In What Soil Does Genius Grow?

A teacher conference address by Scott Shepherd

Art teachers and artists:

I am in the INSPIRATION business.

If a laborer works with one’s hands, a craftsperson with one’s head and hands, and an artist with one’s heart, head and hands, then if we are not educating the heart, then we are merely training craftspersons.

The purpose of education is to help the individual to find and develop his/her vocation; and by vocation I don’t mean just a job, it’s much more than that. A vocation is an activity for which the individual has an ardent and exclusive passion regardless of how little or how much it pays. It is an activity the individual is aware of having a superior ability at doing, but it is also an activity the individual loves doing more than anything else. A vocation connects that which is most real and passionate in us to the world and other people. It is our love of life, because it says YES to life by meeting it with everything one has within oneself.

Those who have a vocation know what I am talking about. Those who don’t have a vocation, also know what I’m talking about – they feel the emptiness here. For those who don’t have a vocation, whenever they are working, they are constantly watching the clock. For those who do have a vocation, time doesn’t exist – they work until the job is done. For those who don’t have a vocation, they say, “oh, yes, this is what I want to do when I retire” – if they are lucky enough to live that long and still be healthy. Those who have a vocation never really retire: they may work for someone else or for themselves – but they never stop doing what they love doing most.

To find one’s vocation is not always easy, it may be a lifelong search, but if you give up you will have to settle for a job, and for those of us with talents, that would be a crushing defeat in the game of life. To find our vocation, in or out of school, is an ACTIVE, PRACTICAL AND PERSONALLY MEANINGFUL search. You can’t just let education wash over you and hope that something valuable will end up in your bucket. If you do that, the only thing you will end up with, if you are lucky, is merely a job.

Leonardo says, “Just as eating something you don’t want to eat is bad for your health; so study without desire spoils the memory, and it retains nothing that it takes in. Love alone makes me remember, it alone makes me alert.”

Therefore we teach more with our love than with our hands or our words.

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