Saturday, March 19, 2011

My Other Job- College Art Teacher

I realized that in the entire time I've been writing this blog with all of the various subjects I've discussed, I have never talked about my alternative profession aside from that of a professional artist. I teach art. While not nearly as romantic in the minds of those who are not professional artists*, teaching art in college is only as exciting as your creativity and openness to change can make it.
(*Try spending 200 hours in the studio alone working on a single piece and see how romantic it is.)

Creating assignments for a class is very much like open-source software code. We're usually happy to share assignments and take assignments from other teachers, then try out changes to the assignment, experiment with it and make it your own, and then pass it along. That way the assignments are always dynamic and changing with the times and, in turn, they keep the students interested and learning.

When I first started college, 2D Design was always the boring entry level class everyone was required to take, and then in graduate school it was the boring class to teach as a student teacher... But it doesn't have to be that way. You are only trying to get across a few simple ideas as far as how to arrange a visual composition using line, shape, value, color and texture.

But how you get across those basic ideas can certainly change with the times. Those design ideas began in the 1920's with the Bauhaus school, and the assignments from that age seemed to become the new paradigm for teaching design. These geometric abstract projects certainly persisted when I was a student and I still see them in lots and lots of design classes today. I'm not saying that students can't still learn from those assignments, I am just saying that what was avant garde 80 years ago is antique today.

Let me show some student projects that I and other teachers have taken part in shaping some new ideas for a 2D-Design class.

(Note: I am keeping the identities of the students anonymous under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act)

Here are two assignments that were inspired by the artist Chuck Close.  Both are about pixelating a portrait down to a ten-step value (shade) scale, but the first focuses on line and value, and the second on value and choosing a color scheme. Thanks to John Pomara for the idea on those two great projects.
Ten Step Value Scale- Pixilated Portrait
Ink on Illustration Board

Ten Step Color Scheme- Hole Punch Portrait
Acrylic on Bristol pasted onto B&W Photo
The third project is the Three Panel Zoom Progression. Here they find a photograph and then use the "posterize" filter in Photoshop in order to break the image down into areas of solid color like the delineated areas on a topographic map. Then they crop the image twice, zooming into a smaller area each time. The third in the progression should be an abstract image if seen on its own. They then trace the images onto three canvases and paint them as faithfully to the chosen color scheme as possible. Thanks again to John Pomara for the idea for this one.
 Three Panel Zoom Progression
Acrylic on Canvas
Approximately 20"x52"
 The next is a project I call the Text as Image assignment. It incorporates what the students learned from the the previous assignments, but has them apply those ideas to the incorporation of text and font design into a visual composition. This student took the letters to a very abstract level, you almost can't see them until you look closely.

Text as Image Project
Acrylic on Illustration Board
Approx. 20"x30"
Detail Image Approx. 9"x12 of whole image

I often throw the design students for a loop when I introduce them to the crazy cubist world of Picasso and Braque, but then show them that it's not at all crazy when seen in the context of the photocollages of David Hockney. The visual world that your eyes are seeing right now seems like a simple two-dimensional picture plane in which straight lines look straight, but when you take a number of small photos from the larger space in which you are standing, you realize that the visual space you thought you were seeing is not as simple as you thought. Here are a few images of student works based on those cubist collages.

 David Hockney Influenced Photocollage Assignment
Individual Photos Mounted on Foam Board
Each Collage Approximately 30" Wide 

The final project goes back to basics and prepares them for classes such as Beginning Painting in a not so traditional way. It is influenced by the pop artist, James Rosenquist, who made paintings that were realistic but were duplicating collages made from found magazine photos.

I have the students cut out five images from magazines and four of those images must satisfy these requirements: #1 a reflective object, #2 a smooth blend from light to dark such as a sunrise, #3 an example of pattern on a curved surface such as a patterned shirt, #4 an example of texture such as tree bark or hair, and #5 is their choice.

The first four of those requirements were chosen because they are difficult things to learn to paint realistically and I can help them learn the techniques and tricks of how to paint them.

I have them create a collage from the chosen magazine images and then project that collage image onto a canvas using an opaque or a digital projector, tracing it with a pencil, and then afterward reproducing the colors and textures as closely as possible using acrylic paint. You would not believe the results I get from people who have never painted before.
Duplicate Collage Project
Acrylic on Canvas
Aproximately 24"x30"

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