I’ve been in arts education for over ten years now, teaching, collaborating, mentoring and consulting with organizations such as the University of San Francisco, UC Berkeley, California College of the Arts, SFMoMA, Southern Exposure, Leadership High School, City Arts and Tech High School, and Out Of Site.
Effective studio environments often grow out of one-on-one moments: discussions about artwork, personal conversations which establish some of the core values of trust, respect and high critical expectations that create a safe forum for amiable working relationships to develop. I believe in making the studio learning process a personal, humanizing one: coming to each teaching situation adaptably, assessing the group at hand, and calibrating the work to make it meaningful, difficult, and worthwhile enough for the unique individuals in front of me. I’ve always gladly taught to the specific conventions of technical skills, but it feels utterly unethical to do this without marrying it to the power of conceptual intent, emotional introspection, all the things that make art more than empty visual representation, and about something stickier, deeper, and far more human.
The specific needs of any particular group dictate how to best support students: with younger, rowdier groups, my strategy often became one of providing a strong sense of structure and order for students living highly chaotic lives. As my teaching practice now focuses on older, more self-directed students careening towards adult careers, the task has become to flex their maturity, focus and competitiveness into a more integral sense of where they are in the world, why art matters, why cultivating their creativity and voice is a critical part of a well-rounded life. Humor and imagination as objectives are strangely missing from most academic outcomes: I try to encourage these in student work and culture as much as possible. I’m committed to showing people of all ages how to appreciate and create art using strong critical thinking skills, and an awareness of art as a tool for personal and social transformation.
My favorite teaching moments have often come in emails or phone calls long after the fact, from former students excitedly telling me that they have returned to keeping their art journals, that they finally saw some famous work of art in museum X, that they have become art majors, that they are living full, creative lives in any number of ways. The evidence that I’ve been doing my job right has largely been when students have drawn their own connections in their own organic, dynamic, unique ways between course materials, projects, the world at large, and their own lives, and then communicated this back to me, joyfully.