Why Do You Take Classes?

In the week since I wrote about the Map Play class I took with Valerie Goodwin, I read two posts about art classes. The first by Jane Davies responds to a student’s comments that she wanted to play and have fun at a workshop and then had a meltdown when she was asked to dig deeper.

From Jane Davies’ blog.

Making art IS about play and it IS fun, but that is not all it is, usually. If you are always playing and having fun, with no angst or frustration, and you are also generating images that really speak to you, that you find compelling, then that is just GREAT! Congratulations. Most of us also have moments of frustration and occasional meltdowns or at least self-doubt. Learning how to navigate these skillfully is part of the process.

The second, Chris’ Quilting Universe post, Am I Addicted to Taking Classes?, reviews all the quilt related classes Chris has taken and the work that resulted from them. She has taken a wide variety of classes, ranging from year long master classes to online multi-lessons to one shot workshops.

Do you take classes to learn a process or leave with a product? Do you want to learn to make art like that made by the instructor? Do you want a two hour class at a quilt show or a five day immersive course? Do you want a deep dive into one teacher’s methods or a potpourri of many teachers’ approaches?

A further permutation is in-person versus online classes, and a distinction between live online and prerecorded. An additional nuance with any online class is the amount of interaction possible with the teacher and other students. I have taken classes where I had access to videos with no interaction, to videos with a class blog, and to videos with some sort of proprietary discussion forum. Some classes use Facebook.

These are very different animals, and I believe one’s expectations should reflect the differences. For example, I took a three hour Zoom class on sewing paper collage with David Owen Hastings. I learned a well explained technique that required a minimal amount of supplies. All interactions occurred during the class, with no subsequent followup.

I love using the curved bits from monoprints.

I also took Elizabeth Barton’s year long master class that required a deep commitment to developing designs and executing them each month. While the students could and did comment on each others work, the main focus of the class was improving our designs through Elizabeth’s critiques, which were copious. Each month we developed sketches in response to a theme, chose one to turn into a quilt, and then made the quilt.

“Mean Streets” was made in Elizabeth Barton’s master class

Right now I’m taking a year long set of mixed media classes called Wanderlust. The classes are loosely organized around basic art supplies like gesso, acrylic paint, modeling paste, etc., but each instructor pretty much presents her own thing. (I have yet to see a male instructor.) While I have learned a lot about materials and techniques, I find some of the instruction to be overly focused on “playing and having fun” and what I call greeting card art. To me the missing element is learning to evaluate your work. With so many instructors and students, comments on anyone’s work is pretty much limited to “great,” “nice,” “how sweet,” etc. It’s hit or miss whether the instructor comments on student work.

“An Octopus’ Garden” made for a modeling paste segment of Wanderlust

Such an approach is great if your goal is to play. I have to say I had hoped for less overlap of techniques and more building on previous techniques. Again, that’s probably not doable with so many instructors. I have learned there are as many ways to glue paper as there are teachers.

This week I’ve reflected on all the quilt/art related classes I’ve taken thanks to Jane and Chris, and decided that the ones I benefited most from were process related, with a critique/feedback component. The absolute worst class I ever took was on paper and cloth marbling. All the students shared one container for marbling and we were to take turns. Let’s just say there were some interpersonal issues. I figured the two fat quarters I marbled cost $25 each, and they were ugly. I won’t try to name the best class I ever took as there are too many candidates.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with art classes, both in person and online. Do you have any recommendations for outstanding classes/teachers?


Filed under Art quilts, collage, Commentary, mixed media, Techniques

12 responses to “Why Do You Take Classes?

  1. I have always taken classes for either of two reasons: learn a new process or reserve time for MYSELF to play with like-minded people. I much prefer in-person classes, though pricey is a consideration now. I’ve had good and bad with both in-person and zoom. And those supply lists are important, if only so that the teacher can present the lesson in a clear and unified manner. I’ve been on both student and teacher side and it’s so much harder to teach on zoom that I declined to learn it! I need the people. My belief is that you learn from every class, even the bad ones!

  2. Nina-Marie Sayre

    Me! Me!! I’m addicted to classes. I always want to know more and commune with my people. I’ve taken national classes for over 20 years and it’s been life changing. How else was I going to get out of my little piece of white bread America. I’m so thankful to my teachers and my classmates.

    • I have always enjoyed your posts about classes you have taken. You point out what I see as the chief advantage of in person classes- the chance to commune with your people.

      • Nina-Marie Sayre

        I do want to say – something I don’t on my blog – that I really don’t like Zoom classes or online classes in general. The energy isn’t the same and I miss learning from my fellow classmates like when you take them in person. I get a feeling of disconnect. Some online classes are now as pricey as in person classes and for me the two experiences don’t compare. I want to say that I have a habit of saving a bit every week yearly for weeks away at classes and it makes the it much more affordable that way!

      • The multi day immersive in person courses are the Cadillac of classes. I have taken a few and enjoyed all aspects of them – teachers, other students, good meals, great locations, etc. But for me, except for QSDS, which is held in Columbus OH, getting to them either involves a long car trip or flying. The latter adds to the cost, which is already usually over $1200 for class/room/meals. You are fortunate to have a spouse who is interested in taking classes at the same places you attend. While the cost of online classes may approach that of in person ones, the extras for in person classes add up. Also, I think an outgoing person (and you seem to be one) enjoys meeting all those fellow students, but an introvert may be overwhelmed by 5 days of strangers. I’ve seen such people at some courses I’ve attended, and they are hard to draw out of their shell.

  3. Other than a few years of Continuing Ed. I haven’t taken in person classes. As a teacher I would have love to have read your words and those in the links (and the comments) years ago; They would help a teacher be a better teacher. Thanks for sharing this, I could relate to much of what was written, even as a teacher. Oh, and I loved seeing the art/quilts too.

    • I’m so glad you mention the teachers’ perspective. My feeling is many art/quilt instructors turned to video and Zoom only because they needed to find a way to continue teaching. Some took to it more than others. I don’t envy teachers who send out supply lists, only to have students show up with no awareness of the supplies needed. I saw that in the Map Play class, even though Valerie was specific about where to buy crinoline. I appreciate teachers who put in writing what supplies are essential and optional, and specifically what the class will cover.

  4. Beth H- I Have a Notion

    I take in-person classes, for both the instructor’s input and the energy of the other students in the class. I CANNOT bring myself to take courses online… or even to watch videos. They look and feel just like watching a bad tv show, and they are missing the energy. I am not saying all video/Zooms are bad, just that I do not like being tethered to a device. Not sure I would ever do another immersive class… again. I also only take technique classes, as I like to do my own thing… versus a pattern or prescribed project/outcome..

    • You seem to be in the process column for types of classes. I understand what you mean about the energy and interactions possible in in-person classes

      • My reply, continued, as I hit the send button when I meant to make a correction. However, the costs of in-person classes are high, especially if you go to a 5 day workshop like those at Empty Spools. Also, the class/teacher you want may not be on the circuit in the year you want them. I find I need the ability to review the lessons after the class, which video and some Zoom classes provide. Also, as I age, I find I’m simply unable to absorb a lot of new information after about 3-4 hours of a class. So I appreciate the ability to watch as much as I’m able to absorb at one time. Of course I miss seeing the work others are creating, though some Zoom teachers try to have students show their work.

  5. Thanks for your thoughts on classes. I recently took an in person class with Susan Cleveland, who is an excellent teacher of techniques. Her methods produce precise results.

    • You’re very welcome. From her website I see Susan indeed features precision in her teaching. I can see how her techniques could be game changing for a quilter in search of precision, but frustrated with results to date.

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