As a new teacher, circa 1995, my teaching philosophy was largely modeled after those who taught me, those who I thought were successful at teaching. In fact, all of what I was doing in the classroom was loosely borrowed from them and implemented by me. Not long after college graduation, I found myself in front of all age groups as an adjunct photography teacher for Volunteer State community College. It was a fantastic yet terrifying experience. I did not have formal training or pedagogical courses to calm the overwhelming sense of what to do next. Thankfully however, I was practically raised art department environment – I am from a family of artists, and was fortunate enough to have learned art from some of the best educators available. But, is this enough to formulate my own philosophy on teaching? That was 17 years ago and I am probably now just able to answer that question. Truth is, it was not. I had to learn under fire, to remain viscous enough to allow change in my approach, and to react to the hurdles as if they were puzzles.
I remember when I spoke to my father just before entering the studio as a teacher. He was at that time a seasoned art professor with a lengthy list of studio experiences. I will never forget what he said no matter how trivial it sounds on the surface. His sole piece of advice was, "don't sweat it, you know more about this subject than they do and if you make a mistake, who will be the wiser.(?)" This may have calmed my nerves about being in front of a class, but it did little to formalize my approach to teaching, so I asked him a more specific question. His answer was right in line with how he raised me; his answer was a question. It was a question that guided me to the answer without me being aware. It did precisely what it was supposed to do, and was brilliant in its design. Upon reflection, I don't think I fully understood how much of an impact it would have on my teaching philosophy until much later in my career.
Art is challenging on many levels and the study of it should be in pursuit of answering questions. Not only in it's strict definition, but also with questions involving creative risk. This should all take place in an open, collaborative and creative environment where students can learn, exchange ideas, and practice while feeling safe to celebrate their mistakes and their successes. As a teacher, I too need to follow this directive. It is just as important for me to feel safe to ask those questions and to celebrate my mistakes and success. I see creative growth as a non-linear progression, there are plateau's, falls and rises. A linear progression does not include creative risk and their inherent questions, which are a natural and needed circumstance for new discovery in ones understanding of the discipline, be it in the studio or classroom.
It is this questioned pursuit of art that fascinates me the most and what guides my teaching. It is my goal to expose students to a variety of methodologies and viewpoints, and to make connections to the past, the present, and the future so that they feel empowered to ask their own questions of the art. Not only to its importance in todays society, but also its importance to them as a thinker and doer in all areas of life.
Within each class, I incorporate a variety of resources, including websites, books, articles, films and music to inspire students to think, discuss, and create. Historical and contemporary artist's works are viewed and critiqued to give a broader definition of the practice of art. Projects are then assigned to draw relationships between personal investigations and learned outcomes. I challenge students leave preconceived notions of what art should be and cross that theoretical line in the sand, to think outside the box.
I teach the foundations of art with the understanding that one must learn the rules of image understanding before one can truly know and or utilize a specific medium to its fullest. This is accomplished by giving students a strong fundamental base from which to build upon. This base includes the principles and elements employed in successful compositions, in both 2D and 3D art. Students also learn to discuss their own work and the works of others, including their peers, through individual and group critiques. Genre specific discourse is learned and applied in positive terms giving students a deeper understanding of the meaning of art.
Once the foundation is built, I encourage students to utilize visual art as a tool for self-expression. The advanced classes learn to think critically about imagery and its impact on the viewer. I work with students as a group and independently to instill confidence in their opinions and abilities, while allowing them the freedom needed to explore their personal interests.
My intent as a teacher is to instill a deeper awareness of visual art. Students will leave my class with more than a basic understanding, giving them the ability draw complex analogies of how the visual arts impact their lives at any given moment. There is no greater joy than seeing a student's eye awaken to discover the impact of an image, discuss the meaning of a subtle gesture, or create his or her own meaningful work of art. This is what inspires me to continue to teach young creative minds.