Nothing To Teach, And No One To Teach It To.

Afternoon ChairAfternoon Chair The title of this post is attributed to Alan Watts who was an American philosopher and teacher of Zen Buddhism in the West. So what does it mean for a teacher to say, “I have nothing to teach you”? I think if a teacher teaches you nothing more than how they did something, the step-by-step approach that you then copy and get the same results, they have really taught you nothing at all. They have done you a disservice. A real and true teacher shows you things that are meant merely to be seeds, planted in your mind, and from which you are to grow creatively according to your own sensibilities. Any good teaching is a process, not a recipe to follow. The process is the opening of the student’s imagination to go beyond what the lesson is. 
Without A TraceWithout A Trace I had a great first teacher in photography in high school, and I think he was a Zen master in his own right. He took a Yoda-like or Mr. Miyagi approach to his teaching. Often when I came to him with a question, technical or otherwise, he would not directly answer my question but turn me back on myself and ask what I thought the answer was. If I hadn’t a clue, it was understood that it was on me to “figure it out.” He trusted me that I would find my own solution, from seeds he had planted, and that the process of answering my own question would lead to a finer, breakthrough moment of understanding for me than if he had “answered” my question in the first place.  He wanted to see what I would come up with, in the hopes that I would astonish us both. And that way of teaching, of turning the question back onto the student to find their own, original answer to a “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” koan that is where true creative breakthroughs happen. It can feel as frustrating as Daniel felt in “The Karate Kid” film when you first encounter a teacher of this caliber, but stick with it, and you will be richly rewarded. 
Jerry UelsmannJerry Uelsmann It was my high school Photo teacher who introduced me to the work of Jerry Uelsmann, which absolutely blew my mind at the time, and when I asked how he did that work, my teacher simply said, “Study the work and figure it out.” As I consider Jerry to be one of my other most significant teachers, although we didn’t meet until many years later, I did just that. As I’ve written about that process, and how I taught myself to copy his style in the darkroom, the more significant and profound lessons I learned along the way led me to find my own creative sensibility in photography. 
Aperture In MetalAperture In Metal


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