I choose to teach because I want to be of service to others. Students who choose to study the fine arts are taking a risk. They have likely been warned that they will graduate without a guaranteed financial return on investment, and despite that, they persist. As an educator, I acknowledge the exceptional issues that encompass an education in the fine arts and work to prepare students with the skills, knowledge and wherewithal that will lead to long-term success. I believe learning outcomes pivot not only on the students’ efforts but also upon the levels of research, organization and dedication that I, as an educator, proffer. The following goals are my current priorities as an educator.
First and foremost, I strive to be inclusive and remain present with my students. I do not teach a group but rather a group made of individuals. Understanding the difference is the baseline to successful teaching. I appreciate that each student has endless potential as well as a current place of knowledge and understanding that is tied to their personal experiences. What makes my students different also gives them the very perspective and ideas that can make them wildly successful.
I work to develop activities that foster a genuine sense of community and encourage peer connections. Studio art classes have traditionally relied heavily on individual application and creation. I design my courses to follow in this tradition while also building in opportunities for connection and peer learning. For example, I may have students work in a group to build a still-life, or, after an in-class exercise I might ask them to exchange their knowledge by discussing the experience in small groups. I find that fostering conversation from day one establishes a safe community and leads to more open and productive critiques. My intention with critiques is always two-fold, to gain feedback but also to develop vocabulary and the ability to articulate ideas effectively.
Just as I want my students to make connections with each other I also want them to find their place in the greater community. I provide information about local art resources and events and encourage my students to be self-directed learners outside of the classroom. When providing references, rather than heavily emphasizing the traditional “dead white guys,” I place a focus on contemporary artists and minority artists. On occasion, I organize field trips to local art clubs and exhibits that reaffirm such connections. Additionally, I take the time to learn my students’ majors and interests and, whenever possible, provide connections between what we are doing in class and their individual interests.
Not only do I work to deepen my own studio practice and research but I also make a great effort to stay abreast of teaching pedagogy via professional development resources. I apply concepts such as Bloom’s taxonomy, cyclical learning, transparency in learning (TILT) and flipped learning in my courses. Although art is subjective, I do not believe Fine Art courses are exempt from transparent grading rubrics and a structured assessment of learning outcomes. Additionally, I strive to embody a wide variety of learning styles by incorporating readings, visual references, lectures, discussions, demonstrations, short-term exercises and longer-term projects. I provide supplementary resources (videos, links and texts) beyond what we have time to cover in-class and encourage students to further their studies independently. I aim to give my students a strong sense of agency. This can mean something small such as choosing between multiple still-life set ups of varying difficulty. Agency may also involve leaving the classroom to work independently, for example, outdoors, on a perspective drawing. As a course unfolds, agency may come to mean students develop their own final projects from idea to finalized form.
I allow for risk and failure in my studio art courses and, to make sure this decree is not perceived as lip service, I reaffirm it in my actions. For the select student, perfectionism can be detrimental to development. I find many incoming students mistake accurate rendering and draftsmanship as the pinnacle of fine art. While such skills should be prioritized in an introductory course I also provide an overview of other considerations. I believe notions of concept and process should not be withheld for higher level courses but woven in with the basic fundamentals.
Lastly, regular assessment of my own individual strengths and weaknesses bolster my teaching abilities. I freely capitalize on my strengths while attempting to reinforce my weaknesses with ongoing development and education. I have learned that the energy I give as a teacher equals the experience and knowledge I gain. Learning never stops, and it goes both ways. There is no replacement for enthusiasm and a genuine passion for the subject. Such a force is contagious.
My teaching philosophy is fluid and will shift and grow as I deepen my practice and advance my understanding of the art of teaching art. I am both an artist and a teacher. These are not opposing forces in my life but rather congruent and embedded practices. To make art and to teach is a life-long pursuit. It is my life’s work.