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The Myth of Expertise...

Every so often—way too often, actually—some kind person will make mention of me with regrettable reference to the label of "expert" which I try my best to always correct. Maybe such a thing exists, but the thought of having to live up to the title of "expert" makes me cringe. Who would accept such things being said about them—in the field of Education no less? How could one be so bold? Or better yet... how could one be so short-sighted as to let another refer to them, let alone see oneself, as an expert? It seems to me to be a kind of kiss-of-death, an invitation to abandon the very habits and attitudes which theretofore played pivotal roles in any meaningful contributions one may have made to the discipline. I reject the label primarily for two reasons. First, the label of "expert" implies a kind of certainty; and certainty dooms craft. I am a teacher, and for the teacher, uncertainty is a virtue. Not only that, if one is fully engaged, uncertainty is inevitable. It is the necessary fuel that inspires artfulness. Uncertainty is the all pervasive companion to the desire to learn. To be certain means that there is no room for expansion... one's cup is already full. How then can anything further be learned? What fun is there in believing oneself to know all that there is to be known about one's subject? Beyond it being delusional, it means that any inherent joy one may have had in the pure pursuit of one's craft has been crowded out by the certainty of the expert. Which brings me to the second reason why I reject the moniker of "expert": Experts must defend the facade of expertise, and I'd much rather play offense. When I work with teachers in residencies and design studios, I am competing with them to learn the most. "Learning is the natural reward of meetings with remarkable ideas, and remarkable people" (Bayles & Orland, 1993). I have no desire (at least not when I'm conscious) to prove my expertise. I would much rather stretch my thinking by engaging with concepts for which I do not yet posses a full and mature understanding. For the teacher, the forward-moving efforts to know are life-giving. To defend a title is to await one's own irrelevance. That is death to the teacher. No. I am most definitely not an expert. I'm too focused on growing my understanding to entertain such folly. Maybe there is such thing as an expert... Beethoven, Matisse, Gordon Parks are a few names that come to mind—but not me. In my view, expertise is a dangerous myth. I'll continue to deny the accusation because it is the ultimate enemy for my craft.

Bayles, D., & Orland, T. (1993). Art & Fear: Observations on the perils (and rewards) of Artmaking. Continuum Press.



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