And on the other hand...

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Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Master-Student Cycle

When does a student become a master? When does the master need a student? An apprentice?  A disciple?

I've been having a little crisis of ...something... lately, thinking about teaching and learning.   I have been variously absorbed in my brush painting class, Teaching Company commuting lectures, sitting in on a class about Chinese thought and Taoism, and working on a project that involves mentoring of promising students to help them get doctoral degrees.  A certain studiousness has rubbed off on me as a result of my new job in an academic environment.  There is a library just across the road from my office!

What is the differnce between a master (shifu) and a teacher (laoshi)? All masters and teachers surely have a perspective, but perhaps the really good ones leave their personal perspective somewhat hidden? Or not? (Like the Mormon who did just a really superb job on the "Great Minds of the East" Teaching Company course. This is not to be construed as any kind of comment about Mitt Romney.)  Maybe it depends on the level of students and their needs and desires?  A master should not take on a student that is more advanced, or more correctly said, on a different path?  The student should know how to pick the master that's right for him at the time? At what point do the master and student become colleagues, sharing their own perspectives, supporting each other?  All masters are still students?  What does the master learn from the student?  What is mentoring?  Why am I writing all these thoughts as questions?

In the end, one is always a student, trying to master oneself.

After I once again didn't quite copy my painting teacher's example, but brought the assignment forth according to my own taste and previous training, she said, "You know a lot about Chinese painting.  Maybe you don't need a teacher."

Self-teaching does pay off.  Earlier today a Chinese colleague was telling me about a terrible hit-and-run incident involving a Chinese toddler.  "Where?" I asked. "Oh, I don't know, I can only say it in Chinese," he said. "Try me," I said.  "Foshan, near Guangdong."  "Ah, home of wing chun!"  "You know that?"  Yep.  (I watch, and listen carefully to, a lot of martial arts movies.)  He went on to suggest that perhaps people are better in the countryside. "They still have heart."  Sadly, while looking for these links, I discover the child has died about half an hour ago.

"How to Paint
Lifelike Camel"
I know something about Chinese painting, but not a lot, and I still learn...maybe not the precise lessons on offer, but something that justifies the time spent in the studio (which may be more practice than actual learning).   I have come to understand that my teacher is not quite presenting traditional techniques, and her own style is a modern mix of west and east, and not just China, but Japan (the terminally cute brightly colored part) and Korea (the less Chinese part) too.  I showed her the lesson book (at right) I just got from Shandong, instructions and tips on how to paint camels (loutou). Amazing what you can find on eBay. Since I can't read the tips, presented in Chinese with no helpful subtitles, I was hoping she might demonstrate the brush strokes, the direction, the ink loading.

"You can do that at home," she said. I don't know whether she meant I should do that only at home, or that I was competent to do it on my own at home.  She glanced sideways at my chrysanthemums, and said, "I am teaching basics here, so they (the undergraduates taking the class for credit) can do their own art."

I am a disciple without a master.  Here are my chrysanthemums, symbols of autumn, longevity, and a life spent in quiet retirement.  I wish.
Chrysanthemums: Autumn Symbol 


ordinary malaysian said...

The student becomes the master when the master becomes silent, has nothing to say. But in the master is the student and in the student is the master. They are inseparable. One cannot be without the other. Who is the master without the student, the disciple? And who is the student without the master? They are the yin and the yang, yet they are not one. When two become one and one becomes two ah, that's tao! But tao by itself is not two and when tao is two it is not one. Naughty!

baroness radon said...

Ah, that's it!
As Olympia Dukakis said to Danny Aiello in "Moonstruck," "That's it, you answered my question!"

Thanks for visiting.

sybil law said...

All I know is, that I love that painting. :)

baroness radon said...

Thank you Sybil, I'm glad it gives you pleasure. How are YOU??