The Art of Teaching

Marilyn Green (right) teaches an art class for seniors

by Marilyn Green

Since 2005, when my first watercolour painting course was offered at the Cummings Centre for Seniors, I have both taught and learned from my students. A senior myself, with a varied background in visual arts and art history, I have witnessed the creation of many beautiful pieces of art in my classroom, but the true beauty lies in the joy that my students derive from the experience of creating—of seeing “differently” and of expanding the boundaries of what they think they are capable of doing.


The average age of Marilyn’s students

My average student age hovers just below 80, although they all seem so much younger to me, and are so forward thinking, always looking to learn. This is one of the gifts that they bring me, as the teacher. My course is called “Unconventional Watercolour”, and we use a combination of water, paint, salt, wax and textured paper to achieve any result that the student would like. It can be abstract or figurative but is always freeing; there are no mistakes, only opportunities to lead us in another direction. It is as much about putting something on paper as it is about encouraging and allowing them to take chances, that there are many ways of seeing things.

Some might feel that older people are set in their ways, but in fact, I am always inspired by their willingness to try, to step out of their comfort zone, to listen and to loosen up. For some, physical limitations make it difficult, but the art helps them overcome their challenges through these explorations. The outcome is excellent, and often they themselves are amazed at what they can do and their ability to be creative—at any age! We have a big art show each semester where students submit pieces that are shown and possibly sold. They are always encouraged by the positive response of the public and they feel validated, as artists. It leaves a very important lasting impression on them.

“To be creative means not to be afraid to think the unthinkable,” reads a sign in the art workshop.

Each of these remarkable retirees has an interesting past, professionally and personally, and I have come to know them quite well. Many have pursued art before but many others have never taken an art course in their lives and just wanted to do it. It is wonderful that the Cummings Centre for Seniors offers such a wide variety of options for those in our community. Some come straight to my class from an exercise class, or bridge, lunch or French lessons—all in the building. It is a wonderful social environment, a place to connect with new and old friends.

My students continuously inspire me. They truly embrace the idea that there is always something new to learn, to try, and to accomplish, no matter the age. I realize that we can learn from each other, in many ways.

You can find more information on the Cummings Centre courses by visiting its website or by calling 514.342.1234.

Last year, Federation CJA allocated $1.6 million to the Cummings Centre, providing enriching, life-long learning opportunities for our seniors, as well as many valuable social services.

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