A Process of Self-Awareness

My Students at WSA
My Students at WSA

“One cannot expect to have influence unless, one can be influenced”. As I finish teaching this semester I can’t help thinking of this quote of Carl Jung. Teaching has not only allowed me the opportunity to relay my own views on art but has provided the rare opportunity to glean bits of wisdom from my students.

Teaching art is as abstract and as practical as it gets. One is called to be a keen observer before the model, noting the rhythm, anatomy, color, value and mood of the sitter. But one is also called to say what denotes a strong painting-that feeling for color and composition that signifies something unique, something that stands apart. This delving into these serious questions of what is the nature of a great work of art and how one goes down the path to pursue it is of the utmost importance. It is much easier to say that the sternocleiedomastoid muscle connects the head to the main body of the torso, providing a rhythmic link within the figure than to say this painting is calling for such and such a color because a feeling or intuition is leading me to sense this. The teacher needs to provide the link between these two paths of knowledge- a practical knowledge as well as a knowledge that must spring from within. In a sense, the artist-teacher needs to have the capacity to point the way down both paths.  And the student needs to acknowledge the paths and then find the route that is unique to their inner self.

This interaction between student and teacher is something that is no longer given its special status. In the past, one could only gain knowledge by coming under the apprenticeship of a master whether one was pursuing a specialized craft or philosophy. Today we read a lot. But this does not provide us with the connection we feel toward an individual where the interaction can be on an unspoken level. In the presence of a person,one can intuit more than one can say.  And what is unconscious can be given an opportunity to manifest itself.  It is this special feeling the teacher has for his or her student that allows for much of the passing on of knowledge. Many times when I was a student my mentor would intuit what I would need before I could even put it into words. He would automatically be able to present before me what was in my heart. This can only be achieved in an environment of trust and companionship.

But it is not only the student who benefits. In many ways the teacher, in the very process of relaying his or her own knowledge, comes to know themselves more intimately. When one is called upon to state “this is true”, then one comes to recognize the very road map one is on- it becomes conscious as in a mirror held before oneself. This consciousness can only benefit the teacher. But in this very act of recognition within the teacher, the student can gain insight into the creative act- the honesty with one’s self that is a necessary element of the pursuit.

In this intimate relationship between teacher and student, I have gained so many bits of wisdom from the combined experience of my students, experiences I could only have come upon through meeting and connecting with them. Their experience and insight become mine also. Creating is a struggle that takes place within and without. But it is in this struggle one comes to know oneself and the world more intimately. And when two minds meet at this intersection between knowledge and creation, one’s insight can be shared and affirmed, each joyful for this new clarity.

Author: Judith Reeve

For nearly 30 years I've developed my painting practice in the studio, building on what I leaned from my student days at the Lyme Academy of Fine Art. Along with my daily journey creating images which I write about here on this blog, I am also currently writing a book on the color practice of Robert Henri.

4 thoughts on “A Process of Self-Awareness”

  1. Hi, could you kindly provide the primary source for the Jung quote? And when do you find time to both paint and write so well? Thanks for the post. Will be frequenting your blog. 🙂

    1. Hi Terri, I found this quote on a poster at my child’s school. It may have come from his letters, as I have asked several people who are well read on Jung and it is not part of any of his major works. So I might look into his collected correspondence.

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