ART IN CONTEXT/ ART 101
Not every studio-trained professor of art likes to teach Art 101- or the general education Art requirement for non-majors at the University. This is why I feel like I have occupied a special niche in the departments in which I have served. I combine a generalist (as opposed to a specialist) approach with a hands-on artmaking background to present Art as a subject that touches about every aspect of students’ lives. I make Art majors and minors out of undeclared students who “see with eyes unclouded” the multiple sides of visual artmaking as opposed to the often intimidating and disempowering side of Art visible to many an outsider. I enhance students critical sense by arming them with a useful vocabulary with which to speak about art and the visual world. I also highlight whenever possible the fact that art overlaps with just about any area of study including anthropology, ethnography, political science, psychology, and sociology. The goal is to arrive at a view that doesn’t frame art as specialized, isolated subject with its own unique history but rather to understand how the activity of visual artmaking is a vital component of the larger context of humanity.
Teaching 2D Design and Drawing 1 gives me the opportunity to turn green students into hardworking idea machines by sharing my deep conviction that 2D images still convey a powerful cultural and emotional force. I keep the energy level high by frontloading my courses with all the unifying principles of design, then putting students through a battery of exercises to give them numerous opportunities to demonstrate these principles. Along the way, I expose them to figures who have taken “old” design principles into new territories.
Unlike college students in large lecture courses that don’t fully engage them, I ask for (and get) students who put themselves entirely into their projects. This combined with the lack of any “guarantee” of employment in this field once they finish school make student artists work harder to make the most of this experience. Instead of seeing meaningful work as something to be done after making it through a lot of meaningless classes, my students find satisfaction in the present.
For the last two years, students in my printing classes have gone on to set up their own garage presses, creating their own original concepts and even earning money through screenprinting.
The class offers us many opportunities for “head-fake learning.” Students think they’re just learning how to master the coating, shooting and printing of screens, when they’re actually figuring out new ways of planning, executing and thinking about the function of the printed image. Beyond the scholastic, they’re learning how to scrounge, collaborate, improvise and think on their feet- skills that will serve them well in any profession. They learn, as I learned, that the printed multiple is an art form that carries with it a good deal of visual and cultural power.
Arming my college students with these tools has paid off. Their innovative thinking has brought forth student-led collaborations with other wings of the visual art department, like a recent round-robin style printmaking and painting class exchange and exhibition. Experiences like these challenge my notions of what is possible in an art class and give me ideas on how I can push the medium further. Click here to see work by one of my first silkscreen students.
Teaching art with inner-city public middle schoolers revealed more to me about the nature of learning than just teaching college. By teaching in a middle school, I witnessed the workings of the same K-12 system from which many of my current college students graduated. I saw how the demands of the public school system (still based on a 19th century industrial model) inadvertently beat free-thinking habits out of students. It was a daily challenge to maintain a manageable classroom while still encouraging open-mindedness.
I am reminded of how I was drawn into more serious artmaking as an adolescent, and I know the primary experience of being exposed to art at that age. This common currency I share with students allows me to introduce advanced concepts to kids many may think are too young to perform at that level. I argue that middle school is the best time to expose students to these techniques and experiences because youngsters at this age are developing attitudes and habits that they will carry through life. The earlier the exposure, the better the likelihood they will continue to endeavor in the arts as adults.
As a result of this intense indoctrination in art, my students are becoming more mature and engaged student artists. They amaze and impress me on a daily basis and are even keen enough to be taken on a four-day field trip to Miami for Art Basel.