I adore Seth. We’d talked on the phone, done podcasts, corresponded by email—but we had never met until this past autumn at Art is You in Stamford, Connecticut. And what’s really cool is that although I’d liked him a lot before I met him, he was even more wonderful in person. You know how sometimes you can think people are pretty groovy and then meet them In Real Life and realize, eh, maybe not so much? He’s the opposite of that, being, oh, indeed, that much and more. Kind, funny, energetic, generous, and way, way creative. He lives in Manhattan and has a day job, and although he’s been teaching locally, the last couple of years have been his introduction to big art retreats. I asked him to tell us what it’s like to be a part of that world, and here’s what he says:
One of the most compelling aspects of being an instructor on the circuit within the mixed media community is the opportunity to meet so many special people and to connect with the artists taking my classes. I have always found teaching to be as rewarding to me as I hope it is to my students. A big reason for this is the creative spark that is ignited when you gather a group of artistic individuals and say go.
Those of you who have been fortunate enough to attend an art retreat know that nowhere is this synergy as palpable and energizing as it is at one of these events.
I have come to learn that every retreat has its own personality that develops from the unique combination of the organizers, instructors, and attendees. One thing that every retreat has in common, however, is a certain energy that starts as soon as workshops are posted, continues during registration, builds as attendees create their trades and pack their supplies, and reaches a fever pitch when they enter the venue and see their people – hundreds of them – all of whom get you. There is a sense of freedom and abandonment that comes from this experience that is like no other.
These feelings are carried into the classroom and felt by the instructors as well. The excitement that is so obvious within the students always energizes and inspires me. It also leads me to an even greater sense of responsibility to teach in such a way as to equal the level of creative spirit in the students. I know that people have spent a great deal of money to be at a retreat and for many of them, sacrifices have been made to be able to be there. As such, I always aim to exceed expectations.
There is also something very valuable in having the opportunity to spend time with other instructors. This is generally not possible when you only teach at individual venues. These are often people who I have spent a great deal of time interacting with on the Internet. Being able to actually connect with them in person, and have a real conversation, can be quite powerful. We all share the common experience of the hard work and effort it takes to create, propose, prepare for, and teach a workshop. At the actual retreat we can network, share stories, support each other, and simply have a good time.
As an instructor, there can be challenges teaching at a retreat as well. Very often I teach multiple classes in the space of a very compressed time period. Prepping materials and making kits for so many students can be quite overwhelming in the days before the retreat. Teaching on back-to-back days, sometimes with two workshops in a day, can also be quite tiring.
The amazing energy that pervades a retreat can also cross over into being overwhelming. I always have the desire to spend time with everybody: the students, the other instructors, the retreat organizers, and all the people I have known online but never actually met in person. I have learned over time to make sure that I carve out down time in the midst of a retreat. This approach makes the up time better.
In all, teaching at retreats has been quite the exciting adventure and an experience that has been formative in my life as an artist. I know that when I leave a retreat, I typically am both energized and exhausted. Those of you who have felt that too know that there is no better feeling!
Seth is the author of The Pulse of Mixed Media and The Mixed-Media Artist. You can find out more about his adventures on his blog, The Altered Page.
Ricë is the author of Living the Creative Life, Creative Time and Space, and Destination Creativity. She also blogs at The Voodoo Cafe.
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