My most recent work deals directly and indirectly with circumstances surrounding personal health problems. A recent back surgery and the following complications have given much inspiration for my art making. I use my personal narrative as a jumping-off point to create artwork that brings up larger, more universal themes, such as body, disability, pain, and pharmaceutical use.
There is a ritual to taking medication. You are prescribed a drug and also prescribed its ritual. “Take this medication two times a day, morning and night.” It becomes part of your daily routine. For me this routine is what made me able to get out of bed or go into the studio to make artwork. Partly, of course, due to the effects of the medicine’s chemical reactions but, also because this ritual.
Akin to taking medicine, creating artwork allows me to hold out hope for my future wellbeing. Sculptor Damien Hirst (b. 1965) said, “I like the way art works, the way it brightens people’s lives up, but I was having difficulty convincing the people around me that it was worth believing in. And then I noticed that they were believing in medicine exactly the same way that I wanted them to believe in art.” Hirst adds, “Art is like medicine--it can heal. Yet I've always been amazed at how many people believe in medicine but don't believe in art, without questioning either." I happen to believe in both, and I take them as a sort of combined therapy. I don’t know that one would work without the other.
Each of these rituals brings with it benefits and side-effects. In creating the artwork, my health has become a large part of the art making ritual, conceptually and, every so often, literally. I have found a way to prescribe a therapeutic experience through my art making, for it seems when I make art about my health, I sometimes affect it. Art influenced by life has become art influencing the quality of life.
I love teaching.
As an instructor I prioritize the building of fundamental technical skills while still emphasizing conceptual thinking, ideation, and experimentation. My classroom is an open and straightforward interdisciplinary environment where constructive criticism flows through honest, safe, and intelligent discourse. I take pride in facilitating a challenging atmosphere where students enjoy coming together for learning
and professional development.
In foundations level courses, the elements and principles of design, along with other pertinent vocabulary and contemporary ideas, are presented in a way that supports collective growth without ignoring the individual and his or her personal learning process. I present new information in a variety of ways. While a demonstration may be the best way to reach one pupil, the hands-on activity that follows could leave the greatest impression on another. Whatever their learning style, I have an expectation of success for every one of my students.
I am not afraid, however, to allow my students to fail. Some of the greatest opportunities to succeed come from failure and some of the most stifling environments are those where there is the fear of failure. Maintaining the safety, and excitement, of a classroom full of teachable students allows for such an atmosphere. While this means allowing individuals the freedom to succeed and fail on their own, this approach demonstrates to the group that creativity and inventive problem solving are encouraged and productive. They get to see and learn from each other’s successes as well as their
failures and discover that there is the possibility of many solutions to a single problem. Through these open investigations, the student may show their peers (or me) a new way of thinking.
I, too, strive to remain teachable and sensitive to the changing needs of students. New themes and media are not overlooked in my classroom. Membership in national organizations such as FATE (Foundations in Art: Theory and Education) and SECAC, as well as attending and presenting at conferences, allows for my continued growth and understanding of changing trends in contemporary art, techniques, and teaching
methodology. I always present a course outline with clear goals for the short and long term, but the constantly changing needs of the department and the student must be regularly surveyed to allow for adapting courses to meet their needs. I am always open to consider revising the syllabus, to adapt, to create the greatest chance for my students’ long-term success.
Hands-on training with a variety of tools and techniques teach methodological skills, while the projects I assign guide the students through the application of the elements and principles of design. Each project adds another set of terms to their cumulative vocabulary. From the start, I hold group critiques in which everyone speaks. This gives me a chance to use and encourage the use of this new language. Keeping students interested and engaged in this dialogue facilitates absorption of ideas during this energized time. I believe this open dialogue combined with collaboration through group projects and small, in-progress critiques during individual projects helps to facilitate a positive group dynamic and encourages students to want to help each other make better work.
Building a visual vocabulary is also important as the student matures. We look at other artists’ work through research and trips to see contemporary work in person. I invite instructors and artists in many disciplines to speak or sit in on critiques to allow the widest range of influences. This is also a good introduction to the department’s faculty. I feel that it is important to be seen not only as instructors, but also as contemporary
working artists. For a foundational level student, a broad understanding of what contemporary methods are available to them may inspire further studies in a new area or simply introduce a possible media choice appropriate for an upcoming project. In this increasingly multi-media environment, choosing the media most fit to communicate their intention grows in importance. We work toward this understanding of purposeful conceptual and formal thinking skills by investigating relevant historical and contemporary art theory as well as writing and speaking about their own work. As students continue to hone their technical craftsmanship, they are asked to demonstrate their skills through more self-directed work. This is designed to build
maturity and foster independent studio habits while I can continue to adapt assignments that will encourage personal, artistic, and professional development. This learning and working model I establish is designed to provide the firm footing between any student’s educational experiences and what they hope to accomplish far beyond my classroom.