December 6th, 2011

Teaching Artistry

OK. Here it is: the final word on Teaching Artists courtesy of Etan Marciano, writer, educator and all around great guy. Be sure to check out Etan’s upcoming site The Hyp Replacement.

And now for Etan’s riveting prose…

 

The Artist’s in-Progress Approach to Teaching Art, a Multifaceted Engagement

Prologue:
It seems, unless you’re a minimalist operating in a world of invisible objects, that art making begins with two essential things: a material item(s) and an idea of some sort; the former tangible and the latter abstract. The enigmatic, exciting thing we call “artwork” is the sensitive by-product that arises from the highly turbulent coupling of real-items and surreal-ideas. Once in existence, the artwork’s purpose and meaning is no longer the sole possession of its creator, and through each viewer’s interpretation a new meaning is born. Over time, whether over minutes, days, months or years, these new meanings form to create pathways through which viewers are able to involve themselves in the artwork and derive, ideally, a positive, self-expanding, empowering array of meanings, connections, and personal anecdotes. That said, it is the responsibility of the artist as teacher, despite his/her relative transience to a viewer’s life, to generate at least one teachable moment, if not several (depending of course on weather, current mood of teaching artist and overall cooperation of the viewing group).

Impact of Material/Creative Process
The teaching artist draws upon his/her knowledge of working with materials, from the gathering stage to the assembly stage; this personal, highly individualized knowledge embodies elements from the historical, tactile and technical experience related to each material and combination of materials; as well as the crisscrossing relationships among materials, ideas, contexts, intents, and expectations.
The artist draws upon an intimate understanding that producing art involves a multilayered creative process that takes place inside and outside of the mind. An artwork represents the culmination of conceptual, experiential and technical developments over a period of time within a specific kind of space(s). It’s also true that an artwork need not reflect a fore planned strategy, but can include moments of spontaneity (ie “happy accidents”). The creative and active processes related to art making are, after all, unique to each artist, and in this way, can represent and reflect a diverse range of personality types, individual identities, set of influences, and contexts.

Impact of Artist Identity Upon Teaching Art in Museum/Gallery
Although artists are all together bound by a universal identity through the mere act of art making, each artist possesses philosophical, intellectual, aesthetic and cultural prejudices that make him/her educationally individualized within a museum, gallery, or other art related space.
In behavior, tone, and manner, no teaching artist is the same. That means the individual spirit and intellectual/aesthetic disposition of the artist as teacher inevitably leads to a unique manner of “doing” things. In a teaching environment, the artist’s approach to generating teachable moments comes through the artist’s particular interests, preferences and prejudices. Some teaching artists, compelled by a strong emotional connection, prefer to focus on the pure, visceral experience produced by an artwork and thus to frame lines of inquiry without discussion of the work’s author or context; this allows for the viewer to cultivate subjective impressions, to participate in just-look and feel type moments. Other teaching artists might prefer to remove the artwork from the vacuum and expose the work to the “elements” so (ie criticisms, scholarship, historical context).

Conveying the Sense of Discovery
The artist is well versed in the art of discovery, or the act of discovering. From the standpoint of material, style, skill or otherwise, the artist has experienced, through an undulating range of psychological states, the emotional nature of exploring new territory, experimenting, readjusting, redoing, rethinking. For the artist discovery is an essential feature of art making. Thus, the artist as teacher seeks to offer the viewer the means through which he/she can experience the empowering, invigorating sensation associated with creative discovery.

Artist’s Interpretation, and its (un)fortunate bearing upon the viewer
The artist is aware that an artwork, although generally non-textual, contains an implicit narrative as expressed through aspects such as medium, color and form, and even aspects related to curatorial/administrative considerations. The artist as teacher conveys, whether consciously or not, the idea that artworks, whether intentionally constructed to do so or not, contain within them a story, or are stories unto themselves.

Connecting the Big Dots in the Sky of Teaching Art
The artist as teacher brings to the viewing experience an intimacy with art making. The artist as teacher has closely handled the relationships among medium, action and emotion. This more holistic interaction with a work enables the artist to facilitate discussion that will lead to a deeper and meaningful understanding of context, process and result. Ideally, hopefully, the artist as teacher can distill accessible insights from their subjective, authentic art making experiences. The artist as teacher ultimately invites the viewer to experience the artwork as an artist.

Art Jargon, and miscellaneous asides
We’ve established that the artist as teacher can relate to the artwork as an “insider” and that this insider status provides viewers with access to a range of subjective artistic experiences. The question that comes to mind is what kind of language does the artist as teacher use to guide discussion and convey meaning? Does he/she academic or technical jargon? Or does he/she implement a more colloquial manner of speaking, yet one that still speaks knowledgeably to the subject?
Additionally, the personal and passionate touches in the form of impassioned gesticulation or varying viewing distances from the artwork, for example, act as expressions of the intimate, conceptual and stylistic relationship between one artist and another. The artist that speaks about another artist exposes the non-artist viewer to the way in which artists form bonds of both influence and inspiration.

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