April 18th, 2014
by Elam Stoltzfus
“I have come to believe that a great teacher is a great artist and that there are as few as there are any other great artists. Teaching might even be the greatest of the arts since the medium is the human mind and spirit.””
John Steinbeck – American Author
“It is the supreme art of the teacher to awaken joy in creative expression and knowledge.”
Albert Einstein – Theoretical Physicist
My parents didn’t necessarily encourage me in the art world, but they didn’t discourage me. The first step that was really important for me in the arts was my first-grade teacher, Mr. Jere Brady. I still vividly remember sitting in a small wooden desk watching him take a blank piece of paper and pencil and sketch the schoolhouse building. I thought, “Man, how cool is that?! He made something out of nothing!” I wanted to be able to do that, one day I wanted to be able to fill space. At that point I said I want to be an artist and that really never left me since first grade. I knew one day I was going to be an artist. During that year Mr. Brady taught us primary colors, how to use crayons, how to paint, and how to do pencil sketching. He was my only art teacher for three years; first, second, and third grade. Mr. Brady was a mentor at a very early age.
Just as an aside, I still consider Jere a mentor, Jere and his family live in Morgantown, Pennsylvania where he has a art gallery, involved in the community and I still keep in touch with him—we e-mail back and forth at least three or four times a year, share Christmas cards, and EVERY time I finish a new film he gets one of the first copies.
There are several simple comments of advice that I have about creating art and being an artist:
One thing is that practice makes perfect. You have to do it over and over again. It’s like learning to play music, how do you get good at music? You practice and practice. You sing it, you play it over and over and over and over again. Same thing with photography and film-making. How do you take good pictures? You take lots of them and then you do it over and over again. In the book Outliers, author Malcolm Gladwell says that it takes about ten thousand hours of practice to achieve mastery in as an artist. There is not necessarily any right or wrong way of doing things. Photography, film-making, music are all interpretations of art. And so that connects into your own emotions. What are you feeling? What are you seeing? What are you trying to put together? What is the story you are trying to tell? These are your experiences and you are trying to put your emotions, your feelings, your insight, your understanding into this film and wrapping it, tying it into a story and putting it out there for the general public to experience. You hope in the end that it is something that this piece of art has been helpful to someone. It really starts from what you feel inside you. My advice is just do it! Like the Nike slogan, “Just do it”. If you have a formal art education or if you are able to work under a mentor all that is great. Some people give you rules and laws and say do it this way, well that is great to work in that function, or in that structure for a while, but eventually don’t be afraid to explore and break some of the rules. There really are no rules in art. But if some people want to call them rules or this is the only way to do it, then do it for a little bit, but eventually, explore. You know, it is like the little kid with the coloring book: they are told to only draw inside the lines…no, no, no, no, no! Don’t be afraid to go outside the lines!
There is always somebody that you can mentor, somebody that you can influence. And art can do that. So, when you have opportunities to point somebody in a direction or hold their hand for awhile, or give them an experience in the arts, or an opportunity in a career, be bold and invest in a student. These all become legacy moments because you take a little bit of your time to make a change in somebody else’s life. Or give them an opportunity that they never thought they would have. That is what happened to me. When there are opportunities to give back, I want to invest in students and will do this.
Several weeks ago – April 12, 2014, my son Nic and I held an outdoor video workshop in partnership with the Florida State University College of Communication & Information at Tall Timbers Research Station. We had 8 students from FSU attend along with 3 employees from Tall Timbers. Most of the students had not experienced film-making outdoors. We spend most of the two hours talking about storytelling. What are the pieces of the puzzle to tell an engaging story? It begins with a plan, a concept of the objectives of the story, moves on to filming a series of interviews, collecting natural sound and footage of the environment, scoring music, preliminary editing, post-editing—all these steps until a final polished nature documentary is created. Most folks have not thought about all the elements of images, sounds, text, and information that need to be brought together to make an engaging media documentary story.
I’m grateful for the many hours that mentors have invested into my life and allowed me to succeed in my career as a film producer. I hope to share my experiences with others, to share with today’s young minds and enable them to succeed in their future careers.
“A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning.”
Brad Henry – Former Governor of Oklahoma