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Teaching and Art-Making: Classical Education Paints A Door to the Past

By January 29, 2019November 18th, 2019Italy, Architecture, Painting, Teaching
oil painting of medieval Italian archway by Michelle Arnold Paine

City Passage, Oil on Canvas, 10″ x 10″ ©Michelle Arnold Paine


Teaching and Art-Making.

Teaching and Art-Making: Classical Education Paints A Door to the Past. Recent paintings and a return to teaching serve as a reminder of the past and point towards the future. Artist Michelle Arnold Paine Reflects on how teaching and art-making interact as she returns to teaching but in a new environment.  

Thresholds were a theme of my grad school work that I left behind for a time. But it is definitely back in these new paintings: the idea of a threshold is rich in imagery. At this moment in my life  I am seeing the theme of “threshold” in my own life as I discern a return to teaching art: Where, how, how much and to whom?

Bridge into Light, Oil on Canvas, 16″ x 12″, ©Michelle Arnold Paine

Do you see the light around the bend? Just walk a little further…

I taught for a long time when we lived in Massachusetts: eight years teaching Painting, Drawing, Color and Design and Art History as adjunct faculty at Boston area colleges as well as Adult Education classes at the Danforth Museum of Art. I haven’t written about it much over the years: I was too busy doing it to write! Teaching uses the verbal part of my brain to its max, and I find that I don’t have many words left over after sharing them in the classroom.

Since we moved to Ohio three years ago I have not been teaching (other than that all important skill “Use your SPOON please” to my children). Not teaching has been a blessing while my kids are small and I have worked to find my own voice in painting again. I have wondered though, what, if any, place teaching holds in my future.

Benefits to Teaching  as an Artist

In addition to income, teaching provides an important social outlet in contrast to solitary studio work. Teaching  also challenges me to articulate what I know and forces me to hone my own artistic skills. For example, teaching Figure Drawing six hours a week for three years was essential to building the drawing skills which I now utilize weekly in my gallery work.

After much discernment, last summer I crossed a threshold. First, I reentered teaching. I crossed another threshold as well: I began teaching younger students (Middle School and High School) for the first time, in a classical education homeschool coop. One reason I chose the Classical Homeschool Co-op was to have the opportunity to center my curriculum around the history curriculum and in a Catholic context. It provides me a focal point in the classroom and the connectedness I longed for in my own education.

Classical Education: Return to the Past, near and distant

Many years ago in high school I dreamed of a school where history, art, and literature were taught in tandem.  As a junior in high school I prepared a curriculum for a Seminar class project in which the the humanities would feed each other to form an experience of unity of knowledge. My high-school-Junior vision was essentially a classical model of education.

This opportunity to teach in the classical homeschool co-op appeared last summer in the same month that my high school teacher Dr. James Langlas (who taught the Seminar class) suddenly passed away in a tragic accident. Mourning his loss with others in my class renewed the memory of how much he had taught me. He experienced teaching almost as a mystical experience. Not long before his sudden death he told my classmate, award-winning writer Bonnie Nadzam, that he didn’t care much about publishing, for him there was “only the universe and the classroom.”  I felt that by teaching and participating in classical education I was somehow able to return to some desire for integration and unity that had been neglected along the way.

oil painting by Michelle Arnold Paine of Italian medieval city gate archway

Uphill Gate: Into the City, Oil on Canvas, 16″ x 12″ ©Michelle Arnold Paine

Now I wonder: where is this going? Where will this experience lead me to next and what will it develop into in my life? I feel like I’m looking through one of my paintings, like I’m on a path to something but not certain of where or what precisely the destination is.

Painting the Future

So these new paintings, layered and scraped and re-layered, are about my appreciation of the past, far and near. They reflect upon my experiences in Italy, as I discussed in this blog post. They are also my vision of the future, a meditation on the meandering road to get to that place-envisioned-but-not-yet-seen.

Life is always like that: meandering. Sometimes we make a decision to turn down a side street, following our gut, and have to navigate through, following the light and that little voice (not Siri!) That says, “it’s over this way…’

Are their moments in your life where you feel like it is all still to discover?