‘I will be with them on screen,’ 95-year-old teacher says of fall art courses

It’s not quite the same as in-person studio work, but Briansky says students are reacting well to the change.

At first artist Rita Briansky resisted but finally agreed to “accept the challenge” and in September began teaching her art course for intermediate and advanced students at the Cummings Centre using Zoom on her computer.

The challenge went beyond learning how to connect via Zoom and adjust to the virtual world, it was also about no longer being in direct contact, the connection that is one of the reasons her course has been so popular over the years.

“Now I have to be with them on a screen,” Briansky, 95, said in a phone interview. But after three weeks teaching in this new format, with some technical help from senior staff, some
unexpected positives have emerged.

“I see them all now, like large postage stamps on a screen. They all communicate with each other on screen, and they are all happy to see each other.

“They do the work I assign them and then I ask them to photograph what they are doing and send them to me on email. Then I phone them or email them back and give my critique.”

It’s not quite the same as in-person studio work, but Briansky says the students are reacting well to the change.

“I present them with an idea of a theme and this time it revolved around the fact we are all home much more than we’ve ever been. I asked them to look around at what we are living with.”

To show students what the possibilities are, she showed them examples from art books of works done by famous artists of what they know, such as British painter David Hockney’s coloured pencil drawings of a suitcase and a shirt lying over a chair.

“Things that we take for granted can become beautiful, and the students have taken to it and are doing beautiful work.”

All are seniors, most in their 70’s and 80’s, and proving that they can grow, they can develop.

“They’re willing to take on challenges, and me too! I resist change, but I look for challenges.”

One advantage to teaching virtually is a certain intimacy when interacting with individual students on screen. She can see how they are feeling, and more easily notice if any have health issues.

“Every time there’s a loss, there’s a gain, or as the old adage goes, when one door closes another opens.”

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