Communion Of Dreams


A debacle.
July 20, 2010, 6:29 pm
Filed under: Art, Book Conservation

This is why I like to teach now and again. Because my students invariably school me.

This has been a great group of students: three high school students (one who just graduated) and a non-traditional (mid-20s, returning to school after solid work experience) college student who is assisting me in exchange for taking the class. All artists. All very smart, very talented in using their hands. They ask intelligent questions, are perfectly happy to redo small problems so that they correct their mistakes, and quickly grasp why we do the things we do. They have been excellent at following my instruction, understanding the models we have constructed, and creating some very nice books – with the result that we’ve gotten through more book structures than I ever have in such a class previously.

So, this morning, after finishing the last two examples I wanted them to do, I set forth the design criteria for them for their final independent books. We had an hour of class time, and I fully expected them to be able to think through the designs they wanted to construct, understand the structural issues which would be presented in trying to accomplish those designs, and tell me what they needed in terms of materials to translate those designs into completed books. Oh, sure, I expected that there would be problems that we would need to work through, but that was part of the whole lesson.

It was a debacle. A complete and total fiasco.

And this was the lesson for *me*: no matter how bright they are, no matter how good they are with the mechanical skills, no matter what their ability to understand design motif and execution . . . they just do not have the skills necessary to design, project, compensate, and complete a project given such a level of freedom (well, except for the assistant – he did exactly as I expected). I might as well have asked them to jump up on the roof of the art building.

Let me explain. People that age have many things. A fully-developed prefrontal cortex isn’t one of them. That usually doesn’t happen until the early 20s in most people, according to the best research available. They do not have the ability to completely understand all of their decisions and project their likely outcomes into the future (which explains a lot of late-teenage behavior.)

I hadn’t exactly forgotten this – I had been lured by their other skills into thinking that they were exempt. That’s akin to thinking that a 12 year old would understand what it was to be a parent because they were on the verge of puberty a little earlier than their peers.

So, once this eventually sunk into my own thick skull, I changed the plans for the class. I told them that tomorrow we’d go through and reconsider our initial designs, then construct a model out of practice materials which would allow us to work through any problems.

Sheesh – the things that it takes to teach me a lesson. Sometimes you’d think I was the one with the underdeveloped prefrontal cortex.

Jim Downey


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