Thursday, 17 January 2013

To Teach or To Keep Wise Counsel?

Stirling Castle

Yesterday I opened my inbox to find an email from a stranger. I have read the email at least three times trying to consider my response. I spent most of my adult working life teaching in one way or another. The first, in the running of classes, or preaching, or conducting groups in prisons and young offenders institutions.

Later I became a teacher in the real sense of the word. Daily standing before  classes of students and hoping beyond all hope that some of what I was saying would slip quietly into some young brains and stay there, later to bring them insight for later life.

I always ever only wanted to impart what I had learned, either from study or the sharp knocks of life.

On retirement I took up painting, which for you my readers is well known of course. Would I ever teach that? Could I ever teach that? To both question the same answer seems to yell loudly in my direction. NO.

So to the email.

Dear Ralph

Greetings from Toowoomba, Queensland State of Australia.

I chanced upon your painting of the Lotus river...when i was searching for impressionist style of paintings.
I have been sick for a while now...and recovery has been rather slow.

It has been a deep desire to grow water lillies and lotus at home.
This week, a friend tells me that her mother grows water lillies and therefore that is sorted.
I also found a website from which i can order lotus flowers.
And the very same day I saw your painting.

your painting inspired me to do something similar with water colours.
I chose to try and replicate your painting and if you like to see it, I will send you a photo.
It is not even 5% as nice as yours...I am just a beginner.

My doctors feel painting will help me heal much faster and so I have started trying to paint like you.
I attended some art class many years ago but did not learn much or do much...
nothing inspired me like your paintings do.  Thank you.

Will you consider teaching me through skype please?
It will mean so much to me 

Many thanks for inspiring me and setting me on the path of recovery.
Kind regards

I am humbled.

I am reminded of two little parables. The first is the tale of the sage who took his disciples blindfolded to meet with an elephant. He allowed them to touch it. Then he asked them to describe what an elephant looked like.

Each of the disciples described what they had touched. Some thought it looked like a serpent, the other like a cliff while another like a large pancake.

Until we have a full perspective of what we see, it is wise to keep our thoughts to ourselves.

The other is the tale of the disciples who questioned the master about how it was that he allowed rich people to become his followers. They saw this as a contradiction.

It intrigued them that the Master who lived so simply would not condemn these wealthy followers.
"It is rare but not impossible for someone to be rich  and holy," he said one day.
"When money has the effect on his heart that the shadow of that bamboo has on the courtyard."
The disciples turned to watch the bamboo's shadow sweep the courtyard without stirring a single particle of dust.
Until we have found the ability to move through life with causing a stir or harm it is wise to keep our counsel.
 It seems strange that one who has spent all his life desiring to teach when faced with one who genuinely  seeks to learn, that I feel out of my depth to teach.
The above painting is my latest pen and ink. I have used more colour than I have to date in this medium and am full of doubts about it.
The subject brings back many fond memories. I had a member of my congregation who served in the army during the war and for a time was based in this castle. On his death he wanted his ashes in the castle grounds.
The authorities said this was not possible so I slipped up quietly one day with my son, and from yonder parapet said a short prayer and committed his ashes to the rocks.
Some month or so later his wife died. The family wanted her ashes beside his. When I arrived at the castle they were working on the rampart. All I could see was scaffolding. I had to retreat to the bottom and climb up through the trees and up the rocks to fulfill the family wishes.
I thought of them all the time I was painting this.


  1. Good morning Ralph! What a great story and what a predicament! I suspect strongly that it is not painting your new friends wants to learn. There are about a billion such tutorials on the internet.
    It is healing they are after and you are pretty good at that, much like the bamboo, offering consult and gentle criticism without much disturbance. Encourage her to read your past blogs and ask questions. It worked for me!

  2. Wow, that was beautiful, the story behind your painting. And what an encouraging email.

  3. Personally, Ralph, these types of paintings (of which I have only seen two now) are my favorites of all your work. I just love them and your adept hand at drawing. Very wonderful email you received and hopefully you will have made a friend for life in Varsha.

  4. Interesting reading Ralph and I agree totally with 'stonepost' .Your castle is beautiful and I love the story behind .

  5. Beautiful story behind a lovely pen and ink painting! What have you decided about teaching?

  6. Loving your brilliant drawings so am following you now.......
    Thank you for the interesting read Ralph. ~Can understand you don't want to teach on Skype but a few students around the table all enjoying the learning experience will fill your heart with joy.

  7. Good morning Ralph!

    You know, I am a teacher, but now a substitute in the public school system. If I had MY WAY, I would say "au revoir" to teaching, for several reasons. But my reasons for leaving a full-time position have nothing to do with THE STUDENTS. For whatever reasons keep you from teaching again, you are most entitled to keeping true to yourself. But I think since you are an artist, you will always have the natural inclination to SHARE what your mind and heart see, and in your art, you are teaching, so to speak. I know you will continue to do what you love, and I think that it is totally acceptable to allow admirers the challenge to STUDY your work and to try to emulate style. Teaching is far more than imparting skills, but living a life-style, isn't it?

    Thank you for visiting my post last night! I am honored that you would come to visit!

    Happy day, Anita

  8. Hi Ralph. Thanks for stopping by. I just loved reading your post. It hit a note on many levels. I will certainly be back again. This is a super painting of Stirling Castle so don't put yourself down so... I'm about to take a wander around your blog to look at more of your lovely work. Take care. xx