A New Kind of Class

This past Saturday, I stepped into a new kind of class–one I’ve wanted to teach for a long time. Immediate disclaimer: you may not want to teach this kind of class or take it. That’s fine. I’m not trying to persuade anyone; I’m just happy I found the way I want to teach.

monotreeConcept:    I want to teach explorers and experimenters. People who want to try, discover, mess up and learn, without needing to walk away with a finished project.

Instead of:  Many classes today are based on the American business model of “follow an example, do it just like the sample, and do it before close of business.” in other words, emphasis on perfection and speed.

There are advantages to doing this–the instructor brings in a kit or pieces already cut out and bagged. Participants follow instructions and walk away with a piece they can give as a gift.

The problem with this is that it has nothing to do with creativity. It has to do with following instructions and small motor control in assembly. The other problem, of course, is that when the confused student, thinking the project is original art, submits it to a show. The instructor is angry. After all, it’s the instructor’s design, concept, and “all the student did was put it together.” I’ve seen that complaint on many instructors’ websites.

Nothing of that is interesting to me. And I know most classes today are taught that way. And many people enjoy it.

Advantage of Experimental Classes: Participants have permission to play, to create (in the best sense of the world) and to really learn. Because I’m there to demo techniques, make suggestions, and help on the discovery step when something goes wrong, the participants learns a skill, along with problem solving and self-confidence. The resulting curiosity and joy in discovery is the basis of a living a creative life.

Disadvantages of Experimental Classes: Participants don’t walk away with a completed project. Participants have to ask for help; I don’t pace the classroom looking to give advice.

Why It’s Important: I believe in creativity and living a creative life. I don’t believe in fixing people or giving advice. I think the joy of discovery is a vital part of creativity, and the accidental discovery is magical. I want to create a classroom where that is possible. And probable.

The risk: It’s not for everyone. It’s for people who are curious about living a creative life as a soul growing processes. My classes may not make, I may teach a lot of small classes. And discovery classes are harder to prepare for. I have to bring a lot more equipment, tools, and paper to share. It is easier to bring a sample and kits, which is why so many people default to a project class.

As a creativity coach, I believe that everything in life is connected in some way, and that a big part of creativity is pattern recognition that helps us change our life and re-invent ourselves. Through creative exploration. In order to be authentically me–coach, writer, instructor, creative soul–I’m best suited to teach the way I live.

The class I taught this past weekend really fueled my delight in this way of teaching. Experiments were inventive, a few mistakes taught something more important (paper is cheap!), and anyone who asked a question got an answer. A participant was also a teacher and artist, and did an inventive demo I described. Everyone learned as much as they wanted. I think everyone left excited to try out more.

My wish is that the creative soul and exploration movement is just beginning. I’m ready for it. Want to join in?

Quinn McDonald is teaching experimental classes in Tucson (November 17), at the Minnealpolis Book Arts Center (April 2014) and at Madeline Island (June, 2014) Her book comes out in December. It’s going to be a busy 2014!






30 thoughts on “A New Kind of Class

  1. Hi Quinn, this post really make me think about the creative way and my own development in teaching. I teach the’regular’ way although I always try to challenge people to put their own ideas, colour and creativity into an art piece but most of the time they only want to ‘follow’ my idea/example. I am very attracted towards this creative way you are talking about because I am also attracted to blend creativity with things like visualization/meditation/dance and other mediums to get people in touch with themselves and their creativity.
    But to go back to a starting point in a more ‘regular’ class…where do you start? Do you bring all the materials and just let people start wherever they want or is there a focal point or an idea of any kind?
    Hope I am making sense…….in my school English…….

    creative greet from Holland,

    • I bring a ton of stuff, but no kits. I ask them to bring tools and paints, and some papers. Because some people won’t buy expensive paper, I do bring different papers so everyone will have some paper that I know will work for them. But rather than make kits, I just load up on extra supplies. I then demo using (for example) Payne’s Gray. I then say that you can use other colors and get other effects. They then try the technique with different colors. Then I show them what happens on black paper with white paint. Totally different result, and everyone wants to try that. At that point, questions start–what happens if I do X or Y? I let them try. I stop nothing as long as its safe. All sorts of stuff happens thats fun. Few disasters. People have fun. Meaning is made. Life is good.

  2. This is precisely my teaching model, Quinn. I encourage creativity, and support the student in reaching and stretching. I circle the class endlessly, getting to know each student at their visual level so that I can help her problem solve with elements of art (not pychotherapy 😉 This is the way I’ve always taught from 6 years olds to 90 year olds. I simply see it as teaching art.

  3. You are so right about some teachers being threatened by someone who wants to apply something differently. My Mom and I took a quilting class and asked about a specific technique that was being demoed. When we decided that we didn’t want to use it exactly that way the teacher said “Well why do you ask for my advice if you don’t want to follow it?” and refused to engage with us at all after that.

  4. Just did a week-long workshop like this at the start of October . . . two people left early disturbed by the ‘lack of structure’ all the rest blossomed — definitely what the world needs, a true unfolding of creative process!!! Yay for all of us taking this risk — the ripples will be tremendous!

  5. OMG, I so love your idea for the class, Quinn. Even in good classes that I’ve taken with good teachers, so much time is spent rushing to keep up and to produce the ‘finished product.’ I’d much rather be in an environment such as you envision for the class. Much more important to play and experiment than to walk away with a finished product.

  6. Bravo, Quinn! This is the way that I’ve been teaching my classes for a long time. I disguise creativity classes via a project and then encourage students to interpret the ideas in the way that works best for them. I also encourage them that when they go home to revisit the work and see what they can add to it using their own materials at home. Perhaps make copies of what they’ve done and revisit it that way as well. It can be difficult at some times but when folks get it, they truly appreciate it. I love seeing the light bulb go off. It’s a great feeling to bring so many different materials and ideas to the table and to encourage folks that there is never just one way of doing something, only multiple ways of arriving at whatever their solution might be. It’s all about how you are seeing and unfolding at that moment in time. I love the way that you are approaching it as well. Kudos to you in your new journey!
    (btw, the teachings of Corita Kent were a big inspiration in how I conduct my classes.)

  7. Hello Quinn…Loved the message today; this rang so true with my historical story of teaching embroidery and textile techniques across the US and Canada. Folks wanted projects – so I designed wonderful, imaginative, creative pieces that explored using different materials and techniques. My classes were a huge and very successful operation for many years…then my muse went into rebellion…I wanted to create to create and not be limited by including in a design only stitches that would combine to make a “good workshop class”. A form of burn out as an exhibiting artist whose muse was totally exhausted with this “making trophy pieces” artist lifestyle. I went on a long vacation…stayed with designing costumes for stage and movies and doing a “retirement income” job for 15 years…Now retired my studio is unfolding as I sort, sift and let go of things that are not useful to my process today. The room is beginning to call me, I am sketching again, designing organically and feel the energy of excitement returning for the creation of textile works that explore and expand my world. I know that some of my students went on to explore on their own and yet that phase in my story taught me the importance of sharing excitement and concept with others; designing projects is not a road I will ever again travel.

  8. Quinn, you are the kind of teacher we all need (imho) – encouraging, inspiring, opening doors for each individual to reach their *own* potential.

  9. I like to have more of the experimental classes than the project classes going on, but a lot of people really do want to go home with a finished project at the end of the day….even if it looks just like somebody elses.

    • Yes, the traditional way has a lot of followers, which is why this way isn’t popular–it requires change, a new way of thinking, and a lot more stuff to be brought into class. Several places where I used to teach don’t like the approach, and asked me to stop teaching. A few places, however, read the evaluations, and have invited me back. It’s about finding your niche. And niches are often small.

  10. I love it Quinn! I am not the best at following someone else’s direction in a reative situation, and since I am relocating to Dallas, this may be a chance to break with tradition… Can I apply your idea?? And I love the comment about a makers space!

  11. Quinn, this sounds wonderful! I am a late creative bloomer & aspiring art teacher, in whatever form that may take. I’ve had conventional jobs in social work fields and it has never been for me. Now that I am looking to be an art teacher of some sort, I am not looking for the conventional version of art either. Your class sparks light in me- I know what I like when I come across it! I’d love to read more in depth about this … perhaps a new book topic???

  12. Hi Quinn. I love this idea. I think that this is something many would like to do. I would suggest showing examples of finished art for ideas of how to use the techniques. What do you think?

    • Yes, absolutely, showing finished ideas AFTER the technique has been taught is good. But not for comparison or “this is what you should be doing.” I often show works in progress to lessen the competitive comparison feeling.

Join the conversation

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.