Monday, November 28, 2011


When I entered into the teaching profession I thought I had come up with a concise and comprehensive philosophy concerning the teaching of skills and attitudes to young people. After several years of first hand art teaching experience with teenagers, while most of my basic tenets have remained the same, a whole new realm of ideas and questions have formed. These insights took on their clearest form in hind sight, after leaving my teaching position in order to pursue a more art centered career. My questions deal mainly with the unexpected lessons that can result from the most carefully laid plan. 

Clearly, theory and practice are two completely different things. With the latter, no matter what your discipline, you have your primary "medium" to work with, that being people, and, in my case, adolescents far away from home. While teaching, I tried to remain as open as possible to the desires of the students while compromising as little as possible my course objectives, or what I saw as the desired outcome (concepts, skills, and attitudes) of a given activity. I found this to be a constant challenge. How does a teacher maintain a balance between the realm of divergent thought, where there are no right or wrong answers, and the world of straight forward mastery and imitation of fundamental skills and/or facts? How willing should the instructor be to allow students to run into roadblocks on their own, forcing them to grapple with the frustration of the perceived failure? How much value should be placed on learning by trial and error? What is the meaning of success? Is it in the process or the finished piece? Should the teacher see it as her job to foresee all the stumbling blocks by designing assignments along with prescriptions for the attainment of the desired product likeness and accompanying attitude? It seems that the teacher's human relations skills and ability to be flexible are just as important as his/her proficiency in the given field. Likewise, the student's personal perception of a given circumstance, whether accurate or projected, is the key to his/her ability to absorb the information the teacher wishes to convey, no matter how enlightened that information may be. As Rama Krishna stated "If you try to open a nut when the shell is still green, it is almost impossible, but when it is ripe, just tap it and it falls open". To what extent should the teacher try to meet the student on his/her level, given the long term learning objectives of the assignment as well as time and space constraints and other classroom logistics?

I feel very strongly that the ultimate goal of education should be one of personal empowerment (This was a major part of my original philosophy upon graduating from the art education department at Kutztown University). I believe it is the teacher's responsibility to help students evolve and grow by showing them ways to go about acquiring the information they need as individuals and by inspiring them to participate fully in their own intellectual and creative development. In other words, what students need most is to learn how to learn. By helping to stimulate students' awareness and sensitivity to the natural and social environment, I would hope to encourage them to trust their own experiences and perceptions. Through this I would convey a message of self reliance in terms of one's own inner source of creativity and ability to solve problems in art and in life. With each project or level I would strive to develop ways for the maximum amount of "non structure", divergence, or freedom of expression to exist within the framework of a clear structure, or set of limitations that are simple, yet purposeful. 

If art is a means of communication then creative vision without technical mastery is ineffective in the long run. Therefore, it is equally important for students to attain concrete technical skills in order to be able to effectively represent their ideas and concepts. These skills should be taught directly (demonstrated) and practiced within the context of interesting and appropriate assignments. I believe that concepts or approaches should be taught contextually when possible, meaning that even basic exercises should be made into an opportunity to create a unified work of art. 
Art history and criticism are valuable tools for putting information and approaches into perspective. By taking initiative to actively (openly and honestly) participate in the critiquing process with clearly defined but simple criteria, students can learn how to assess their own and others' development more objectively and how to support their views with reasons. Once students are introduced to the basic principles and elements of a work of art and asked to speak explicitly about what they experience on a visceral level, they begin to view their own work and process with a more critical eye. Observing works of art from the present and past can serve to enhance one's own understanding of the role of artists in society and the relationship of an individual artist's or student's vision to that of other artists. It is important for students to know that there is almost always someone out there who is working in a similar manner or with similar concepts, and the lives and works of these people can be viewed as artistic "allies" to be learned from.
My present teaching philosophy takes on the form of an experiment in classroom dynamics that I would put into effect with the idea that change and growth and the unknown are all integral and important variables in teaching and in learning. The teachers who had the most lasting positive effects on my growth as a young artist were the ones who facilitated and supported my path, and did not try to over direct or pretend that they had all the answers for me. To teach is to learn, and, simply put, I believe that to inspire creates a more lasting impression. Theoretically, this would not denote a compromise in terms of my expectations for rigorous dedication to ones creative vision, conscientious acquisition of skills, and personal responsibility. 

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