Yesterday was a great day. In the morning my Visual Survey class was in the library doing research. For the Spring semester I assign research on a living contemporary artist. They have to find out about their work and then situate it in a larger art historical context. Most of my students are art majors, they are taking the course because they have to. I encourage them  to pick someone in their “field” a painter, ceramic artist, whatever. Most often they just pick someone who is easy to research. I am not sure what changed this semester, if I presented the idea in a better way, or if this is an exceptional group of students, because they are working incredibly hard digging up information and critical analysis of some obscure or difficult artists. I have an anthropology student in the group this year – actually a lot of the non-majors are anthropology majors, a non-traditional student and a knitter. She is researching craft activism and yarn bombing, digging in to the contentious debate around art/craft and really excited. I have to be honest, I rarely see students really EXCITED about writing research. Another student wanted to write about an illustrator, and is tackling the debate around commercial/fine arts, and yet another is approaching this same issue but using the work of a highly successful set designer. I have to say that I was on cloud nine coming out of the library yesterday. It feels very successful to help students find how all that historical material is relevant to their life!

Then I went off to my 3D class. I have written here before about how hard this class is for most students, who are worried about their grades, who have forgotten how to just relax and play with the materials. This unit is particularly hard as we are casting. But again, there must be some great mojo on campus this week – they are really working very hard. If only I knew what had switched them on. My suspicion is that many students come to higher education studio classes expecting master classes, to sit at the feet of a master and learn all their tricks and techniques. Anyone who has experienced higher art education knows that this is not what you really get. But during this unit they are actually learning a new skill, none of them had done any casting before, so they feel as if the contract is being honored. Plus the whole thing is very messy – and most students like to get messy. It is a bit of a mystery to me.

If I were a truly excellent teacher I would know exactly how I motivated this bunch of students, so that I could replicate the effect. Alas I am just trying very hard. Perhaps it is just the end of the semester chemistry coming around. Still I am happy to have seen that sudden spurt of enthusiasm, it will keep me running for a while.