If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.
~ Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I cannot teach anybody anything. I can only make them think.
Art is a multi-discipline with no content of its own. That is not to say I have nothing to teach. Art is a discipline that is about everything else. This is why I tell students their most important art classes are often their non-art classes: history, religion, physics, mathematics, literature and even statistics. From these and other disciplines artists synthesize meaning and give relevance to their work. The ability to do this in a manner that can provide one with a creative career can only be developed in the right experience. In my classes we read, watch, write, discuss and practice with practice being the principle activity. In my core classes we learn the relevance of art to establish a mandate to be creative. The student learns that their actions are tied to a historical stream of art making. They must understand and appreciate that they have a tangible responsibility to contribute to this story of creative endeavoring. Art is not always romantic, it is mostly hard work (albeit a satisfying and invigorating hard work).
It is in the core or foundational classes I establish the standards of personal discipline through rigorous standards and disassemble preconceptions by providing contextual understanding. Students develop the capacity to identify the attributes of mediocrity and develop the courage to call it out in their own work as well as in other’s. This requires providing confidence through context such that the student can see their work objectively with a much broader historical and contemporary view. This also requires that I establish a professional trust with the student so that they know that what I ask of them is meaningful and rewarding. I am constantly revising and experimenting with my pedagogical methodology with the goal of creating a better environment of respectful and mutually beneficial discourse supported by carefully planned and evaluated assignments, discussions and personal guidance.
Beginning projects are structured with tight constraints to encourage more decisive problem-solving. Projects are expediently graded based on pre-established and understood rubrics. Additionally, mid-process critiques, daily inspirational and contextual primers (videos, slides, discussions, readings, field trips, speakers), and gentle but assertive demands for higher quantity and quality output serve to work towards these developmental goals. This method helps establish an environment of meaning and direction, but is also versatile enough to allow my teaching and coaching to adapt to each students’ learning style and pace.
In advanced classes, students should have an established art habit with specific professional goals and a firm understanding of personal strengths and weaknesses. In my upper-level courses, assignments are given that expand inventory of technical processes and conceptual/contextual content, but are also designed with fewer constraints to allow for more opportunities of mature personal expression, to take advantage of individual talents and to create greater potential for innovation. Projects in my advanced classes exist as motivational starting points for a deeper exploration into the student’s own studio practice.
I think it’s important to point out to my students that they will always be students and that college is not a time only where they get ready for life, but rather, where they truly begin the work of their lives. So, with that mindset, the work at hand is tied to more than a grade, and they focus on the essential skill of adaptability to our rapidly evolving cultural, economic and political landscape. As I teach the concepts behind complex software, I emphasize its foundation in metaphor, and these concepts’ implications in emerging technology. I tell students to learn Photoshop first as it is one of the oldest and most mature of all creative applications. Countless other digital tools use its concepts, metaphors and workflows to do parallel or similar functions. If the student understands how the systems of the past and present have evolved, he or she can anticipate the functionality of emerging systems, and perhaps be motivated to create their own. This mode of thinking, of looking at the problems before us from a high vantage point, is I want to emphasize in my curricula.
Today’s students are the future creators and custodians of our culture. Never before has a single person been able to make and disseminate a work of dynamic media (such as a video or an internet application) to so many — across so many political and cultural borders in a single day — for free. I believe students desperately need to know that they can be and must be more than the consumers of our new digital culture — it is their responsibility to be the next architects of this landscape. The professionals of digital media wield massive influence upon the way the population communicates, learns, and makes decisions. The rapid developments of our time have enabled us to be in more command of our destinies than any previous generation. With the goals and methods described above, I am confident I am making a beneficial contribution to these developments, more importantly, empowering the next shapers of our cultural paradigms.