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, I use phenomenological and heuristic approaches to cultivate the connections between formal skills and conceptual development. I ask that students become attuned to the nuances of their perceptions; by connecting specific actions, such as writing, collecting materials, walking, and movements, to visual research, students learn that their work is inextricable from their situated perspective and daily routines. The goal is to provide students with the experiences they need to create work that aligns their identity with personal expression and technical abilities. With these skills, their work will be able to enter the local and global community through exhibitions, commissions, performances, and collaborative projects.
My students are consistently reminded that experimentation is a significant part of the process. As each student is in flux, I encourage an openness to change and eagerness to search. To aid in this process, my assignments are broken down into multistep exercises that build formal and conceptual strength. In the Two-Dimensional Design curriculum, students demonstrate their understanding of how each element interacts with the principles by completing quick exercises in various media, ranging from Photoshop, Illustrator, painting, drawing, photography, and printmaking. For example, to demonstrate the relationship between line and the principles of unity, repetition, variation, and movement, students were required to take 15 photos of any subject matter they preferred; they then used Illustrator to convert those photos to line, pulled the images apart, and reassembled them to abstracted, asymmetrically balanced “landscapes.” Once their composition was resolved, they transferred their design to Bristol paper four times to explore the influence that line weight and expressive mark-making have on perceptual space and the focal points. This is one example of how students execute their understanding of the elements and principles of design with projects that reinforce personal research, iteration, and variation.
In painting and drawing courses, my lessons are broken down as such: painting/drawing as seeing, painting/drawing as material, and painting/drawing as personal research. Beginning with “seeing,” students learn foundational skills in representational painting and drawing, utilizing measurement, gesture, value relationships, and color studies. Specifically, alla prima and indirect painting techniques are extensively studied through still-life. As students advance, the biggest shift takes place when a work of art is no longer seen as just an interface; instead, it becomes three-dimensional through material inquiry. To exemplify this in painting, students were required to use cold-wax medium and oil paint to physically mimic the way a surface or texture feels. After all, we already live in a culture of seeing; by engaging touch, the surface becomes more intentional, a moment of empathy. Once a medium is understood as conveying experience, it becomes personal research. In these early phases, finding a voice that is both personal and social is the biggest challenge. This cannot happen without play and investigation.
Students gradually gain control of their media and concepts through demonstration videos, individual meetings, informal group discussions with peers, and formal critiques. To help students learn more effectively in an online or hybrid environment, I have adapted my teaching strategies by breaking down my demonstration videos into shorter subtopics. This has significantly increased the amount of engagement as students can naturally pause to ask questions between each video. Especially as classes take hybrid form, students depend on interpersonal interaction to feel secure with their progress and supported by the community. To ensure that everyone gets the feedback they deserve, weekly timeslots for private remote meetings are part of the course outline. In these meetings, students can gain confidence in a private space where thoughts, emotions, and ideas are valued without judgment. They can then bring these ideas into informal discussions and formal critiques; these exchanges render a chance for students to connect philosophical ideas to concrete examples while helping peers see their own work through the eyes of others.
As students experiment with a range of formal possibilities with a variety of mediums, the lessons themselves are discussed from critical and historical perspectives. It is essential that students recognize the social context from which each formal concept arises. Art does not exist in a vacuum; it is the result of social systems, material research, and personal experience. By introducing students to diverse artists and cross-disciplinary methods, I demonstrate that there is not one, singular approach to visual communication. Once materiality, imagery and processes are understood as conveying meaning, art becomes research.