I was a freshman in Oil Painting 101, taught by Sheila Cherni at Sheridan College in 1988. Most of us were beginners, and a few experienced artists were auditing the class.
Right from the start, an older student was clearly our “class artist.” We were in awe of the ease with which she could accomplish what the teacher was asking. The funny thing was, I soon realized, she didn’t actually do anything the teacher asked. When we were encouraged to stand so we could back away from the painting and check its progress often, this woman said, “I’ve never stood; I always sit.” If asked to use a certain color, she might say, “I don’t like that color, I always use this one instead.” Whether it was brushes, ranges or techniques to render light or shadow, she refused to stray from her own methods.
I started to wonder why she was taking the class if she wasn’t interested in trying anything new, but I got into learning and forgot she was sitting there, doing her own thing week after week.
During the months that followed, most of us heeded our instructor’s advice as we accomplished several still life paintings. Every new lesson opened a door to further learning and ideas, transforming us from a class of individuals to a community. With practice, we improved as painters, but the woman whose work was so admired at the beginning of the class did not improve. Her paintings, in comparison to the rest of the class members’, seemed less and less remarkable as the semester passed. Her strict adherence to her own way of doing things left her work stagnant.
The older I get, the more I see how easy it is to get…
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