When I came to teach, I was obliged to make precisely clear what I did for the most part unconsciously. –Paul Klee
It might be years since you’ve set foot in a classroom. You may not have given as much as a second thought to education, much less being an educator. But one of the best ways to do something better — no matter what it is you do — is to teach it.
I think Klee is getting at two very distinct, and important, things here. The first comes from making something “precisely clear.” I remember someone saying once that in order to teach something, you generally have to break it down to a level that’s so elemental you end up understanding it better yourself. There’s a lot of truth to that. After all, you can’t hope to pass on your understanding of something if your own understanding of it is foggy at best. I’m also reminded, time and again, that the steps I take for granted in doing something, whether it’s making photos or organizing those photos on a computer aren’t as self-evident to the person to whom I’m explaining something as they’ve become to me.
Which brings us to the other half of Klee’s little aphorism. When we do something long enough, we’re taking steps without consciously realizing that we’re taking them. Making a single photo can happen in only slightly less time than it takes to swing the camera in the general direction of your subject and press down the shutter button. If we look at the photo later, we can reverse engineer the steps we took to arrive at that photo, but we may not have been taking those steps very mindfully.
Therein, I think, lies the advantage of teaching. It’s one of the reasons that I write this blog, even though I’m by no means a professional or an expert. It’s a reminder that at the end of the day, when the camera’s had the day’s dust blown off it, the battery’s on the charger, and it’s time to look over what I’ve shot, I’m going to have to explain this stuff to someone. It’s a good means of holding yourself accountable, and of reintroducing mindfulness to your process.
If you’re not a teacher — even if you’ve never been much of a student — don’t worry about it. Wherever you are in your journey, however little experience you may have, and however much your knowledge has only served to let you know how much you have yet to learn, remember that someone somewhere is just taking those first steps. Since you’ve already been where they’re going, it can be an interesting and rewarding challenge to share some of your experience with them. As a fringe benefit, it can also send you off in directions you couldn’t have anticipated when you started.