Teaching Philosophy

In my many years of teaching art, I have discovered that one must teach the individual rather than a class or a group. Each student's progress must be considered somewhat differently from another, with great clarity, respect and integrity.

A good teacher is a mentor, but an excellent teacher is also a catalyst –a stimulator of thought. I believe the creative spark in us is simply the ability to focus on what we strongly desire. I therefore encourage imagination, critical thinking, and technical proficiency, but I do it with patience and an understanding of each student's goals and needs.

Words alone rarely teach. My teaching is more through my own example combined with the student's individual experience in the studio or lab. Teaching is a co-creative experience; that is, it involves the teacher and the student creating something brand new, something unique to the energy of the relationship that was not there before. It requires attention, focus, and most of all, the desire to see beyond the limitations of the current student's abilities.

Although I may bring high expectations, clarity and direction to a project, it is up to the students to prove they know what is expected of them. They must experiment on their own to find their distinctive viewpoints. I won't do for my students that which they can do for themselves, because it would otherwise rob them of an opportunity to show their own ability and talent.

My students learn to get in touch with and improve upon their own creative powers. In a beginning drawing class, for example, there is a lot of resistance to the idea that drawing can be learned. Many students think that drawing is an inborn talent that is gifted to merely a few. To counter this belief, I first encourage students to draw every day. I discuss consistent practices and a high quantity of output as a path to improvement.

Concepts of line, shape, value, space and color are important to the knowledge of a beginning draftsman, but even more important is the ability of the drawing student to ask the right questions, such as: What are the horizontal and vertical relationships in the drawing? What are the proportions? What is the negative space? What are the depth relationships? Where is the light source? Where are the darkest and lightest values? What is the dominant focus? These questions allow the student to look more carefully and thoughtfully, and to create with greater confidence.

Any design technique should serve the idea and the process of the project without overwhelming the intended effect. Today's students have the demanding problem of learning to juggle design principles, design concepts, and design software (such as the Adobe CS5 Suite). Often they master a superficial technical skill before truly understanding good design. They try to impress the viewer with technique alone. They forget that the details of layout grids, fonts, columns, color schemes, photographs, and illustrations must be integral to the whole. Part of my job is to help them see the larger overall picture of what they are attempting, to do it faster, better and with greater ease. I also demonstrate that the principles of color and design are "portable" and can be used in any visual medium, whether it is an illustration software program on a computer or a watercolor illustration on paper.

My in-class critiques help students to define and to articulate their ideas and to look more carefully at their fellow students' efforts. By advocating and explaining what they have created in a group setting, the students learn to speak more clearly about their art. They learn as much as from each other as from me. They quickly develop a more discerning eye to their strengths and weaknesses without the "top down" lecture from the teacher.

I also document early examples of student work and then compare them to work done months later. This shows proof of improvement and helps the student to acknowledge his or her own progress. By making "before and after" comparisons of their student projects, these students also come to see the importance of the frequency of drawing. Most significantly, they begin to understand the difference between looking "by default" and looking with deliberate focused intent.

The more advanced student must be approached with a somewhat different method. I use discussions of relevant techniques, art historical references and stylistic choices, social, and psychological perspectives to find new ways to enrich the students' understanding of what they are creating. My questions are more philosophical and may include: Do technique and content work well together? Is the point of view worth exploring? Is this original? Does the work meet its intentions? Is there a passionate interest for the process? Could the work be any better?

While I encourage regular practice, for some students, practice alone may not produce the expected qualitative results. Such students might already have a firm grip on technique and theory, but need to concentrate on doing what they already know. I might talk about the route to creation itself, including ways to relieve stress and come into a more relaxed state of mind, one that is more receptive to the flow of ideas. In certain cases, I might recommend him/her to imagine more and work less; that is, to spend more time on visualizing solutions rather than randomly banging things out on paper, canvas or in clay. I find that encouraging a keen sense of self-awareness is the driver for effective actions and productive results.

As an artist/teacher, I can best demonstrate my credibility to students by attending to my own work. Teaching creativity includes making drawings and paintings that reflect my own struggle with art issues and by resolving visual problems that face artists like myself every day. There are many excellent ideas that come from my studio, which I can then apply to the classroom. For example, when teaching painting, I employ many techniques that include glazing and scumbling that I have discovered through trial and error. When talking about color, I refer to a palette of split complementary colors that have served my own work well. Since I have used the golden ratio and root rectangles as devices for own experiments, they become active in my lectures for 2D Design. Art historical references to Italian art will come up because of my living in and traveling to Italy.

When students leave my class, they have achieved a greater sense of self-confidence, an expanded technical expertise, and an ability to visualize clearly and effectively. They are able to more easily discuss their work, and to use that knowledge to move forward. They begin to understand the power of their own focus and to see that their creativity is limitless. They are eager, enthusiastic, and inspired. They inspire me as well. As evidenced by evaluations, letters, student awards, portfolios, and employment, my students have made outstanding progress and have done remarkable work.

For me, teaching is a joy. It is a natural extension of who I am. I love to empower students with the ideas and techniques they need to express themselves. I especially love seeing their eyes light up with the excitement of discovering a new concept for the first time. I see each one of my students as the capable, effective and powerful creative person that they desire to be. My goal is to encourage their artistic abilities and help them grow into the best artists they can become.