I have been busy all week with the annual painting workshop I teach each summer. The usual students were there along with three others who had never been part of the group. I believe I have done this for the last time, though I must admit I've felt this way before and gone on to repeat the experience the next year. This time, though, it seems more definite.
My experience with being a student in a workshop is that of an adoring descible of Betty Lou Schlemm. I went to her for one, two, or three weeks every summer in Rockport, Mass. for somewhere in the neighborhood of fifteen years. If I had to choose the most wonderful experiences of my life, it would be those workshops. For the first several times I headed for home in tears, devastated that it was over. Eventually I took my departure more stoically, but it was always a sad occasion. Now those weeks all blend together and I am flooded with memories without specific years. I see highway 128 north from Lynn, where I stayed with my childhood friend Lorraine, and the lush green trees that lined it, the signs that pointed to exits called Pride's Crossing, Wingarsheek Beach, then Gloucester and Rockport. The mere sight of the name filled me with excitement and unbearable anticipation.
Those were times punctuated by extreme happiness, extreme despair, pride, shame, and most of all, love. I still can feel the enormous outpouring of emotion that kept making my eyes fill up and my throat clench. The presence of the other students and Betty Lou herself made everything a thousand times bigger and better than it had ever been. The importance of art became all encompassing. Our other lives ceased to exist. We were among the most wonderful people we had ever known or would ever know, in the place that had to be the most beautiful on earth.
It is these memories that darken my perception of my own wokshops. How far short they fall of those blissful summers. How blase and uncommitted my students seem as they whisper and talk during my demonstrations, as they wander off to take pictures or get something to eat. I don't know whether to blame them or blame myself for not being able to capture their attention.
I think of the reverential way we hung on every word and move that Betty Lou made, how enraptured, almost worshipful, we were. No one would have dared breathe too loud for fear of breaking the spell. My students, by comparison, are not far from disrespectful and rude. Each year we became more enthralled rather than less so and our admiration kept growing beyond any boundary we could have imagined, whereas my students have become visibly bored with my lessons, anxious to get to their own work.
The comparison, which I can't help but make, leaves me feeling inadequate and irritable. Though I understand that Betty Lou has a certain magic about her that is unique, that I can never hope to acquire her teaching skills, I still feel that I deserve what I think of as common courtesy. The experience is unsettling and unpleasant. I like most of my students as individuals and our relationship as teacher and pupil puts a strain on feelings of friendship.
Anyway, I'm glad it's over for another year.