Brigitte Curt and Jim Smyth Bid A Fond Farewell to the Art Center
For husband and wife art instructors Jim Smyth and Brigitte Curt, leaving the Art Center in April after teaching painting classes for more than 30 years is an extremely emotional experience.
“I feel that I’m going to a relationship funeral, after saying goodbye to so many students,” says Brigitte, who specializes in landscape painting. “But it is something out of our control, and has been dictated by other circumstances. Teaching at the Art Center has been a passion of mine. I have gotten so much joy and enthusiasm from my students.”
Brigitte and Jim say they will enter semi-retirement and move to Redding, Calif.
But the Art Center has been such a big part of their lives, ever since they first met here in 1988. Brigitte began taking art classes from Jim soon after and they married in 2010.
“I was trained in painting by Jim for four or five years, and one day he said to me, ‘you need to get out of my classes and start teaching,’” says Brigitte. “He was such a good teacher and taught me everything from color theory to life drawing.”
Brigitte says she grew up in France, where she primarily studied music and black-and-white photography, after obtaining a degree in African Anthropology from Ivory Coast University.
“But one day, I just started to paint,” she says. “I was living alone in a little studio in France, and was painting all the time, all day. Within two days, I knew that I wanted to do this for the rest of my life.”
Since she started teaching landscape painting at the Art Center in 2000, she and Jim have put together a 13-point philosophy of teaching. Some of the tenets include: Friendliness and courtesy are the language spoken in our teaching environment; commitment to education for the greater benefit of the students, without flattery, shortcuts or complacency; and belief in concepts in art, solid knowledge as a fundamental base for creativity and in the objective criteria that are part of education.
“You need to make someone feel OK with painting,” says Brigitte. “It is most important to use the word ‘we’ when teaching. It’s never just you and the problem alone.”
Jim, who has specialized in quick figure sketch and figure painting at the Art Center, has also taught classes at the College of San Mateo, Cogswell Polytechnical College in San Jose, and the Pacific Art League in Palo Alto. His background also includes studying at the Academia delle Belle Arti in Florence, Italy, the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in both Geneva, Switzerland and Paris, and the Repin Academy in St. Petersburg, Russia.
“Actually, we may have learned more from the students than they have learned from us,” says Jim. “Each student has something to give, and over the years I have developed a way to draw a figure that wouldn’t have been possible without teaching the students.”
He also says that the best way to repair a person’s self-confidence in the arts is by putting them on a path to learning, and that “you learn to draw by drawing and drawing, and then drawing some more.”
Brigitte says that the two most important qualities to being a good teacher are knowledge and compassion.
“I am not a patient person, except when I am teaching,” she says. “When someone asks you for help, you want to show them how to become the best painter they can be. I learned English as an adult, so I understand how much patience is required.”
Jim adds, “If we did not teach, we would paint in a way that is very idiosyncratic and limited. Teaching helps us to become better artists.”
Fanny Retsek, Studio Director at the Art Center, says of Brigitte and Jim, “They have taught, inspired and encouraged so many artists and students in this community. They are part of the history of this program and their contributions will continue on in our studios, and they will be greatly missed.”
Brigitte says that when she first started to paint, she would infrequently cry because the process was so emotional for her.
“It was the only thing I had in my life—it was my religion,” she recalls. “But you have to be an emotional person to be good. It is a non-negotiable need.”
Both Jim and Brigitte say that they are sad to be leaving their teaching positions at the Art Center, but that they are gratified to see that many of their past students are now entering the teaching profession themselves, or winning awards as artists.
“Thank you to the Art Center for giving both of us such a rich environment in which to teach,” says Brigitte. “I also want to tell all my students that I honor their courage.”
You can keep in touch with Brigitte and Jim through their website www.classart.org via their contact page. Brigitte promises she will update their website
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Last Updated: March 12, 2020