Teaching Philosophy

Students come into the studio or classroom looking for answers; in the studio, they believe the answers lie in technique, and in the classroom they think knowledge lies in fact. In truth, learning begins when we understand how to ask a good question. That question might be about what kind of glue to use in a sculpture project, or what motivated Abstract Expressionist painting. Good questions and the process of evaluating answers are at the root of life-long learning.

As a teaching artist, I am constantly aware of my role as Map Maker. Students expect me to be their guide. The journey begins with small steps.

For example, in my 3D design and materials class, we begin with paper. Students are initially skeptical about how much there is to learn about a sheet of paper, and seem a little disappointed to begin here. During the first class I give them a sheet of 18×24 drawing paper and them to take it home and make something three dimensional. When presenting their work in the next class, their answers are mostly different, they are secretive about their approaches, and they hoard their skills and ideas. We then look at a tutorial on making pop-up books, and I send them off to synthesize what they’ve learned with what their classmates showed them in the first critique, mixing in elements of pop-up structure, to come back with a new answer.

During this critique, they will maybe share their triumphs and failures a little more easily. Again, their answers are mostly different. We continue in this way for several weeks, each new idea or technique taking us further down diverging paths. The students circle back, revisit, stay with an idea, or run on ahead, and sometimes their paths cross or intersect, but they quickly begin to see that the trajectory will be unique for each of them, the work their own.

Some deeply engaged students realize they could spend a lifetime playing with paper and never run out of possibilities. They not only see potential in the materials, but in their own ideas and the ideas of others. These small steps take them past technique, into their own expression. I have unfurled the map and set them down on it, but what they really learn is that the map is different for everyone who uses it, depending on which questions they ask.

The paradox of being a teaching artist is that I am a fellow traveler. I am still learning, and new materials can be humbling! I share this with my students and I hope they see that I am still an explorer, with questions of my own, because this is what it means to make art. I may be a few steps ahead, but I am still walking. Making gives me agency. This is what I want to impart to my students.

I want my students to discover their abilities to solve a problem, how to recover from their mistakes and pick themselves up, resilient, to begin again. I hope to introduce them to the joy of solutions uncovered by their own hard work, whether it is the studio creating art, or in the classroom writing about it. I strive to help them find the maker in themselves.

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