The importance of having a correct attitude towards learning

A young man phoned me a couple of weeks ago regarding the painting course I was teaching. He was asking about the schedule and possibility of having a free trial class. The conversation was taking the usual course untill he told me he was only checking to see what I was offering and whether there was somebody who was able to teach him something. At that very moment it became clear to me that if I took him as a student I would be in trouble. He wasn’t able to deal with being taught because he considered the position of the student humiliating. Considering the fact that he was the one calling me and asking for painting lessons- he was, at the very least, ambivalent towards learning.

I tried to difuse the direction the conversation was taking by joking and said that I sincerely hoped that the people that took the course were able to learn something from me.

The young man arrived at the arranged time carrying a map of his drawings. My estimation was that he had some ability in linear drawing. He was able to judge proportions and make acceptable compositions, but his tonal values were off. He was not trained to see tonal values and therefore he wasn’t able to judge the relation between the tonal values correctly.

My job as a teacher consists of judging students’ abilties and finding out where they are lacking in skill  in order to help them  learn the craft as quickly and efficiently as possible. Keeping that in mind I suggested to the young man that we work on the developing his sensitivity for tonal values. He was vehemently oposed and when I tried to elaborate by explaining the theory of tonal development he claimed I was making it up. It was then and there I decided to finish our discussion as quickly as possible and asked him to leave. I refused to continue the discussion which he was desperatly trying to continue even as he was packing his work to leave. Had I continued trying to convince him, it would have ment that he and I were on the same level. He continued to argue as he was closing the door behind him. After he left l I recalled a very important psychoanalitical truth ( I am a psychoanalytically minded person): a patient is causing his therapist to feel the emotions he is trying to supress and he is consequently not aware of. In the case of the young man arguing with me, the feeling he was unaware of and  was trying to get rid of, was a feeling of inferority and worthlessness.

I have decided  that I will not take him as a student although he was quite able, because his hypersensitivity to humiliation would cause a great obstacle towards learning.

The feeling of worthlessness is usually overcompensated with arrogance. That combination of traits is the greates obstacle standing in way of any serious work. Learning requires humility on the behalf of the student. Feeling of inferiority and worthlessness causes a psychological state in which a student confuses being humble and aware of your limitations with being flawed and thus humiliated. All limitations are, in fact, narcissistic injuries.

Being able to learn requires a student to be certain of his worth which cannot be dramatically shaken by the fact that there is something he  doesn’t yet know or is not able to do at first. Being relatively confident also allows a student to stay relaxed when learning something and  to even have a bit of fun doing it.

A man suffering from a prevailing feeling of worthlessness cannot ever relax because he feels inferior in situations where there is no reason to. It makes him tense and on the defensive. He is unbearable to be around with because he constantly tries to prove his superiority  by belittling others. It puts a lot of pressure on the teacher.

There is a myth about  vain and sensitive geniuses  doubting themselves all the while creating masterpieces. I believe that vanity, even in small doses, is an obstacle to an artist. Vanity is a prism distorting the image of the world and the image of the man suffering from it. It causes a person to overestimate his ability or to dramatically underestimate it. It causes a precarious psychological balance and the learning process requires stability. And stability is not in vogue these days beacuse it’s not,and never was, an easy thing to achieve.

The featured image has nothing to do with vanity, but sex sells. It was made by Hokkusai 1814. and its title is „Dream of a Fishermen’s Wife”.