AMBER TUTWILER
2017-Present
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I believe that art is, first and foremost, a language and a social dialogue. As an educator, my job is to cultivate well-rounded and informed makers that are fluent in their media while preparing them for post-undergraduate life in art related fields. To do this, students become acquainted with painting, surface, and materiality by thinking of the environment as interactive, participatory, and interdisciplinary. There is no inactive painting or drawing: every image, surface, and spatial relationship is prescriptive. As each student is in flux, I encourage an openness to change and eagerness to search. My students are consistently reminded that failure and risk-taking is an inevitable and significant part of the process. Through the fostering of technical skills and experimentation, students become more aware of their relationship between material choices, content, and their personal lives. Sustained interdisciplinary research aids in the development of their visual language through the interrogation of form, process, and context. The mark of success is when a student creates a body of work that aligns their process and identity with their technical skills and conceptual content -- and when their work enters the community through exhibitions, performances, and collaborative projects. 

In practice, my lessons are broken down as such: painting/drawing as seeing, painting/drawing as material, and painting/drawing as expression. Beginning with “seeing,” students learn valuable foundational skills in representational painting and drawing, utilizing measurement, value and color studies, alla prima, and indirect painting. To instigate participation, students are required to set up large still-lifes in the classroom themselves, while I act as a moderator for compositional choices. Though students are drenched in formal techniques, they are also required to read texts like Postmodernism by Eleanor Heartney, Ways of Seeing by John Berger and Themes of Contemporary Art by Craig McDaniel and Jean Robertson. These texts are important because students can discuss the limitations of classical painting and drawing from a cultural standpoint, critiquing the hegemonic paradigms of the past and present. This leads the students directly into materiality and expression, where touch, feeling, space, experience, and participation become necessities.

Pushing the notion that painting is interactive, students are required to explore paint as a material by moving past purely formal representations; they do this by building up a surface of paint to mimic a surface or texture of their choice. After all, we already live in a culture of seeing; by engaging touch, the surface becomes more intentional, a moment of empathy, and students can begin to embrace senses beyond the purely visual. Once a medium is understood as conveying experience, it becomes expression: what can one say in painting and drawing? How does this relate to the body - to identity? By introducing students to alternative methods such as laser etching and sculptural materials, while requiring research on local exhibitions and contemporary artists, conceptual development unfolds in their own body of work. In this early research, finding a voice that is both personal and social is the biggest challenge - but this cannot happen without play and research.

Getting students to this point involves the development of trust through many conversations; I do not see myself as an authority, but a conduit. I ask of them to challenge me in regular class discussions by directly proving or disproving claims about visual language and design. These perspectives are shared most freely in group critiques. Critiques render a chance to connect philosophical ideas to concrete examples while helping students see their own work through the eyes of others. The classroom is more than a space for education: it is a place for exchanging diverse ideas and beliefs. When students walk away from my classroom, they begin to realize that, as makers, the art is in their surroundings, and the classroom is just an extension of what is occurring personally and culturally.