I think that two of the signs of a good teacher are the questions that they ask and the dialogues that they start. A good question can engage students throughout their lives as they gain knowledge and experiences that cause them to re-evaluate, re-answer and re=apply their responses. A good dialogue will inspire students to life- long conversations with all of their teachers, colleagues, peers and most importantly, them selves.
Although I have had my share of uninspired clunkers, I have also had the opportunity to steady and learn from some amazing, amazing teachers. I feel that I am in constant dialogue based upon many of the questions posed and conversations started. Sometimes I am lucky enough to be able top continue these conversations with my original teachers from high school and university, where we engage in conversations where we continue to teach each other. Sometimes, because of distance or death, I am left with their original comments that I then re-interpret to apply to new knowledge or experience. In many ways, these conversations are similar to the process of learning Talmud, a Jewish text filled with commentary on the bible, Jewish law and comments and conversations between scholars of different generations. Through the way the books are studied, contemporary scholars can engage in old conversations, argue with ancient scholars and then apply meanings and knowledge to current issues.
But I digress. Because of my dissertation topic and background as an artist, I recently have been thinking a lot about the process of making art, what it all means and some of the conversations that I have had (and continue to have). Many of these conversations were started in some classes that I took nearly 30 years ago with Margaret Rinkovsky, one of my favorite art teachers at UCSC. I do nor remember how many drawing and printing classes that I had with her, but they were always filled with interesting and inspiring assignments (such as drawing a nude model completely covered with a sheet), we well as insightful and meaningful critiques and discussions. On a practical aspect, we were being trained to look and really see, to focus on the subject and style, while the theoretical aspect helped to teach us to think, to constantly evaluate and reflect on our reasons our immediate decisions based on our marks on a page or plate.
One discussion in particular that has stayed with me is on the importance of identifying our intent of making a specific drawing, painting or print. We had to identify who are intended audience was, what we were trying to communicate and how, whether the work that we were doing addressed formal issues of 2D art (such as pure composition, light, etc), or whether we were instead doing something illustrative, to tell a particular story. In very broad terms, one way that this can be described as knowing whether we were doing a Jackson Pollack style (pure formal issues), or a Norman Rockwell (much more narrative and illustrative). Many of us young art students struggled to understand and apply these issues, while some were able to understand and integrate them directly and immediately into their work. Now my memory is kind of fuzzy and I would like to think that I was part of the second group, but in all probability, I was in the first- listening, discussing, and reflecting. Doing it again, and finally gaining the insight that enabled me to begin to become more mindful of my work, what it meant and the formal and informal issues that I was addressing. Over the years, I have become clearer on the intention of my visual work, of what and how I am communicating, along with the formal issues that I am exploring. As most artists, my work is iterative- I continue to explore certain images and ideas I am curious about. Sometimes the exploration is through a series of images; sometimes it is the multiple layers that are used to construct one image.
It is the understanding of this iterative process that helps guide me through my dissertation. Knowing that I am a visual thinker helps me to actually visualize the data and information that I am writing about. I can see the major and minor ideas, the associations between themes and words, textures between thoughts, all of which guide me to construct my dissertation in a mindful, authentic, and meaningful way.
All of this stimulated by a discussion started way back then with a great teacher. The lessons in one class can be applied to many others and the work of a good teacher can inspire and teach for many, many years after the classroom.
One more related thing. Yesterday, I went to a free Latin jazz concert at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. As I sat in the sun, listening to this great band, I decided that since I am thinking and writing so much about arts education, I needed to do some art. With phone (and camera), and sketchbook, I tried to capture some of the flavor of the afternoon. Neither media was really working, until I began to think again about my process of iterative art. So, over the next couple of weeks (based on when I have time) I will be working on a composition – a blend of digital and practical to see how will I captured the spirit of the day. I have no idea what will come of it, if it will be horrible or nice, illustrative or formal. But stay tuned here; I’ll post it when complete.
For additional information about my dissertation (and to help fund me), please visit: