Art & Development

o! the joy of teaching

I had a great day of sharing knowledge. I presented my work in Sydney Cohen‘s 2-D class at CCA, and taught my Sketchbook Drawing class at the ASUC at UC Berkeley.

The 2-D class is for first-year undergrads in all departments. Though my work is fairly conceptual and 3-D, the students seemed responsive to my non-art materials such as the night lights in Dark into Light. They also asked great questions, like Do you come up with a concept first to execute? (While I often start with an idea, the project takes form as I’m working), and this gem: You mentioned your frustration with the limit of available materials — would you rather have any imaginable media to work with? (Yes, but no, the material’s manufacture and limitations often inform the work). Another student asked How do you choose what books to read? (The Road is perhaps bleakest of novels, and Dreams of my Father is most optimistic of memoirs. Psychology books are is easy to find, because psychologists always reference other researchers.)

My talk is littered with quotes and references, but the unglamorous reality is that I don’t actually retain much of what I read. I’m too much of a spazzy multi-tasker to absorb and recall information. I have to synthesize it. And the only way I’ve found to synthesize and retain information — my personal method of aperception — is to write extensive notes by longhand in my sketchbook. In fact, I looked up Holly Schorno‘s name in sketchbook #15 today, so I could present her work in my Sketchbook Drawing class.

I proposed Sketchbook Drawing, a six-week class, to the ASUC at UC Berkeley. They run art classes open to Cal students and the general public.

My goal was to make the class fun, safe for experimentation, and keep the students — who had a variety of previous art experiences — engaged. I skimmed fundamentals like figure drawing, gesture drawing, cartoon skeletons, contour drawing and color theory. My interest lies more in creative self-expression and mixed media fluidity than realism or mastery. In my own experience, drawing everyday is the only surefire way to improve one’s observational skills, and a sketchbook practice is a great place to start.

I had taken a few years off of teaching, and I had reservations about returning to it. But students that are responsible, self-motivated, and eager to learn has made teaching a dream. It’s been fun to present the work of artists and illustrators filtered through my tastes (Eric Drooker, Henri Matisse, Jess, Weston Teruya, Charley Harper, Maurice Sendak, Raymond Pettibon, Michelle Blade, John Audobon, Dan Eldon). Of course it’s really great that many of my students responded appreciatively to the class and are enthused about the next 6-week section, Intermediate Sketchbook Drawing, starting Wednesday, November 4.

I value transparency, so I was happy to talk about professional practices with the students at CCA. When I was younger, I thought of the “art world” as monolithic, and I regarded it with suspicion. It was nice to explain my new position that the art world is in fact comprised of a network of people, most of whom are bright, hardworking and benign. I encouraged them to consider their role in the network, and how their behavior shapes others’ opinions of art and artists. I put it rather bluntly, but I think I got my message across.


Podcast Reviews: Art school lectures

In the studio, I listen to a lot of podcasts, including lectures by contemporary artists, lit, conversations on astronomy, to public radio arts and culture shows. In the past few years a lot more interesting podcasts have popped up, so I thought I’d spread the good word and post reviews of notable podcasts here.

I’ve already mentioned the fantastic artist’s lecture by Kerry James Marshall at SFAI, as well as the really great presentation by Johanna Drucker at SVA.

SFAI’s podcast features world-class artists, but is rarely updated, and seems under produced (it’s just an audio recording of the lecture, but the levels aren’t balanced, and some of the Q&As should be cut or filled in). Likewise with CCA on iTunes U, except CCA’s recently hired some professional with a broadcast voice to conduct interviews. Though, with a podcast of first-year students seems more like an enrollment tactic, rather than intellectual endeavor.

SVA’s got a better-produced series of podcast lectures. As I mentioned, the Drucker lecture from the MFA Art Criticism and Writing department is great. I also tried listening to Barry Schwabsky present a paper on the ontology of painting — but had to stop due to a fatal flaw: the lecture was presented bilingually (English and French), but the levels were not balanced, and the translator was blasting my ears while I could barely hear Schwabsky. Too bad.

But SVA really excels with their Graphic Design lecture videos, including a Paul Rand series with notables like Milton Glaser, as well as a series presented by the design genius, Steven Heller. I haven’t got a portable player for videocasts, so I’m just scratching the surface of the design lectures, but they seem better produced. Learn more at the nicely designed web site, of course.


One more art school critique

Sat in on Keith Boadwee‘s class at CCA yesterday. It was a great experience, and I really enjoyed being a guest at art school again.

I was a guest for four 40-minute critiques at the end of the first semester of the MFA program. I remember the first semester of grad school as intense and crazy, a time of getting unhinged and cramming to produce work for the review. The MFA program is designed with an inherent paradox: students are to experiment under intense scrutiny. I sensed that many of the students felt the pressure and uncertainty. But I think while the critiques can be severe, the criteria for this evaluation are modest and fair: I think students are expected to demonstrate vigorous work habits, experimentation, and self-examination.

It took almost the whole 40 minutes, but I ended up liking the work of the ironically-named Justin Hurty, whose project encompasses walking around while carrying super-heavy assemblages of fired clay, cardboard, wire and packing tape. He literalized the burden on artists and on straight white men — he punished his body as a project. In fact, for the following two hours, he carried the objects to the other critiques. His hands got red and veiny, and you could see how much it strained his back. It inspired both schadenfreude and sympathy. While I think the class gave Hurty the hardest time (three cheers for his exemplary grace under fire), I think his earnestness, persistence and willingness — to run with the project and the critical input — are characteristics that will pay off.

An artist named Crow, whose last name I missed, presented photographic and cinematic documentation that formed the research and proposal for a series of objects. It was about Toulouse Lautrec, dwarfism, bodies, and involved a lot of theory about difference, gender and identity. It sounded like a good idea. But this kind of work, so heavily grounded in theory, is maddeningly complicated. I think it parallels OCD art, only the wow factor here is how theoretically sound a project can be. You can’t really critique a project that’s still in its planning stages, but Crow also strikes me as competent and much more informed about theory than I, so I’m sure he can accomplish whatever he decides on.

Josh Ferris showed photographs of a miniature landscape, with the intention of commenting on both global climate change and the sublime. The good news is that he exhibited beautifully-executed prints. The bad news is that I have seen work like this before. Thankfully, Ferris recognized that the work was problematic in how it created a conversation that focused too much on representation. Ferris, like Crow, seems to be biting off a huge can of worms, and it will take a lot of persistence and creativity to come up with an interesting artistic statement. I hope that the work of Richard T. Walker, whose work is about literally conversing with Romanticized landscapes, will be a good reference point for Ferris.

David Gillespie (corrections welcomed) showed diagrams and photographs representing his research for projects investigating subjects as varied as airports to brain implants. The display formed a wall of information that was difficult to scale. If I felt combative in Gillespie’s critique, it’s probably because I see similarities in our practices: a disinterest in visual interest, and an exploration of “meta” art methods or expectations. One project is an attempt to quantify metaphor as a requisite aesthetic unit in art. The terrain and method is valid, but as a viewer I needed more ways to engage with his process-product spectrum.

I’m sure all these projects will mature by the MFA show in 2009. Looking forward to being delighted and impressed. Good luck guys!