Bored? Then, let’s talk about what you want to talk about.

My students sketching at the Lily Pond at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.
My students sketching at the Lily Pond at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.

As an art teacher, it is important to me to meet each student where she or he is in their critical thinking, problem solving, hand-eye-coordination, ideation, and personal vision of style and voice. I don’t think it is helpful to start each student at point “x,” just because that seems to be the first step to many instructors.

It’s boring to be listening to someone talk about something you know nothing about and about which you presume you have no interest in. It’s boring if the speaker is talking way over your head, or if the subject is dumbed-down too much. We each want to be thinking about what WE want to be thinking about.

I remember my sister took great lengths to find a piano teacher who could teach her son piano from the point at which he wanted to start. He didn’t know scales or how to read music, and he was a little lad, but he wanted to start with the theme songs from James Bond movies. Most piano teachers found this idea preposterous. (That’s just not how it’s done!) But she found a gifted insightful teacher who worked with him and now he is a world-renown jazz musician. He wanted to start with what interested him.

An early photograph of mine of some farm kids and their new puppies. Each child is expressing his or her personality by the way she is holding the puppy. We should encourage each person to embrace her voice and core personality and feel free to speak out with it. (C) Jane M. Mason, Minneapolis, MN. 2010.
An early photograph of mine of some farm kids and their new puppies. Each child is expressing his or her personality by the way she or he is holding the puppy. We should encourage each person to embrace her core personality and voice, and feel free to speak out or act as feels natural. We should also create a society that honors these differences. This is acceptance and empathy. (C) Jane M. Mason, Minneapolis, MN. 2010.

Really, isn’t this when learning is the most fun? And the learner is often the most compelled to almost obsessively drive herself to dig deeper, to learn more? Think of kids and their fascination with dinosaurs. Or little tykes and their fixation on trucks and racecars. Or some kids with knowing every tiny detail of a Disney animated movie. We aren’t “forcing” kids to be interested in these things. They love them because they are cool, and maybe because they are massive and powerful, or visually and musically engaging. But it is the child’s own interest (generally) that pushes them to digest every single teeny detail.

And, as a teacher—ask any teacher—and some of the fun and the reward is learning from your students. So if you doggedly start at the proverbial “page 1,” and drag through until “The End” it may not be much fun for your students, and in addition, what have you learned?

Sketching with students at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Observing the light, shadows and the myriad greens in the garden.
Sketching with students at the Cleveland Botanical Garden. Observing the light, shadows and the myriad greens in the garden.

I ask students many questions. What are you seeing? What color is that? What shape is that? How is that shape different from this one? Did you look at the veins in the leaf? How would you describe them? What does the color of the sky tell you about time of day? What did you learn from today’s lesson?

By asking students to tell me what they are seeing, I can assess where they are. I can help enhance their powers of observation and inch them forward. Plus every time they explain what they are seeing, they challenge themselves to truly look, to find the words to describe what they are seeing, and (since they know I will ask) they compare it to something similar or very different—another tree, another shrub, a lighter color bloom, etc.

Today in the herb garden at the Cleveland Botanical Garden, I said, “This herb reminds me of Thanksgiving. Do you know what it is?” I pulled off a leaf and we each smelled it.

One student said, “This doesn’t smell like turkey.” And she was right. I said, “It’s sage. I love it and I use it for a lot of things, but it always reminds me of Thanksgiving.” She said, “Oh, it reminds me of quiche.” I was so tickled. Of course. We use it on quiche, too. To me that exchange added so much value in our stroll through a section of a garden. Instead of only announcing, “these are herbs,” and moving on, by stopping, pulling a leaf and smelling it, we each could correlate it to something in our memories, our own experiences.

Even the soft velvety feel of the leaf now will be linked for these students to those few moments we spent on a steamy summer day in July thinking about Thanksgiving turkey, sage, and quiche.

Close-up of a sage leaf.
Close-up of a sage leaf.

This really is about being in the moment. Teaching is a rich opportunity to be in the moment as you watch someone else absorb new concepts, new connections between ideas, new techniques, and a potentially different way of looking at things.

Life is about treasuring those moments. The now. Life is about stopping to smell the roses—and the sage!

So I was delighted when I snapped this photo of a few of my students from my summer art class for kids 9-14 years old. Each of their paintings is so different. Each of their paintings is a reflection of their own personality and energy. The differences in the paintings suggest their own styles, their selection of subject matter (although all “trees,” per the assignment).

Plus the energy, and “key” (lightness or darkness of the painting) were so perfectly aligned with each of their personalities. For example, subtly each painting actually matches the color harmony in the clothing that each child was wearing. To me this is a triumphant affirmation that I was allowing each student to speak with her or his own distinctive voice while completing the assignment—and expressing the artist inside themselves. This photo makes me very happy.

Tales from a watercolor painter and teacher while I am watching paint dry.

Jane M. Mason

About artinthecenter

I am a lifelong artist having studied painting, photography, drawing, and other media, in schools in the US and Italy. I won my first art contest when I was five--at a museum-- and my point of view tends to be as a five-year-old creative child embracing life. Check out all sort of artsy information at: and purchase my artwork at: +++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++ This policy is valid from 1 January 2016. This is a personal, educational, blog written and edited by me, Jane M. Mason. For questions about this blog, please contact: Sincere effort has been made to cite, recognize, and thank all sources of content, including images. If you feel we have included something in this blog that has not been accurately noted or recognized, please let me know and I will adjust the citation when presented with details. If you are interested in using intellectual property from this blog, please contact This blog does not accept cash or paid topic insertions. However, we will consider accepting free products and other forms of compensation. The compensation received will not influence content. All advertising is in the form of advertisements generated by a third party ad network. We do not have control over the products advertised. The views and opinions expressed are those of Jane M. Mason or the associates of WPD LLC. We only endorse products or services that we believe, based on our expertise, are worthy of such endorsement. Any product claim, statistic, other representation should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. This policy has been adapted from For your own policy, go to

2 Responses

  1. Enid Sratton

    Love to read all your posts. We have an abundance of artists of all kinds here in Arizona. I love to walk the shops in old town Scottsdale.

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