“Xiao, He chases Han Xin” by Yosa Buson
Teaching | Writing

Teacher as artist

Shelby Foote, novelist and Civil War historian, reviled among many as “Lost Cause” apologist, lived here in midtown Memphis in the waning years of his life. He once remarked in an interview with a local newspaper that teaching does not mix well with writing. Both efforts require the same sort of energy, he insisted, and when writers expend all their creative energies on teaching nothing remains for writing.

My experience teaches otherwise. Teaching feeds writing, and vice versa. Both require intense creative effort—Mr. Foote assumed correctly on that point, but his argument of a “zero-sum game” on creative energy led him to a false conclusion. Creativity feeds creativity. Playing a musical instrument can inspire the sculptor. Photography can motivate the poet. And teaching can energize the writer.

The teacher engages in an artistry of learning, one that does not supplant writerly energies. Likewise, the artist at some deeply significant level remains always a teacher, opening our eyes, ears, and hearts to new possibilities through artistic creations.

The seventeenth-century Japanese poet Matsuo Bashō shines as my model here. Taking up his satchel with notebook and pen, he set out on journeys through distant landscapes, translating place and experience into poetry. Life itself became his art. The poems became the teacher, for himself, for his companions and followers, for us still centuries later.

Bashō taught, Bashō learned, Bashō wrote. And Bashō teaches still for those who would learn.

“Xiao, He chases Han Xin” by Yosa Buson
“Xiao, He chases Han Xin” by Yosa Buson, an eighteenth-century Japanese poet and painter who retraced Matsuo Bashō’s travels to the deep north (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons; original folding screen in the Nomura Art Museum, Kyoto, Japan)

 [Post 098 of 260 in my year-long challenge.] ♨

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