John Tuska could often be heard stating his belief that “work generates work”. The volume of his work along with the fact that he used so many different types of media both suggest that he was constantly working and evolving. I can’t help but wonder if he ever experienced a period in which he was unable to create. He had some physical problems later in his life that interfered with his ability to work, but I’m interested to know if he ever went through a kind of “artist’s block”.
It’s difficult to imagine someone being able to produce so much work that appears to be on such a master skill level. That’s one reason why I’m so interested in the history and evolution of Tuska’s work.
I also wonder what he must have been like as a teacher. Last week I had the opportunity to hear one of his former students talk about her memories of his class. She explained that she was quite aware of how talented he was, and that she was very much invested in having him approve of her work.
She also admitted being somewhat of a perfectionist herself. She came to Tuska’s drawing class having experienced a great deal of attention and praise for her own work as a young person. Instead of being singled out as a star in Tuska’s class, she was actually getting huge amounts of constructive critiques from him. This was quite frustrating and humbling for her.
She explained to me that her perspective is different now, and that she believes that Tuska simply held her to a high standard and challenged her to work harder. She is grateful for having been presented with that challenge, and she laughed as she told me about the praise she did receive from Tuska near the end of class. She explained that after having spent the majority of her time in class working her tail off, she finally lightened up rather suddenly. She didn’t pay particularly close attention to the instruction that Tuska was giving to his students for one particular assignment, and she proceeded to unceremoniously produce a five-minute abstract sketch of what she was thinking about at the moment: Her cat.
After she was finished, she sat back and started reading a novel she’d brought with her to class while all of the other students continued to work. When she looked up from her book several moments later, John Tuska was standing in front of her with an amused expression on his face. He said, “Linda, that’s the best work you’ve ever done in my class.”
It makes sense to me that in order to create good work, you must first start working, whether you’re lucky enough to be inspired at the moment or not. Waiting for inspiration seems a wee bit indulgent. However, the indulgence may create an experience that inspires great work. Even if all work can’t be great, surely, it can’t be all bad either.