Teaching: Student Work
My teaching focuses on enabling students to learn to be sensitive, engaged, and, above all, inquisitive. In my studio classes, I return to three themes: allowing failure and play into the creative process through testing, experimentation, and research; the necessity of self-reflection and self-evaluation; and the creation of open and inclusive community. I believe that posing questions rather than imposing answers encourages students to pursue a lifetime of profound curiosity, exploration, and ultimately deeper understanding of their artist practice.
As a matter of practicality, these goals cannot be met until I successfully engage with my students, who often come with differing abilities, backgrounds, and interests. I use a range of content delivery to reach students: demonstrations, hands-on projects, slide shows, and discussions work well in class, while outside of class I utilize our LMS to deliver written guidelines, additional demo videos and content, and research/discussion forums. Throughout the semester, I cultivate a personal dialogue with each student, providing ample individual guidance and clear assessment of the development and progress of their skills and ideas. Group critiques provide a forum in which the class as a group can engage in a comprehensive discussion and analysis of students’ finished work. I use both verbal and written feedback throughout the semester to provide assessment and encourage progress.
As an on-going theme in my studio classes, I encourage students to embrace failure and experimentation as part of their creative process and as a way to build material knowledge. When a student feels at liberty to play freely as they work, the limits of their chosen medium can be pushed, stretched, and defined along the way. On the other hand, rigorous testing and research allows students a purposeful method to gain specific material knowledge, allowing them to build confidence in their technical and artistic skills. This playful mixture of openness to failure and methodical experimentation allows students to craft a dialogue with their material. When I assign technically challenging projects, I often build in test or practice components to encourage hesitant students to be more experimental and to help them build critical problem-solving abilities. I am very open in sharing my own examples of creative failure with students, especially those cases where failure has lead to discovery of new ideas and ways of making.
For many students, material knowledge and technical skills are just the foundation from which more complex aesthetic and conceptual concerns begin to grow. In most of my classes, discussions about form and material quickly evolve into questions about metaphor, imagery, and meaning. Turning outside the classroom for examples, I introduce students to a spectrum of historical and contemporary artists. In both formal lectures and casual conversations, I am conscious of including the work of artists from marginalized populations, as well as those from the familiar canon. I ask the students to spend time looking at, writing about, and presenting the work of other artists in order to exercise their critical and aesthetic judgment. Learning through example, students can begin to see how art reflects the experiences of those outside their own sphere, to define their own areas of research and interest, and to discover how to use their artwork to ask challenging questions about identity, culture, politics, history, and the environment. As students tackle increasingly complex content, I ask them to write both artist statements and self-evaluations. In these documents, students turn their critical skills inward to articulate their influences and intent and to reflect on their process and methodology.
In the classroom, I encourage a sense of community that values collaboration and inclusivity over competition. I listen closely to the experiences and perspectives of my students, and ask them to give each other the same respect. I encourage my students to work together, sharing information, ideas, and feedback. The practice of engaging in an informal and ongoing discussion with peers can serve as a tool for students not only to push themselves creatively, but also to open up to ways of thinking and being that might seem foreign or other. Over the course of working with students of who have neurological, physical, cultural, racial, and other differences, I am familiar with the occasional misunderstandings and slights that can occur in the classroom. When this happens, I help each student to understand the other’s perspective, and work to create a culture that builds trust through thoughtful language and inclusive behavior. As I teacher, I am profoundly excited to walk with my students through this fascinating space, each of us finding our creative voice to question, to create, to discover, and to flourish.