Central to my teaching philosophy is the belief that creative expression is an irreducibly social act. Because the individual exists in a nexus of historical and material forces, there is no form of individual self-expression that is not also cultural. At the same time, I recognize that my students come to the classroom with a wide range of life experiences, temperaments, and priorities. I therefore try to find ways for students to connect their lives outside the class with our activities within it. Finally, I believe students learn best when more than a grade is at stake, when the products of their labor have a life beyond the classroom through exhibitions and community-based projects.

Students are often drawn to study art for reasons of personal enjoyment and a desire for self-expression. These are admirable reasons for pursuing an interest, but they do not necessarily prepare students to engage with art as a discipline and discourse with its own histories. I help them see that while art often expresses deeply felt personal feelings, it is also influenced by social conditions and enters a public arena in which it does material and representational work. I encourage my students to realize that art matters and to take responsibility for its meaning and impact. Accordingly, I structure my classes as studio-seminars so that students’ creative production occurs in the context of viewing, reading, and discussing contemporary culture. The studio-seminar model helps students develop research skills that directly support their creative work. Rather than lecture to the class about contemporary art, I often require each student to prepare a presentation on a particular artist and project. I assign manageable chunks of difficult texts to break-out groups; the resultant notes form a collectively authored study guide. I ask students to review cultural events they have attended and present them to the class. Evaluation of student creative work occurs iteratively all stages of development. In the course of a given unit, students will share ideas for feed-back, present work-in-progress, and evaluate completed pieces in the traditional studio art critique. While students may find the analytic emphasis of this approach unfamiliar, the vast majority report that their work improves remarkably as a result. Ultimately, I seek to enable my students to understand and position their work in an evolving legacy of experimental practices in the arts.

For students to take their work seriously demands that I do, as well, and my expectations are known to be high. But for art making to remain vital, it cannot feel like another country, one where students’ own interests are not allowed. I make an effort to get to know something of my students’ lives outside of class and design assignments so that topics that are most deeply felt can be explored. I often prepare extensive resource lists to help students find contemporary artists working on subjects and forms that resonate with their concerns. Students are encouraged to work from what they know. In a course that asks students to relentlessly contextualize, the incorporation of student priorities can foster the kind of critical self-awareness that is the classic goal of a liberal education.

Documentation of student work coming soon.