Updated: Mar 29
My life’s dearest wish is to make my life a gift. The gifts I have been given call to be given back. What I get out of teaching is the sense that I am connecting with others as human beings; and in so doing, supporting the students’ process of transformation and revelation. I have been a lover and aspirant of art and its practices throughout my life. I am a seeker. What I have to offer to students primarily is this love, this calling, this dedication. I also offer the example of my disciplined practice, my systematic ideation, and my sense of adventure.
When we struggle to find answers in art, we often come to realize we are asking the wrong question. The work; rather than something we figure out, arrives by revelation. We make space for this by wrestling, by crawling in this darkness. My intention as a teacher is to embolden students to sit with this grey-ness, a grey that they fill with nuance, such that what once appeared like an empty void lights up like an IMAX movie.
When my Lithography students begin, they cannot discern what difference it makes to hold a sponge one way or another. I point out things; I call out situations: one moment unlike the last. I describe in detail; I intonate my words; I gesticulate; I bring my eyeball down to the stone. Over time, I might see the student experience a kind of déjà vu, like hearing the first notes of a favorite song they’ve never heard before. When confronting a novel technical or artistic situation and confronting the grey, I can see them look a little harder, daring to hold faith that there is more than meets the eye. Gradually, they notice a bit more correlation between hand movement and pictorial sensation. I see them lean in a little more, waiting for the movie to start.
I support this wrestling, this leaning in, by modeling my decision-making. Sometimes perseverance is needed; whereas at other times, the student needs the detachment to turn the piece to the wall for a while to allow the knot to untie itself through faculties aside from effort. Maybe a trip to a museum is needed to find a kindred spirit in someone you have never met. Maybe the thing that fits oddly in the piece should, instead of being removed, become the cornerstone upon which the rejuvenated piece is built. Sometimes the passage that we cherish so preciously, that we tiptoe around, is the very cancer that needs to be cut out. The cold, black sea of art-making is just as formidable to me as it is to them. It is just that I trust myself to swim.
Communication is more listening than telling. Even while I set goals of the class in group discussion or in the syllabus; when I meet with students individually, I relate these goals to the work at hand. I re-state the class objectives by re-framing them in the language they are using. This reforming or adaptation follows each student’s learning mode, whether linguistic, kinesthetic, or visual. When the students see the concepts in the physical matter that they are making, then they are not adopting someone else’s idea, but rather see their own work interlaced within the continuum of ideas and images.
We share one humanity; and we know more about one another than we usually have the patience to realize. As a teacher, I make a space that is nurturing, a place that is safe enough, fertile enough to get subtle. I hope to lend my eye to my students’ eye — to become their telescope/microscope/time machine/crystal ball. As a teacher, I am watching the student run. I am in front of them running backwards. They know where they want to go, but are searching for the steps. I am looking at them. I learn where to backpedal by watching their eyes dart to and fro (twitches they may not realize they are making) and recognizing something. To teach and to learn are to recognize. And when we commit ink to paper, we acknowledge.