Since I'm asking my students some deep and probing questions I thought it's only fair that I go deep within myself - so here is my teaching statement, my teaching philosophy if you will, also here:
Art is transformational; I want to make you into an artist.
1. Art is art If art hasn’t transformed your life, even in a small quiet way, then it’s not art; it hasn’t fulfilled one of the functions of art (more on this later). If it hasn’t changed and shifted something deep and subtle in you, then it’s not art, it’s artisanal and/or craft or design. I’m not making a hierarchy (I’m married to a designer craftsman), I’m pointing out a subtle but fundamental difference. I love craft and the best artisanal pieces are also full of soul. Art is spirit and something else and absolutely unique, in a class of its own. This is what I want to transmit. Art has taught me as much as I’ve been making it all these years. Art has made me what I am and who I am. I want you to feel this same subtle yet profound shift within yourself when you start to realise the potentials of art. The more artists in the world, the better. There are many ways to be an artist. There are many functions of art.
2. The functions of art
One of the functions of art is its didactic role, in teaching and educating and guiding people. Its role has shifted slightly for our contemporary era but essentially this is still a part of art. I’m thinking through a lot of this for my PhD in art and the 1001 Nights. Storytelling is another function; magic and ritual are others. Transmitting what it means to be human and also teaching us how to live. I’m not teaching you how to live; I’m teaching you art so that your own art can teach you how to live. My art and I have our own unique relationship and I want you to experience your own with art too; it’ll do for you exactly what you need it to. Throughout my life art has always been there for me, it’s saved me when I needed saving and celebrated with me when I wanted to celebrate. It is the sidecar on the motorbike travelling constantly with me through the roadmap of my life. May your painting rise with you and your art always be at your back.
3. Where we begin
You can learn to paint. This is part of it. It’s not the whole picture but it’s where it starts. Circles, scribbles and smiling faces for children. In fact - the earliest human artefacts all contain painted images of ourselves - the human figure (which itself spawned a whole style - ‘figurative’! Go figure!). It’s such a deep part of our history as a species that, for me, it must have a function that goes beyond basic recording or informational purposes. We paint ourselves, we paint the world around us that we can see, we paint the world we can’t see. Miniature painting is at the same time a great mystery and a preserved jewel of a technique that I want to promote to greater prominence in the world. So it starts here, but it’s not the whole picture. Like its geographical heartlands situated in the crossroads between Europe and the rest of Asia, I’m starting at the heart and then I’ll expand outwards, West and East following the Silk Road to the two other great painting traditions of oil painting and Chinese painting, which have longer documented histories and are also more directly aligned with mood and spirit and much much more. The journey of 1001 paintings begins with a small miniature.
4. The 3 mediums
One became two, two became three, and three became ten thousand things. I’ll start with the water and water-based media. This is also the most accessible and perhaps familiar. When you start to paint with oils and the endless possibilities hidden in the layers you will never look back. It’s a medium that you can truly think as fast or as slow as you paint in, which is perhaps one reason for its enduring popularity. Oil paint was actually first used in the east, in Afghanistan, but it was western painters who took this medium and pushed it to its highest potential. We can do both things, we can do all the things, we can do hard things. The last phase of my vision of this teaching is Chinese painting, as the medium of ink flows like spirit itself. It’s miscible with water but it’s not quite water. Those are the 3 mediums I’m most familiar with too (I say ‘mediums’ as for me they are really also mediums in the spiritual sense; ‘media’ has connotations of mixed-media art which is something else). Along the way I’ll play too; there are other mediums such as egg and milk - casein paint - which I’m experimenting with myself. There is always room to play! I believe in working hard and playing hard too.
5. The 5 years
I’ve been teaching art since 2012. It started with the Elements series of courses where I broke down miniature painting into the 5 elements of Earth (Rocks - my first love in miniature painting), Art (Clouds - the direct influence of Chinese clouds and a chance to situate miniature painting in the continuum of the Silk Road), Water, Fire and Ether. I have also taught courses in the mysterious and fascinating Siyah Qalam style and in the art of marbling (which is an in-person course only due to the glorious mess). Together these offer a comprehensive overview of the book arts minus the calligraphy. My vision for continuing teaching is to teach broadly, widely, vastly for 5 years. This is where the Masterclasses in specific subjects come in. I’m at a stage in my life where I’ve done my 10,000 hours in painting and I’m now thinking very expansively and painting 1001 paintings.
6. Tiptoeing mastery
Join me in making loads and loads and loads of paintings! Quality comes after quantity. I have wasted a lot of paint myself. Not every piece you create will be a masterpiece and it’s not supposed to be; that’s why you keep painting, one after the other, 1001, not 1000. You keep going, one step after another, one story after another. The more you make, the fewer you chuck. I have thrown away, washed off, painted over, repurposed and burnt countless works, big and small. Now I find I keep most of what I make, which is why I’m painting 1001 of them. Mastery doesn’t come overnight and it doesn’t come in every single piece. It kind of creeps up on you and then once you’ve built up a body of work, you look back and think actually, that one is quite something! It’s more interesting to look over an oeuvre than a single piece from an artist. Look at the whole and keep thinking holistically.
7. Deepening commitment to the philosophy of fluidity
Every year I’d like to show selected student work as a celebration gift to you and milestone and record of the good memories of painting together in my Carpet Pages gallery in the desert. That’s why you need to keep making paintings and also to finish paintings! My relationship with you is important to me which is why I am only able to take on a small number of students; I have a lot of energy and yet it is not endless. Eventually, after I’m 40 and have given you sufficient vocabulary and grammar having painted the ten thousand things, I want to teach narrowly and deeply and mentor and guide you in creating your own sentences - your own art. When you choose the path of art you are choosing a lifelong commitment to a relationship that will forge you as much as you are creating it. It’s not for everyone and that’s good (I knew people who left art school to become firefighters for example, and we need both firefighters and artists). It might be for you if, like me, the greater mystery of why we are here is to wonder what’s around the corner and what’s next to paint and you feel increasingly that the world is fluid, not fixed, so the best vehicle to transmit this philosophy of fluidity is to use paint. To think artistically is as natural as breathing and there is always more.
I’m here and I’m ready for you at this stage in my life to take you through the next 5 years of intense rollercoaster hard work (no shit). I will build in play (I need it too).
Work hard and play hard!
And see you in the desert!