Tuesday, May 10, 2011

It's important for some people to be crazy

This past semester I had the opportunity to teach art appreciation at SCC, an opportunity I wasn't sure I would ever have for a variety of reasons one of them being an uncertainty about whether I was truly interested in sharing my mental energy with others, who in some cases may just be going through the motions. As a grad student TA I learned that teaching is A LOT of work, work that takes you out of your studio or in my case out of my studio and away from other personal projects. Given that I spend about 80% of my life down a rabbit hole coming up for that much air seemed like a scary prospect....

I realized last year that if I was going to teach anything I'd want to teach art appreciation because beyond folks like myself or my peers and colleagues, with our respective rabbit holes, what the arts truly need are more lay people with a general understanding and appreciation for art. Let's face it, there's more of them than there are us.

The other thing I was really interested in was the application of art appreciation in terms of critical thinking skills. Evaluating visual culture is a great primer on thinking critically and is potentially more fun and more immersive than reading the one page essay and then breaking it down.

Over the past 14 weeks we've covered most methods, mediums, and styles of art making from cave paintings to the present day. I've been referring to it as a high-speed rail trip through art history. My students are neat and the experience has been really fun.

Aside from the objectives I had lined out for myself above, the other thing I was hoping to get out all of this was some knowledge and information from them. I wanted to know as much about what they think about art as what I planned on teaching. I scored majorly in that regard as well.

Sadly, through oppressive budget cuts I probably won't be teaching again for quite awhile. In the meantime I have some pretty awesome tidbits and reflections to take with me:

  • The student body at SCC is really, really diverse, economically, ethnically, and racially. It's been refreshing. So much so in fact that it caused me to reflect on what my academic experience has been on the university level leading up this. There was definitely diversity at UCD and CSUS but not anywhere near this degree.
  • The other reason this diversity was so apparent to me was because my students drew my attention to how white the art scene I travel in is as a result of the Faces of Art show at the Kondos back in January/February. I ask them to go and write down their reflections and I was not only surprised by the results but also surprised and a little disappointed in myself for not noticing this sooner.
  • Students are really, really receptive and have memories like elephants.
  • In contrast this memory can be oddly selective.
  • If information is important you should probably repeat it several times and once you think you've repeated yourself to the point of inanity perhaps repeating that info one more time would be wise.
  • Covering 32,000 years of art history in 4 weeks is ludicrous even though a lot of art history books do it. Every week for everything we discussed I could think of dozens of things we were leaving out.
  • I really need to brush up on my Middle Eastern and Asian art history.
  • Students will ask you totally left field questions about things and are often concerned with technicalities as opposed to ideas which is something else I found refreshing. In some cases the how really is as interesting as the why.
  • Finally, about two weeks ago the thing I would imagine most instructors dream about happened. I was sitting with my students in small groups discussing various assignments and one of them said, 'you know that quote you read on the first day of class about society needing doctors and lawyers but also needing artists to remind us of the joy of being human?' I said yes, and then this student said, 'well I was discussing this concept with my friends over the weekend and we were in agreement that, that is totally true.' I swear to god it was the most moved by anything I've been in quite awhile. I imagine it's the sort of thing most of us hope for. In the best case scenario you want your students to keep thinking about the ideas you're discussing beyond the classroom and in the mega best of scenarios they'll share these concepts with their friends and this chain of learning will just go on and on.

The really funny part is that the quote is from that Vice documentary about garage music which is pretty goofy but the quote is solid gold....

"It’s important for some people to be crazy. Every village needs doctors and rational thinkers and mathematicians and all that but they also need people that just sort of worship the art of being human and I think that’s what the artist is." - Christopher Owens, Girls


sharifofthedelta said...

three cheers for your class - the teacher and the students. another hurrah for your perception that we live in an enclave of culture in the midst of a melting pot, and the enclave is not of many colors.

Liv Moe said...