One of the choice aspects of teaching visual art, apart from many other academic areas of study, is that there is never only one right answer. This helps to accommodate many different learning styles with a positive approach. I start each semester stressing the idea that everyone has something to offer. What comes easily to one might be difficult for another, and students should expect both experiences. My goal is to inspire them to believe “I can do this”, and to help them experience the reward of success. Therefore I set high standards for my students, convinced that they will achieve them, and knowing my positive attitude is contagious. To this end I make certain to celebrate each success but constantly challenge them to do even better. By never accepting ‘good enough’, I encourage students to exceed their own expectations and the resulting success becomes their inspiration.
My teaching approach stresses hands on experience, clarity of vision, critical thinking and visual problem solving. Hands on experience is essential when learning to draw. In a drawing class students must learn to see in a whole new way. They must begin to draw what they see, not what they think they see. Getting to this point requires students to commit to the process, to let go of what they think they know, to make mistakes and to learn from them, and to suspend judgment. This involves much risk taking and requires a leap of faith, but the resulting success is its own reward. Once students begin to realize their limitless capabilities, they get in the driver’s seat and act as their own motivators, setting their own goals.
I push the idea that to become better at anything you must recognize your strengths as well as your weaknesses. I encourage them to be honest to themselves about their work. To tackle problems as they present themselves, not to deny their existence. I want them to embrace the struggle that ensues from this process, to step outside of their comfort zone and understand the validity of that act. In this world of high technology, when success is ‘at the push of a button’, the process of risk taking is often an unfamiliar one to them. Risk taking is an ingredient in any great success and is essential in art-making. When they begin to trust this process and experience the inevitable successes, they have learned a lesson that can be carried well beyond the classroom, into all endeavors of their lives.
Critiques are also an important learning tool in my classroom. Through the critique, students engage in visual problem solving and critical thinking and learn to articulate their experiences and ideas. The active participation required in a critique allows students to own the learning process. I insist that they become articulate, use the proper vocabulary and learn to understand the logic intrinsic in their own opinion. Critiquing also creates opportunities for peer education. I encourage students to learn from one another, to listen to one another, and to be respectful of one another’s opinions. It is always a pleasure to witness the sense of community that develops out of this process, when students begin to support each other and root for each other’s successes.
Whatever expectations I have for my students, I know I must exhibit in myself. I believe it is very important for me to exude responsibility and integrity, to have strong beliefs but remain flexible, to be respectful and supportive, to value student’s opinions, to be fair and open, and to admit my own limitations.
I believe in creating a positive classroom environment. One that opens students eyes to a new way of thinking and seeing, that generates a respect and understanding of the visual arts and helps to expand their vision of the world around them.