Every project and method of instruction which I use are shaped by two fundamental premises:
First, the practice of making art by hand is necessary for the lifelong development of all students, whether they are aspiring artists or simply taking a course to fulfill a general education requirement. Students learn essential things about themselves, their peers, culture and history only by physically making a work of art.
Second, demonstration, or teaching by example, provides the strongest foundation for learning in the studio classroom. Students learn best when they are able to witness, firsthand, how their instructors and classmates go about making art. Beyond helping them to develop essential technical skills, this approach inspires them to stop thinking of themselves as students, but instead as junior peers, or working artists among a community of artists. For this reason, the depth of the instructor’s personal studio experience makes that instructor more effective in the classroom. Students begin to respect and identify with their instructors and peers, seeing themselves as artists.
In every course I teach, students make the language of art their own and find meaning by solving relevant and engaging sequences of hands-on visual problems. Each project builds on its predecessor to reveal the formal elements, principles, and techniques used to make a work of art. I firmly believe in the principle of scaffolding, that after explanation and demonstration, a student must attempt a solution on their own if they are to learn and grow.
I only provide assignments which are appropriate to the level of the student in the course and which provide the concrete possibility for success. Success breeds more success and, along with it, the appetite to explore the unfamiliar. To achieve this, I present each project with a clear set of parameters along with a clear working methodology. I explain directly to each student why they are doing the project, what their learning outcomes will be, and the techniques which they will need to master. Then, I demonstrate the assignment, provide examples of other student work, and place the assignment in the broader context of art history and culture. I explain to students that I want them to master techniques, but not at the expense of experimentation and making mistakes. Experimentation is the catalyst for conceptual development.
Introductory Drawing and Painting courses should always emphasize learning to render from observation as this is essential training for representational and abstract artists alike. This teaches students to investigate the visual world in a way which casual seeing does not. Every artist is liberated by mastering the ability to translate 3D reality onto a 2D surface by applying the visual elements and principles of design, as well as value modeling and linear perspective, to create images that are interesting and spatially convincing. Intermediate and advanced students can then further explore the wide range of approaches to their medium, whether traditional or contemporary. As students progress, they should begin to establish an artistic point of view which is actualized in a cohesive body of work.
Throughout this process, students are provided with opportunities for reflection and assessment. I require students to keep written journals in which they acknowledge their struggles, identify their progress and reflect on the essential ideas they are working with. These provide a basis for critique, both in the individual and open class format. During critique, students respectfully discuss the work of their peers in terms of both content and visual analysis, using the appropriate terminology. Although students are required to present well-crafted works of art, it is important that the critique does not feel punitive to the student. I want them to view it as an opportunity to see their work through the eyes of their peers and to find something positive that they can carry forward into their future work as budding artists.