What have I learned from teaching a watercolor workshop in the high Andes in northern Ecuador for two weeks in June of this year? Most importantly, I have come to appreciate the value of looking outwards, of examining the world around me with interest and appreciation. As an artist with a lifetime of experience of being introspective and focused on expressing myself through my work, it is a revelation there is actually a world outside of myself. This understanding may seem obvious, but there is a qualitative difference between seeing in terms of how circumstances affect me and seeing myself as an effector of change in others.
Perhaps, this understanding was triggered by the way that we were welcomed by the people of Ecuador, particularly the indigenous Quechua People. These people had every reason to resent us as representatives us of the white man’s oppression of them. But they smiled on us as we joined them in celebration of the summer solstice, Inti Raymi. Or maybe it was the thoughtful programming of our experiences. And the landscape, it was like a dream, mystical and majestic at the same time. Something made me take notice in a way that was new and moving. I started seeing my role as an artist and as a teacher more as a giver and less as a taker.
Now, when I draw and paint, it is to point out the amazing integrity and fluidity of what is “out there”, not just my response to it. It is a new found respect that I feel incorporates my own work into the world around me. This is the interesting part, my own creations belong to the world “out there”. Even my most personal thoughts do not belong just to me. If I am to truly respect all creation, then I must also respect myself as a part of that creation. My work does not belong exclusively to me either. Whatever I make is in the domain of all humanity. It deserves to be respected because it is not mine alone.
To extend this line of thinking, each of us needs to look at his or her work objectively. Does our work communicate a sincere experience that is thoughtful and insightful? This is the core idea. Without the questioning and the caring for how what we do affects others, our work is of little value.
It is a challenge not to be deluded, to be aware of our weaknesses but also of our strengths. If I do not speak up and do not share these insights, I am shirking my responsibility as a teacher. Ultimately, our work succeeds only when it is fully supported by us.