People have an inherent ability for creating art, but beginners and experts alike can be blocked by fear. “Art is literacy of the heart,” wrote educator Elliot Eisner. As a teacher, I assist student-artists to ease or dismantle fears and encourage a personal voice to surface through their art making. The first steps are to teach the traditional techniques, and explore and discuss the appropriate art history. One must know the rules before one can choose whether to break them.
My students then explore contemporary and experimental concepts and techniques. As one gains knowledge and grounding, the fear subsides. If artists accept that risk of failure is an integral part of success, it is easier to forge ahead. Good teaching means challenging students to take risks, using clear communication, being flexible, and cultivating persistence. My intent is to create a nurturing but highly challenging atmosphere that supports personal growth and builds technical proficiency. Clear communication for a variety of learning styles is important. Assignments are given in both written and verbal form, with appropriation demonstrations and examples.
They learn not only by making images, but also by examining how great artists applied the elements and principles, and how that application has evolved and shifted. The ultimate goal is not perfection, but expressing yourself meaningfully.
Art can change the world. Lewis Hines’ photographs of children working in factories brought about social reform. Photographs of the Vietnam War in Life Magazine instigated the anti-war movement. Art is one of the most important ways people tell us how they view the world. What it means to be here in this world, at this place and time, may be explored through the works of artists of all ages. Incorporating art history when relevant in studio classes is a priority because the past stories inform the present and the future stories. These stories can be very entertaining as well, which strengthens the student’s connection to art.
Assisting and encouraging students with exhibiting their work, both on campus and in the community, is important. Exhibitions create opportunity for dialogue, both about the self and the connections between people. It can link past and present art ideas. When students present their artwork to others outside the classroom, a sense of pride and relevancy rises.
The arts do not exist in isolation from each other, just it does not exist in isolation from other areas of life. For example, photography naturally connects to other arts, such as dance, theater, sculpture, and painting. The combinations are extraordinary, and the chance for unique and powerful messages are multiplied. Over the years, I have taught and practiced ceramics, painting, printmaking, photography, and sculpture, and they all support one another into a great whole rather than separate entities.
Exploring the contribution of diverse artists to the world community expand students’ beliefs about others and encourages pride in being an artist. Art should be studied and made for both its expressive power and its possible social meaning. Art is a language of thought which must be accessible to all students, not just the talented or well-connected few. It is essential for instructors and student-artists to work together to explore their own stories and dislodge the ideologies that sustain the practice of exclusion and marginalization. Teaching non-Western art, European art, and contemporary art is important because, in some way, it is part of everyone’s story and survival. One story is needed to balance the other.
Lifelong learning means embracing the idea that it is never too late to change or learn. I teach the concept partly by modeling, and partly by examining great artists who kept evolving when the spirit or necessity arose. Lifelong learning means true empowerment, and I learn along with my students.
Art is a vital and indispensable way to communicate many important ideas. As a teacher, I have seen many of my students of all ages change in some degree the way they think about themselves and the world. I believe the study of art must be approached with focused energy and rigor. The response will reflect this approach.