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Yesterday I got to see a former student and celebrate with her. She has work in this year’s Southern Tier Biennial. Seeing her drive and energy is the reward for all those hours spent developing lessons, and in the classroom. Way to go Reese. I am sure this is the first of many such moments in your art career.

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a paper “wave” I made from old rejection letters as an example

My 3D design class has been grappling all semester with materials, I have tried to change how I mark this class to encourage more play and experimentation, and I have to say that it seems to have worked. I see my students in the studio outside of class, and they are happily making a mess and learning. Of course this gets pretty expensive, so I have inserted a unit on using everyday materials. The inspirational lecture featured some of my favourite artists, using nothing but cups, string, paper, thread, office supplies, and I am excited to see how their fully developed projects pan out next week. In the meantime, here’s a sneak peek at some of their ideas so far

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I was asked to put together a short lecture on Women Artists through history. I thought some of you who couldn’t make it might enjoy being able to at least see the slides. I will try to put together a version with audio at a later date perhaps. Anyway – click the link below.

Women Artists through History-web

I started out the week thinking about what art school seems to promise students and what it actually delivers. Yesterday was a great day in studio. It really felt like an art department. My students were scattered all over making room for themselves to work, and because it didn’t seem like there was really a class going on, many students from other classes snuck in to work too. The place was just humming with energy! My students spent the day quite happily learning how to make molds and pour plaster, they worked really hard, were not anxious to run out of the door at the end of class (or before). Then last night I went with a student to hear about this work – the hyperbolic crochet reef  – and the intersection of maths and art. That made me want to come home and make hyperbolic paper models that would function as books. Combined the two things had me thinking about craft and the sticky debate around Art vs craft.A thought I will have to shelve for a bit – no time to think about that today!

Then this morning I am reading Jafabrit’s blog post and wondering if it is easier to insert one’s self into this debate and be taken seriously if you are a man like Grayson Perry? (Grayson grew up in my neck of the woods – Chelmsford, he even did a stint at Braintree college). I think I really have some serious thinking to do over the summer about the shape of my classes as I move forward from this point. All of these things have me thinking about new ways to bring skills into my classroom, new unit ideas. Oh for a few more hours in the day!! Not to mention filling my already overstuffed head with ideas for new books, and a possible direction my work could take for the Tangled show with Molly. I am going to need a clone or a patron this summer!!

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.

Some days you feel you can change the world, and on others like today I am firmly reminded why I didn’t aspire to teach in the first place. It is too much weight to carry. And today I couldn’t speak a language my students could understand. Failing to communicate is a cardinal sin – no?

I came home and read Outliers (Malcolm Gladwell). I thought about opportunity and effort. I hovered on the edges of a few MOOC blogs – lurking. I walked up to the studio, I came back down. I am distressed and distracted by this failure.

I wish they could understand that I try. I search hard for ways to reach them. To communicate the knowledge in my hands, the things the material is saying that they don’t (won’t?) hear. I look for a bridge, a way in. I circle.

Slow down – Listen.

Today was the first critique for my 3D design class – right now we are exploring the potential of materials – a single sheet of paper, and wrestling with listening to the material rather than imposing our will onto it. Some of us are not ready to listen yet. We focused in this first challenge on the inspiration of artist Peter Callesen, but the project was only loosely defined – a single sheet of paper, cut, folded, no tape or glue.

 

So, browsing facebook this morning I stumbled across a hot topic, the sharing of ideas/skills you learn at workshops or in books. The writers of these two posts here & here, feel they have been ripped off because someone who took their online class in mixed media techniques either shared their password to allow a friend access (which I agree was wrong) or shared what they had learned blow by blow in some other way, in person perhaps. The friend who hadn’t paid then shared what she had learned on her blog.She didn’t give the name of the friend, or credit to the workshop artists.

Now I am apparently in the minority in feeling that nothing much of great evil happened here. I am wondering how many of you have been to a workshop/retreat or taken a class in person or online and then shared something you learned with a friend out of excitement or enthusiasm?Is that stealing?

I teach quite a large number of classes, I assume people will go home and share what they learn from me. I freely share my handouts and techniques online and in person with students and other educators. I don’t consider my knowledge something proprietary. Once it is in the public it becomes public domain. I don’t teach any online classes in techniques, only in art history, but I am always willing to email those lectures to people free of charge too. I know through my own spiritual work that part of my sacred contract is to teach, to share what the great creator has so generously and freely given to me in the way of talent and ability.

I realize that I am courting a lot of negative feeling here by saying this. Most of my income comes from teaching, I am not a tenured professor, only an adjunct, so I am not financially set for life. I have three kids in college,  two weddings next summer, my daughter & my sister, and a stack of unpaid medical bills. I know how hard it is to make ends meet in this creative life. But I am so blessed it seems mean spirited and small to hoard what I know and keep it from people who could be creative but can’t afford the price of admission.

Now back to the beginning. Maybe these two women set out to rip these artists off. Maybe they can both afford to pay for the class but choose not to. I don’t know.I realize that the blogger got something for nothing, but there really is nothing new under the art sun. I am sorry these two great artists whose blogs I read feel so violated, I guess I just wouldn’t under the same circumstances. I know that’s a personal thing. I am not making any value judgments here. Just wondering how everyone else who teaches feels about this issue.

So there’s a can of worms, anyone want to let me have it?

so the term ends, and both my drawing and 2D classes created self portraits incorporating ephemera. For the 2D students especially it is finally a chance to make something that is not a technical exercise. Here are some selections of their work.

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I am looking forward to winter break, especially as the lake effect snow machine has cranked up, and holing up in the studio with my own work!

Check out this article about the banned books read out at the community college where I teach. I read from Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic, the only book I am aware of that was ever banned for the pictures!!