The challenge with teaching classes in which most of the students are not pursuing art as a career is getting them to learn the language of art.
Teaching formal issues forces me to think as a formalist, a modernist, a designer, sometimes a structuralist, but rarely a post - anything.
The closest I get to post-modern instruction is the ethos of inclusion and eclecticism. I tread cautiously because the students can't make an immediate leap to that world. Their development is often at a stage in which most of them run the risk of translating that sensibility into the over-simplified maxim of "anything goes. It is a lazy statement that prevents them from understanding the goal of genuine aesthetic exploration. A foundation must be laid, and that foundation rests in modernism/formalism.
Since these non-majors often have very little skill of hand (more and more students each year suffer from this lack of skill), much of my time is spent encouraging to put down their mobile devices and move some kind of mark-making device on a page.
The digital age has made communication easier. An unfortunate side effect has been a decrease in content producers and an incredible increase in content consumers. Sadly, most of the people involved in the digital universe think they are producers when they are, in fact, consumers who are simply repeating the message of the original producers.
How does one become a producer and not only a consumer? The process is hidden to most people. Art can become a way to discover the process of producing something unique. Even the simplest marks in the margins of a notebook can be developed into something unique. I encourage doodles, wandering lines, random pattern and tone, with any tool which can make a mark.
The only effective way to gain an understanding of how to bring an idea from concept to completion is by gaining thousands of hours of experience making mistakes that reveal the giant gap between concept and completion. Even after learning to control as many variable as possible, in the process of making anything, one really is doing less to control the situation and more to anticipate the multitude of mistakes that are bound to happen. In short, repeat a bunch of unintended mistakes and one can begin to predict those mistakes. Those mistakes might be part of a larger disaster, or they might become part of a developing unique style.
I asked this semester's printmaking class to make 10 drawings each week. The request initially scared many of the students, even after I used drawings similar to those immediately surrounding this text. After a couple of weeks of encouraging doodles, automatic drawings, and using examples made by my 2nd and 3rd grade niece and nephew, most of the student started to move a pencil across the page each week.
The challenge was becoming a cheerleader so the students would continue to draw what came to them, without their hard-wired internal images of "good" art.
Landscapes were simple: horizon, near, far, large, and small.
Overlap needed to be addressed.
All formal issues needed to be addressed.......
From the scribbles, doodles, automatic drawings, I did some exercises in Photoshop, selecting favorite sections of drawings, and tiling them in a sort of freeze-frame kaleidoscopic patterning.
These quadrants and octants ordered the most non-geometric drawings,
and added a complexity that created new patterns and invigorated interest in both viewer and new artist.
This page shows how I instructed students to set up their sketchbooks. Each box is barely 2 x 3 inches. The drawings are more developed that the initial weekly 10 drawings. As the semester moved forward, I instructed some students to re-investigate earlier simple drawings to develop them with tone and line complexity.
Since I seem to teach Life Drawing every semester, I decided to make some demonstrations that simplified the process. While many schools of instruction seem to lean heavily on proportion (using the model's head as unit of measure), I have found that introducing the measurement of angle to be a much simpler instruction tool as well as a more effective entry into observational drawing (for most of the beginner-level students).
Sculptors tend to discuss planes more then 2 dimensional artists. I feel that this is an oversight by the 2 dimensional artists, and aim to bring a more sculptural understanding to the Life Drawing classes I teach.
The following four sketchbook pages are included to round out this blog post on instruction.
They demonstrate invented formalist drawing,
light and shadow impressions,
angled, structuralist life drawing,
hatching (cross hatching) while measuring angles from observation,
and the development of shadow impressions and modulation of gray tones.
I made these videos for some more of the non-art-major students in my class as a review tool after the initial introduction to intaglio printmaking. The class has many students who's first language is not English, which drives me to create more visual cues in my instruction. Even those for whom English is the native language, Art can seem like a second language, therefore review tools are valuable resources for the uninitiated.
The videos were made in one hour between classes. They were edited and posted to YouTube in one night after dinner. Even if the production value is low, the information has been useful to students.
Teaching a printmaking class in which only one student is an art major has made me question the assumed knowledge base of a class like this. Even before being confronted with the lack of drawing skill, I had the realization that many did not have much skill of hand of any sort, as well as the capacity to hold simple layering concepts in their minds. Therefore, I felt the only way to effectively teach to this group was to break the process into much simpler steps, while simultaneously bringing the demonstrations beyond the normal cursory introduction of a concept. Below you will see the result of the reduction block printing demonstrations I did over the last two weeks. I intentionally used planes, as I wanted the students to get away from relying on lines and start thinking about layers and implied lines. Of course, the idea of working from light to dark colors was also an integral part of this lesson.
The last image, with the black background, was helpful to students who did not yet know how much information exists within shadows. I prefer the chromatic black effect of the second to last image (and that is the state which saw a full edition), but full black layer in the last image was a helpful aid in discussing how tone shifts as each new color/tone is placed up on the image. It does reveal that the other darker layers in the earlier state were made with transparent green.
The link above brings you to an artist who took a General Drawing class from me his freshman year. He will graduate this semester with a degree in Biology and has expressed a very sincere interest in continuing with art. Currently, this student is enrolled in my Printmaking class. Noting the meticulous nature of the drawings on the website, I am excited to see what he can do with a print matrix.
I spent three weeks in Durango, CO this past January, working with Rich from Upstream Boards. While there, he and I decided to design a board that would work well on flat water as well as class II whitewater (certainly some of the more adventurous athletes DGO will take it on more difficult water). It was a total redesign of a model from last year called the 32nd Street. It is named after a stretch of water on the Animas River which sees both serious athletes and casual cruisers. And, it is often one of the only pieces of open water during the winter.
The time lapse video embedded below shows the entire process from design to first run on moving water. The camera equipment that I had during this trip was pretty cheap, but the video still gives a good overview of the process.