I believe art is a means of comprehending, reflecting and influencing our world through deep collectivity and civic engagement with other human beings. It has persisted in many guises and contexts through human history, playing a powerful role in our personal, spiritual, cultural and political lives. In the arts classroom or graduate studio, my work is to cultivate keen observation, historic, theoretical and contextual knowledge, critical thinking, openness to risk and curiosity (fundamentals of creative thinking) and integrate these fundamentals with embodied learning and sensitivity to artistic process, technique and material.
My work and pedagogy has been highly influenced by the pragmatist philosopher John Dewey, who posited that value is a function neither of whim nor of purely social construction, but a quality situated in events. Dewey’s theories aspired to shift the understanding of what is understood as important about art from its physical manifestations in the autonomous ‘expressive object’ to include the process in its entirety. The process of expression through materials and situations is the primary site for the dialectical production of experience. It is through the expressive object that artist(s) and active observer(s) encounter one other, their material and mental environments, and by extension their culture. For the record, it is not my conviction that the art-making process in its entirety be performed for an active observer, though this is one very compelling possibility. These explorations in my own practice have led me to an integrated and experiential approach to arts education. One that renders indivisible an artwork’s process of production (how), material (what), presentation (where), and meaning or content (why). I believe it is possible and essential for art students to: become competent and skillful in myriad traditional and experimental techniques; develop a sophisticated visual vocabulary; be possessed of critical frameworks that surround their production and create conceptually rigorous artworks from an introductory level. I do not believe these skills should be developed in succession, but rather, in tandem.
It is also my conviction that neither art, nor education, dare risk isolation in cloistered institutional environments with perceived institutional boundaries. What we risk is conformity to the status quo, a lack of diversity in perspective, a minimizing of social cohesion across social boundaries or a diminished sense of civic responsibility within our student body; a student body whose members already, in part, constitute civil society. I believe it is my responsibility to make the walls of the classroom or studio as permeable as I can. Students need not step back from the world to ask good questions and/or cultivate knowledge, but rather, students may be of the world now testing and challenging these questions and generating culture with their neighbors; creating an active stance to the world in which they are a part. I do not conceive of this permeability as merely conceptual, but create courses where students travel outside the walls of the institution on a regular basis.
These philosophies inform my curriculum at a fundamental level and provide the foundation from which I build everything else. Below is a list of commitments I use to design my courses and to guide my pedagogy:
- Be knowledgeable about and introduce students to a broad host of historic and contemporary artworks, methods, and materials, including works that are non-traditional, non-western and non-academic. Represent underrepresented artists and cultural producers. Introduce this work through slide presentations, videos, readings and regular engagements outside of the institution and the studio classroom.
- Be aware of and introduce students to the multiple art worlds, contexts, and audiences where art and culture may reside and thrive, existing currently, historically, or potentially. This is important in helping students find meaningful contexts for their own works of art, and preparing them for the true social environment(s) where they may find themselves. Such familiarity may be gained through engagements outside of the institution and the studio classroom, readings, slides, visiting artist presentations and the opportunity to create exhibitions or community-based projects.
- Generate opportunities where the rich integration of idea and form can unfold through embodied Design exercises where students are asked to develop concepts through material properties or process. This may lead to project-based work.
- Challenge students in the learning environment by: maintaining a rigorous yet manageable pace, introducing students to exercises and readings that stretch them, and hold students to high standards. This must be paired with the excellent and clear delivery of material and a willingness to support students inside and outside of class if they are struggling.
- Clearly and safely demonstrate various critical technical skills for the production of student work and ensure a hands on workshop approach to such skills so students grow highly proficient, confident, and comfortable in them.
- Reward and encourage vulnerability, bravery and experimentation in the pursuit of their personal creative voice, always pushing students beyond their perceived limits. This involves an evaluative focus on the quality and inventiveness of the process a student is moving through over an evaluative focus on the ‘final product.’ Create space in the schedule for discussion and revision prior to completion.
- Foster and maintain a safe learning environment where diversity is welcome, heard, and encouraged. It is important to model tolerance and respect in the classroom environment. Destabilize stereotypes of limitation based on gender, race, ethnicity or inheritance by encouraging students to practice in areas they do not feel immediately comfortable. Include preferred pronoun designation during course introductions.
- In seminar or discussion-based courses, generate a ‘course code,’ where the student community collectively determines the discussion format for the course. This may involve communication style, facilitation and goals for engagement.
- Create opportunities for collaboration and mutual learning when appropriate.
- In all courses, generate opportunities for verbal articulation, active listening, as well as critical and technical writing.
- Hold the students and myself to rigorous standards of attendance, punctuality, and participation through policy and modeling. Be available inside and outside of class time, and give regular, clear feedback to students with regard to their progress in the course.
- Engage in regular self-assessment to enhance course quality and teaching effectiveness. I make a point to clearly articulate realistic, challenging and attainable learning outcomes on the course syllabus and create signature assignments that allow me to determine whether or not students are regularly meeting these learning outcomes.
- Take student evaluations very seriously and use the information gathered to adapt my courses regularly.