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Author Topic: "Photography Teachers?" Revisited  (Read 8348 times)
BenjaminKanarek
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« on: January 20, 2010, 07:14:07 AM »
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"Photography Teachers?" Revisited

I have recently noticed several advertisements of those that are “teaching” photography.  At a school of photography as a guest speaker I was asked what my thoughts were regarding the whole “I can teach you photography” thing. Well here goes. I don’t subscribe to that concept for many reasons. One is how to stunt the growth of a new student by teaching them rules about what is and what isn’t right for a starter.  Another is the often over used formulas that in most cases these “specialists” teach the naive student as gospel

I do however have no problem with a school that assists one in understanding technical issues or a school that deals with the historical and artistic aspects of photography. But a school that deals with issues such as cropping, lighting style etc…Well that’s where I put my foot down and say an unequivocal NO, Nein, Non.

I have had so many poor lost assistants whom I would rather not pinpoint specifically, that have no clue what so ever who they are. If they did come into a school of photography with the hopes of coming out an individual, well that notion was sucked out of them by the energy vampires. I’m not saying that all profs are frustrated unsuccessful photographers that couldn’t make it in their field. However from what I have seen and heard, one could not help but make that assumption.

I am saying that guest speakers, workshops and specialized subjects dealing with specific technical issues might be a reason to seek out advice or when a guest lecturer has come in to speak of his or her experiences, as I did at the Orleans School of Photography in France. Do your research. Read, experiment, take tons of photos inspire yourself and grow as a human. Build up your vocabulary in all disciplines and your life shall be richer as a result. It has been proven that the greater the vocabulary the richer ones life. Take a deep breath and do what comes naturally. If you get stuck creatively, take a short break.  If you need some technical advice, just ask questions.

http://www.benjaminkanarekblog.com/2009/09...graphy-classes/

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RSL
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« Reply #1 on: January 20, 2010, 09:51:20 AM »
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Banjamin,

Elliott Erwitt would agree with you. He once said: "Making pictures is a very simple act. There is no great secret in photography...schools are a bunch of crap." He also said: "Good photography is not about 'Zone Printing' or any other Ansel Adams nonsense. It's just about seeing. You either see, or you don't see. The rest is academic. Photography is simply a function of noticing things. Nothing more."

HCB also agreed, but I can't find the quote at the moment. It was something to the effect that there's nothing to "teach." Everything you need to know is included in the instruction book that comes with the camera's fine leather case. But the thing he said that every serious photographer needs to take to heart is this: "Photographing is nothing. Looking is everything."
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Justan
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« Reply #2 on: January 20, 2010, 10:31:12 AM »
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A “professional” field that doesn’t involve lots guided study can be only a stepping stone to a career that includes asking tough questions such as “Do you want fries with that?”
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« Reply #3 on: January 20, 2010, 10:51:09 AM »
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Quote from: Justan
A “professional” field that doesn’t involve lots of guided study can be only a stepping stone to a career that includes asking tough questions such as “Do you want fries with that?”

Justan, Except in art. Ever wonder why people with PhD's in art or in "art appreciation" aren't all world-famous artists? What, exactly, does a degree in "art" mean? I know it means you can hit the lecture circuit, "curate," judge art shows or write reviews about them, etc., but how many people with degrees in art really are top-notch artists?
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Eric Myrvaagnes
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« Reply #4 on: January 20, 2010, 11:30:14 AM »
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I don't know about photography schools or degrees, but in my own experience a good teacher can open one's eyes to possibilities one might never have considered. I have taken three photography workshops in my life, two from Minor White and one from Paul Caponigro. Neither one spent any time talking about the nuts and bolts, although each would give succinct answers to specific technical questions when asked.

The workshops were about seeing, and I and many others learned a lot from both masters. But neither of them pushed any kind of "rules" of composition or anything else.

In my view, if you have an open mind and willingness to learn, you can get a great deal studying with a true master. And you are likely to get zilch from a hack.

Eric

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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #5 on: January 20, 2010, 11:36:21 AM »
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Quote from: RSL
Justan, Except in art. Ever wonder why people with PhD's in art or in "art appreciation" aren't all world-famous artists? What, exactly, does a degree in "art" mean? I know it means you can hit the lecture circuit, "curate," judge art shows or write reviews about them, etc., but how many people with degrees in art really are top-notch artists?


That is silly, those PHDs in "art" are not in "Art"-they are in art history, art theory or some other academic field that studies art and artists. They are not artists but academics who study them-of course they are not successful artists. If you are talking about the teachers of art practice at universities. They are usually MFAs and many of them at the schools I have taught at are top notch recognized artist.

Personally I have been teaching photography in universities and workshops for 30+ years. but I have always made most of my living through commercial work and print sales. IMO art is hard to teach at the university level because art is impossible to quantify and therefore grade. As a result I have been most happy at my latest venue which grades on a simple pass fail system and workshops.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2010, 11:37:30 AM by Kirk Gittings » Logged

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RSL
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« Reply #6 on: January 20, 2010, 11:42:54 AM »
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Quote from: Eric Myrvaagnes
I don't know about photography schools or degrees, but in my own experience a good teacher can open one's eyes to possibilities one might never have considered. I have taken three photography workshops in my life, two from Minor White and one from Paul Caponigro. Neither one spent any time talking about the nuts and bolts, although each would give succinct answers to specific technical questions when asked.

The workshops were about seeing, and I and many others learned a lot from both masters. But neither of them pushed any kind of "rules" of composition or anything else.

In my view, if you have an open mind and willingness to learn, you can get a great deal studying with a true master. And you are likely to get zilch from a hack.

Eric

Eric, I certainly can't disagree with that, but I'd argue that looking carefully at the work of the masters can give you the same result. Going through something like Elliott Erwitt's Personal Best, or Walker Evans's The Hungry Eye, or Robert Frank's The Americans can open your eyes to all sorts of possibilities. I do understand that a lot of people get a comfy feeling from conversing with another person, but that's a different kind of thing.
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« Reply #7 on: January 20, 2010, 11:53:13 AM »
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That is silly, those PHDs in "art" are not in "Art"-they are in art history, art theory or some other academic field that studies art and artists. They are not artists but academics who study them-of course they are not successful artists. If you are talking about the teachers of art practice at universities. They are usually MFAs and many of them at the schools I have taught at are top notch recognized artist.

Thanks, Kirk. That's the kind of engaged response I expected to get. I agree about the specialties you mention, and I've thoroughly enjoyed a number of art history lectures by qualified people. On the other hand, I'd like someone to explain to me the value of "art theory."  Seems to me that creating art has nothing to do with theory. From your last sentence I gather you disagree with Erwitt and Cartier-Bresson.

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Personally I have been teaching photography in universities and workshops for 30+ years. but I have always made most of my living through commercial work and print sales. IMO art is hard to teach at the university level because art is impossible to quantify and therefore grade. As a result I have been most happy at my latest venue which grades on a simple pass fail system and workshops.

You actually tried to "grade" art? Wow! How do you decide who "passes" and who "fails?"
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Kirk Gittings
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« Reply #8 on: January 20, 2010, 12:34:07 PM »
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Thanks, Kirk. That's the kind of engaged response I expected to get. I agree about the specialties you mention, and I've thoroughly enjoyed a number of art history lectures by qualified people. On the other hand, I'd like someone to explain to me the value of "art theory."  Seems to me that creating art has nothing to do with theory. From your last sentence I gather you disagree with Erwitt and Cartier-Bresson.

You actually tried to "grade" art? Wow! How do you decide who "passes" and who "fails?"


I don't teach theory, because I've never studied it and frankly don't really understand it enough to teach it or discuss it intelligently, but people I know do and it seems interesting and valid.

"From your last sentence I gather you disagree with Erwitt and Cartier-Bresson". Yes I do. They are making broad generalities for all photographers out of their personal narrow experience. I don't. Some people don't need schools and some benefit enormously from them. There are many valid paths. My son is one of the top web designers in the country, and has never had a computer class-he studied biology in school. Does that mean based on my sons example that no one needs to take a computer class to do web design? Of course not.

Of course you grade students on their art produced for a university studio art class, what else would I grade them on? Personally, as aesthetics are difficult to quantify, I grade more on effort and technical proficiency.
« Last Edit: January 20, 2010, 12:44:57 PM by Kirk Gittings » Logged

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Joe Behar
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« Reply #9 on: January 20, 2010, 12:35:52 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
Eric, I certainly can't disagree with that, but I'd argue that looking carefully at the work of the masters can give you the same result. Going through something like Elliott Erwitt's Personal Best, or Walker Evans's The Hungry Eye, or Robert Frank's The Americans can open your eyes to all sorts of possibilities. I do understand that a lot of people get a comfy feeling from conversing with another person, but that's a different kind of thing.

Interesting viewpoint Russ. Please allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment.

When you look at a fine image from one of the "masters" what you see is the end result. You don't have the story behind it. What's just outside the frame that the photographer chose to leave out? How did he/she arrive at that final crop? How did he/she decide on the vantage point for the photo?

You were right when  you said its just about seeing. The issue is that sometimes we THINK we see the right image, when in fact we include extraeneous information or leave out something essential. The real image we see in our mind's eye is, quite often, either just a portion of what appears in the photo or more than we include in the photo. I think that's why cropping generates a lot of interesting debates.

A good teacher will not show you the best crop, vantage point or exposure, they will teach you how to look for it so you can "just see"

The only way to do that effectively is to go out and shoot with a "teacher"

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« Reply #10 on: January 20, 2010, 01:51:34 PM »
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Quote from: Joe Behar
Interesting viewpoint Russ. Please allow me to play devil's advocate for a moment.

When you look at a fine image from one of the "masters" what you see is the end result. You don't have the story behind it. What's just outside the frame that the photographer chose to leave out? How did he/she arrive at that final crop? How did he/she decide on the vantage point for the photo?

Joe, That's exactly why I try to find books that include some of the masters' contact sheets. The "expanded" edition of Looking In, the catalog for Robert Frank's show currently at the Metropolitan has the contact sheet for each of the photographs in The Americans. There are couple of Cartier-Bresson's contacts in his Scrapbook. But in the final analysis, what difference does it make how you decide on a vantage point? The important thing is that you decide on one.

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You were right when  you said its just about seeing. The issue is that sometimes we THINK we see the right image, when in fact we include extraeneous information or leave out something essential. The real image we see in our mind's eye is, quite often, either just a portion of what appears in the photo or more than we include in the photo. I think that's why cropping generates a lot of interesting debates.

A good teacher will not show you the best crop, vantage point or exposure, they will teach you how to look for it so you can "just see"

You won't learn anything about the "best crop" from Cartier-Bresson because he didn't crop. As far as the "real" image being in our mind's eye is concerned, that's exactly why you need to learn to shoot in such a way that you don't need to crop. If you learn that, the "real" image is either exactly what you see in the viewfinder, or it's a part you've decided to reduce the scene to before you trip the shutter. I keep running into this idea that you can go out and bang away and then come back, throw the result on a monitor, and start looking for pictures. It seems to be something that a lot of "teachers" teach, but, as Elliott said, "It's crap."

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The only way to do that effectively is to go out and shoot with a "teacher"

I don't agree. As a matter of fact, I think that going out and shooting with a "teacher" is a good way to strangle your own approach and compress your creativity into someone else's frame. A teacher makes judgments for you. They may be the right judgments for the teacher, but not necessarily for you.
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Joe Behar
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« Reply #11 on: January 20, 2010, 03:06:21 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
Joe, That's exactly why I try to find books that include some of the masters' contact sheets. The "expanded" edition of Looking In, the catalog for Robert Frank's show currently at the Metropolitan has the contact sheet for each of the photographs in The Americans. There are couple of Cartier-Bresson's contacts in his Scrapbook. But in the final analysis, what difference does it make how you decide on a vantage point? The important thing is that you decide on one.



You won't learn anything about the "best crop" from Cartier-Bresson because he didn't crop. As far as the "real" image being in our mind's eye is concerned, that's exactly why you need to learn to shoot in such a way that you don't need to crop. If you learn that, the "real" image is either exactly what you see in the viewfinder, or it's a part you've decided to reduce the scene to before you trip the shutter. I keep running into this idea that you can go out and bang away and then come back, throw the result on a monitor, and start looking for pictures. It seems to be something that a lot of "teachers" teach, but, as Elliott said, "It's crap."



I don't agree. As a matter of fact, I think that going out and shooting with a "teacher" is a good way to strangle your own approach and compress your creativity into someone else's frame. A teacher makes judgments for you. They may be the right judgments for the teacher, but not necessarily for you.

Russ,

You make a couple of good points, but I'll disagree with you on the last one.

Learning in a vacuum is not a good thing (IMO) You should not let anyone stifle your creativity, or lead you down a path that is not "yours" but the whole idea of a teacher or mentor is to show you possibilities and options. Pursue them if you wish, or abandon them, but hear them out.....Much like the difference between looking and seeing, there is a difference between listening and hearing.

Either way, its all good and the bottom line is, if you're making images that please yourself (assuming we're talking about a hobbyist here), then you're on the right track.

Joe
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« Reply #12 on: January 20, 2010, 03:15:20 PM »
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Quote from: Joe Behar
Russ,

You make a couple of good points, but I'll disagree with you on the last one.

Learning in a vacuum is not a good thing (IMO) You should not let anyone stifle your creativity, or lead you down a path that is not "yours" but the whole idea of a teacher or mentor is to show you possibilities and options. Pursue them if you wish, or abandon them, but hear them out.....Much like the difference between looking and seeing, there is a difference between listening and hearing.

Either way, its all good and the bottom line is, if you're making images that please yourself (assuming we're talking about a hobbyist here), then you're on the right track.

Joe

Joe, I think we're both on the same sheet of music. I think there are some who respond well to that kind of teaching and others who'd rather figure it out themselves. I think the possibilities and options are all there in the kind of shows and books I mentioned, but I know from experience that some people don't learn that way. I did software engineering for 30 years after I retired from the Air Force, and I taught computer science for a while. One thing I learned was that the people who were the best software architects and programmers were all self-taught. I think art, music, math, and the kind of logic you need to build good software are inborn abilities. That doesn't mean you don't need to work your butt off to exploit those abilities, but it does mean that without the ability you'll never be really good at those things. I also think that if you have the ability and you develop the desire, you'll learn, with or without a live teacher.
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Paul Sumi
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« Reply #13 on: January 20, 2010, 03:31:48 PM »
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Oddly enough, one of my best teachers of photography wasn't a photography teacher at all.  He was a working pro teaching a college class in television direction.  I'd show him my prints for a photography class I was taking at the same time and we discussed them in his office.

He didn't know a damn thing about photography, per se, but he really knew how to tell a story visually.  To him, my photos were like freeze frames at key moments in a TV show or movie.  He showed me how to think critically about my image and whether or not it told the story as well as it could.  He didn't teach me photography, he taught me how to see.

Paul
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Joe Behar
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« Reply #14 on: January 20, 2010, 03:52:09 PM »
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Quote from: RSL
Joe, I think we're both on the same sheet of music. I think there are some who respond well to that kind of teaching and others who'd rather figure it out themselves.

Russ,

So what you're saying is that people are different?  

Huh...who'd have thunk?

Yes, I think we are on the same page here.

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Justan
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« Reply #15 on: January 21, 2010, 08:29:08 AM »
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Quote from: RSL

> Except in art.

It’s possible to achieve a lot without formal study. But the thing is that maybe 1 in 20 million are actually successful at doing it that way. Doesn’t matter what field.

On the other hand, the lecture circuit for all kinds of get rich/successful quick schemes is endless. People pander to the cult of success without work because a) lots of people think they can achieve something without doing the work and  lots of people make good $$ by promoting that fantasy.

> Ever wonder why people with PhD's in art or in "art appreciation" aren't all world-famous artists?

No. First, not all want to be. There are a wide range of reasons to earn a degree in art or any other field. Second, I don’t think any university offers a PhD program for ”art appreciation.” "Art appreciation" is typically an intro or continuing ed class taught by a grad student, someone with MA/MS, or some octogenarian who does it for kicks.

I'm guessing you mean Art History. You would do yourself some good to read a little about what it takes to earn an under grad, grad, or PhD degree in that field. If your comment didn’t miss the target by a wide margin it would come across as an empty disparagement. In any event, it’s a red herring.

But more to the point, you will find that higher education employs a lot of successful artists that also practice the art of helping others to learn. Historically the vast majority of successful artists worked their way through guild/apprenticeship systems. The U system is a functional replacement of that.

> What, exactly, does a degree in "art" mean? I know it means you can hit the lecture circuit, "curate," judge art shows or write reviews about them, etc., but how many people with degrees in art really are top-notch artists?

Call any state university that has a school or art. Ask to talk or correspond by email with the dean of the department or their assistant. When you do, ask him or her how many nationally ranked artists teach at their U. You may be surprised. Here is an faculty roster from a local U: http://art.washington.edu/index.php?id=200 If you were to do this kind of research at one of the nicer private schools you may be amazed. Then take a look at the degree requirements. Once you do that you’ll have an idea of what a degree in “art” means. At this point, by your own word, you don’t know. Were you to look, you’ll probably find that there are a heck of a lot more top notch artists with a degree than without.

Now lets try to be direct.

What do you think the odds of success are with a formal education?

What are the odds of success without it?

That’s what I'm sayin.




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« Reply #16 on: January 21, 2010, 09:18:57 AM »
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Quote from: Justan
What do you think the odds of success are with a formal education?

What are the odds of success without it?

That’s what I'm sayin.

Justan, Your points are well taken, and, yes, I overstated the case and possibly (in the spirit of full disclosure) pulled a few legs.

But to deal with your questions you first have to define "success." Let's take Henri Cartier-Bresson as an example. Henri desperately wanted to be a painter. "Painting has been my obsession from the time that my 'mythical father', my father's brother, led me into his studio during the Christmas holidays in 1913, when I was five years old. There I lived in the atmosphere of painting; I inhaled the canvases." He studied painting under Andre Lhote, but never was able to become the kind of successful painter he wanted to be. It was a God-given ability he simply hadn't been given. As it turned out photography and the "decisive moment" was the gift he'd been given. He never went to school to learn photography. He started out by buying a view camera and trying to emulate Atget, but soon found that that wasn't his metier either. Then he picked up the Leica and, to coin a cliche, the rest is history. Now, was Henri "successful?" He wanted to be a painter and failed, even though he'd had an extensive formal education in painting. He'd never thought of being a photographer and never had a "formal" education in photography, but he ended up being the most influential photographer of the twentieth century. Was that success? From our point of view it certainly was. From his point of view? Certainly not. Late in life he gave up photography and went back to drawing and painting, which was his first love.

Yes, I do mean art history, and, believe it or not I have some idea of what it takes to become familiar with the history of art. By the way, recently I discovered the lecture series put out by The Teaching Company. I own and have gone through the 48 lecture series on "A History of European Art," the 24 lecture series on "Masterpieces of American Art," the 24 lecture series on "Museum Masterpieces: The Louvre," and the 24 lecture series, "From Monet to Van Gogh, A History of Impressionism." I commend all of these to anyone interested in visual art -- including photography.

Actually I do think that if you want to be a painter formal education can save you a lot of time. There are so many materials to consider, etc., that trying to learn the basics on your own is a Herculean task. But, again, if you don't have the God-given talent, all the formal education in the world isn't going to make you a successful painter. Music's the same way. I studied the piano for ten years and thought I wanted to be a concert pianist. I didn't have the talent, but by the end of ten years I certainly knew the mechanics. Without the formal training I'd never have gotten off the ground. But "success?" Depends on what you mean.
« Last Edit: January 22, 2010, 08:14:46 AM by RSL » Logged

Rob C
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« Reply #17 on: January 21, 2010, 03:17:50 PM »
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Nope, don't buy any of it; I return as ever to my own view which is the same as the OP and Russ both say: you can or you can't. And that's all from you and nobody else holds your key. Nobody else can teach you how to see which, I think we all agree, is the name of the game.

It's nice to hope you can buy it but you can't; it does make for a handy side-line, though. As I have said before, you can teach the mechanics but never the soul.

Rob C

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« Reply #18 on: January 21, 2010, 07:29:08 PM »
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Reminds of a saying I once heard

"Those who can, DO!"
"Those who can't, TEACH!"

Hummm... where does that put some of as that do & teach?    
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« Reply #19 on: January 21, 2010, 08:58:48 PM »
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Quote from: Rob C
Nope, don't buy any of it; I return as ever to my own view which is the same as the OP and Russ both say: you can or you can't. And that's all from you and nobody else holds your key. Nobody else can teach you how to see which, I think we all agree, is the name of the game.

It's nice to hope you can buy it but you can't; it does make for a handy side-line, though. As I have said before, you can teach the mechanics but never the soul.

Rob C
It sure sounds as if you're right, Rob. Surely nobody could ever teach you how to see. Fortunately, some of the rest of us have had the good fortune to encounter good teachers and to have an open mind about learning.  

Eric


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