regards to making jewelry and sculpture by using methods that one would usually think of using with yarn or fiber. She in fact, wrote the book on the subject, Textile Techniques in Metal. She would use various weaving, knitting, and wrapping techniques with wire and metal in ways that were to me, indicative of the direction I was heading. I loved weaving with metal and I just HAD to take a class with Arline when she was in the area and hopefully learn some useful techniques that would help propel my work to the next level.
This was a two-day workshop and the way she started it was by showing a slide show retrospective of her work and also work by her students. It was a way for us to see ahead of time, the possibilities for how we could apply the techniques she was about to show us. I could have sat there for a hundred years watching those slides and listening to her describe them. Sigh....
She then proceeded to teach us some extremely basic weaving techniques. Very simple techniques indeed, but a little bit more challenging when you are using strips of metal or wire to fabricate them.
Arline's teaching style was phenomenal. She was 75 when I took her class in 2006 and she had the warmth and patience of your favorite aunt. She would show things over and over again- never criticizing mistakes but instead offering helpful suggestions for how to improve. When I messed up one of the exercises she was teaching, a zig-zag pattern (middle bottom silver piece) rather than rip it apart or start again I worked through my errors and made a pretty silvery bird. She loved it and applauded my efforts.
But probably the most important thing I learned from her was to not place restrictions on your students - as in, "You have to do it like this or it won't work." She was meticulous in teaching the techniques in that she anticipated most every variant of every question that could be asked, but when people asked about using variations on a theme she was teaching, such as using an 18 gauge wire rather than a 22 gauge, her answer was almost always the same, "You should try that!" Unless there was a significant reason for not encouraging someone to take what she was teaching and expanding upon it, (such as, using wire that thick could cause physical injury when trying to twist it without assistance) she always did. overall, I'd say she placed NO restrictions on our creativity and since I had experienced teachers in my life that did, to this day when I think about her I send her mental hugs for being such an influential teacher. Not everyone who can do, can teach. Arline can definitely teach.
There was no specific "final" project for us to complete in that class and I thought that was such a smart idea. I loved that we walked away armed with a pile of technique to use at our will. She gave us handouts - clear instructions for later, (if we needed them) and we went on our merry way.
It was literally only a few months after taking her classes that I stopped making jewelry. I have since reproduced some of those weaves with paper, but I've moved on. 3-4 years later when teaching my personal growth workshop, "Mandala: An Artful Meditation" I remember her words loud and clear. I see no mistakes when I look at my students creations, only personal expression and opportunity for discovery. I found that the best way to cultivate a new love for creating art is by letting it grow wild.
Weaving exercises from Arline Fisch's workshop.
One of my old woven pieces of jewelry. Antiqued copper wire over a Unikite donut.