Pinsky was a treasured teacher

Gazette art critic Henry Lehmann wrote the following tribute to the late Alfred Pinsky for last Saturday's Gazette, and has consented to its republication here.

I learned recently of the death earlier this month of Alfred (Alfie) Pinsky, Professor of Fine Arts and of Art Education at Concordia University. He was the best teacher I ever had.

Back in 1970, when I was doing my Master's in Art Education, Alfie taught a graduate studio course in which we were required to present and defend our creations. Then he would sum up and give what was sometimes a devastating critique. Yet his witty, spirited and erudite commentary was treasured.

Here was a teacher who cared enough to engage your art, select good from bad, and explain himself, always in a manner devoid of art-speak.

I came away feeling I had been honoured by this man's keen intelligence and by his sheer caring. And I came to believe that good art criticism involved not just mentioning works of art but evaluating them, then figuring out how to explain a clearly as possible.

Alfie was quite able to join students for a drink and a lively discussion outside of class, yet he never attempted to be anything other than himself. Unaffected and un-artsy, Alfie -- usually in a dark suit or tweed jacket -- had a hale, un-patronizing manner. And it was clear that he was on the side of young people, that he even took impish delight in the youthful vanity and rebelliousness he sometimes encountered in his students.

His credentials were equally straightforward and unpretentious. This man, who had almost single-handedly established the fine-arts department at Concordia -- he joined the university, then known as Sir George Williams, in 1961 -- held no degrees, and apparently did not even have a high-school-leaving certificate.

However, this lack was not something I held against him. Quite the contrary, I found it absolutely admirable, all the more so today, in a time of careerism and posturing in the visual-arts field.

What could be elegant than to have knowledge, wit and a love or art, and yet to have a name that could stand on its own, no funny letters before or after? One of the founders of an art department that would produce some of the best artists in Canada, Alfie lived on his own terms. I am grieved by his death, but delight in his living memory.

- Henry Lehmann

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