Friday, June 30, 2017

Art/Community/Education: The Teaching of Art

Edited by Milisa Galazzi 

This is the second article in a two-part series. In the last issue, using an interview-style format, four teaching artists and I explored various conceptual thoughts surrounding the The Art of Teaching. In this issue, I broadened my inquiry to include the voices of artists who posted responses to my specific question on our ProWax Facebook page. In contrast to the previous theoretical piece, this article is more concrete. The question I posed was this: "What is the most important element of planning a successful curriculum for your students?"

Jane Allen Nodine leading a discussion with students

Jane Allen Nodine: I am a Professor of Art, University of South Carolina Upstate, and I’ve been involved in developing curricula for studio programs for over 20 years. It is my experience that planning, preparation, and organization are crucial to a successful program.  

. Preparation includes educating yourself to the highest level possible in the discipline you will teach. Know your material and attract colleagues of a similar caliber to develop a team of professionals who will establish a reputation in the discipline. 

. Planning includes setting a vision and mission. Look at whom you are serving and set goals that are attainable to your audience. When your audience/students succeed, the reputation of your program will spread and attract growth. 

. Organization is crucial to teaching success. Organization of materials/supplies and space are a must, but instruction must be organized to allow students to grasp the material at hand and process according to their learning styles.

In my teaching, I offer verbal, visual, and kinesthetic experiences in class instruction in order to give each student the chance to succeed. Overall the most important criteria for teaching is, Practice what you preach. Set your standards high, work to reach those goals and apply the principles your are teaching in your work as well as in the classroom. All in all, it comes down to integrity.

Mitchell Visoky: Since I retired from teaching several years ago, your query offers a wonderful opportunity to reflect on how I planned and prepared lessons. Since I was the first art teacher whom students encountered in their education, I felt they needed the necessary basic elements and concepts to build on in later years of their art making. Creativity, my student’s pride in their accomplishments, the ability to see in a new way, and the importance of art in the world were my main goals. 

I always felt it was important to expose my students to a wide variety of media and concepts. I taught everything: drawing, collage, ceramics, painting, printmaking, sculpture, and technology. Having a plan for the month/year was always helpful. I also felt that besides directed lessons, students needed the opportunity to do their own thing while utilizing the techniques and concepts I taught along the way. 

Asking essential questions at the start and throughout a lesson gave significance and meaning to the work. Have you ever…? Why would you…?  Can you…? Where have you seen or experienced…? These are the types of questions that I used when I taught. You would think these would be questions for older students, but I used them when I taught elementary-age children.  They help the whole class to focus on a particular idea.  Also, the concept of planning backwards--that is, starting with the goal first--gave me the direction I needed: What do I want my students to do and learn? How would I get them started, and progress throughout the lesson? Breaking the lesson down to significant steps or procedures gave them confidence. Making art relevant to their lives was a key factor.

Krista Svalbonas: In all of my courses, concept and technique go hand in hand. It's important for me to teach my students not only how to make images but also how to see images and how to interpret them. I give them a healthy dose of contemporary and historical references to do that. We talk a lot about our relationship to images these days and how our tools influence our interpretations of images, and in turn how we can use these interpretations to make conceptually compelling work.

Deborah Kapoor: Broadly speaking, you need to prepare, to really know the subject matter. If possible, know your audience, meaning anticipate their needs and how best to communicate with them. In presenting material, I emphasize context, helping students to see where their work fits in with contemporary art making. Relatedly: I find myself thinking more about left brain/right brain notions, as well as introvert/extrovert needs as a teacher, a la Gardner's Multiple Intelligence lines, which is how people integrate information to learn.

Patricia Spainhour: I taught high school art and art history for 36 years. I’d offer these suggestions:

. Choose assignments that allow for a high rate of success. Students need to practice a learned technique, but feel good about the results. Otherwise, there may not be sufficient interest to move forward

. Stress design and composition within all assignments. Be consistent and point out when these concepts are being met

. Creativity is encouraged for all assignments. I want the concept of the assignment to be understood and to see ability demonstrated, but I also want to see that the work looks as if it were produced by a creative thinker.

Deborah Winiarski: Where I teach at The Art Students League of New York, there is no set curriculum as it's an atelier setting. The classes I teach are mixed media—everything and anything goes. There are students (all adults) working with paint, wood, metal, paper, installation, and any combination of all of these and more. It's a room with tables, easels and lots of power tools. There's no materials list. Students bring to class what they prefer to work with.

In each class I work one-on-one with every individual student. I critique their work, noting its strengths and where it could be made stronger. Discussion centers around the formal aspects of the work and not the story behind it. I advise them about technical, archival and structural issues. We discuss their statement and if their expression of that statement is clear and distinct. We talk about their preferences and how every choice they make matters. That is, how every element in a work should be vital to statement. Art with a capital A, nothing less. We talk about art, art history, and how artists think. We talk about art not being a career or a profession but being a life.

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