Thursday, 10 October 2013

Fine Art Year 1 week 2 Contextual studies starts

I’m teaching contextual studies on Mondays in a separate room with facilities for projection and tables set out so that students can write and take notes and I am in the first year fine art studios on Tuesdays.

The students would have had an introduction to the ‘Individual and Social’ brief on the previous Thursday and will have made a start thinking about how this new focus can be added to the work done under the umbrella of the ‘Transformations’ brief. (The two briefs can be merged together, but we pick out the learning outcomes separately at assessment).

I take two groups of 20 on Monday, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, on Tuesday I’m on my own with 60 in the studio all day.

As Monday was the first contextual studies session I used it as a rambling introduction to what this aspect of the course is about and how I thought as students they could use history and theory.

The talk opens with a series of questions as to how and why we might think about art practices.

By working through several definitions I was able to hopefully engage students with questions as to how they thought about their position as artists now. The issue being that we are taking them seriously as artists and that we are there to help them find meaning in their own lives as young artists. 

The talk opens with a series of questions as to how and why we might think about art practices.

By working through several definitions I was able to engage students with questions as to how they thought about their position now.

The idea that they were agents who worked to help the rest of humankind ‘see’ what’s out there seemed to chime with several students, but some found it a bit disturbing that certain definitions of art might point to the fact art was useless. (I introduced Kant's term 'disinterested interest' in relation to aesthetic judgement.)

 As I introduced a few other approaches, most students warmed to the idea of art being something whereby perhaps a baton was passed on from one generation to another. Each new discovery or approach being taken up by the next generation and developed further. However it was also good to see a couple of students from different ethnic backgrounds in the audience and I had the impression that they were pleased to see that non-western contexts would be examined.

The concept of timelines and how these can help sort out information and yet also distort it was then introduced. The fact that art practices, or things that we can think of as being similar go back 30,000 years or more is a powerful one and I felt students were energized to feel that they were part of a long, noble tradition of some humans looking at the world and helping others to think about it.

We then looked at the classic Alfred Barr diagram and discussed what reasons he might have had as director of MOMA to put a particular slant on the relative importance of certain art and artists. 

An introduction as to why some people/s are therefore excluded from art history was now approached and I had quite a few nodding heads from female students.

It's always someone's point of view, history being written of, by and for the survivors.

Different types of writings that students might come across were introduced and I played around with how these differing approaches might help open out different agendas and how the rise of Facebook, Twitter and other new forms of text communication was starting to reshape what is being written about art and artists.

The next aspect to open out to the students was the wide range of practices available to artists now.

On questioning most students were not aware of how the traditional practices of drawing, painting and sculpture had now expanded to embrace wide ranges of new approaches and technologies. This is obviously useful for me to know as I will have to make sure I keep feeding in these other approaches.

The issue was then raised that each art practice would need to have a medium within which to carry its messages/content and the specific nature of these mediums would influence what could or could not be communicated.

Finally I threw the questions below at the students and suggested that if they were to become engaged with this aspect of the course at the end of the day it was about each individual finding their own answers to these issues and that they would all be going on separate journeys.

I felt at the end of each of the two sessions that the students seemed genuinely excited about this aspect of the module, the good thing for me being that I was also going to be with the same students on Tuesday in the studio, hopefully they are therefore more prepared to see me as an artist struggling like themselves to make sense of my practice and not some teacher asking them to divorce theory from practice.

One final observation. I had agreed to put copies of my lectures up on Estudio after delivery of the session, but as I had over half the students taking part in one contextual session having to cope with dyslexia and similar issues, have agreed with them that my lectures will be posted up well before sessions.  It just means no last minute tweaking, which I am prone to do. I shall have to just add new stuff into the narrative on the day. My feeling is that if the slides are just bare bones, students will continue to come to sessions to get the meat and will not simply access things on line and stay in bed. 

Tuesday was one to one in the studio and mainly covered the issues surrounding interest, point of view, and other subject matter related to the ‘Individual and Social’ brief.
Students work had moved on considerably from last week, the introduction of much more meaningful content had been useful. Some students were struggling to reconcile the idea of practical ‘transformations’ with research into different content but it seemed as if most of them were more engaged because they could see that the activity was meaningful. This is an interesting issue. Sometimes we push things because they aid understanding (this is another problem with learning outcomes) for instance starting with the transformations brief is designed to help students let go of earlier ideas and ways of working and to introduce the concept of practice being driven by a process of working. However the ‘meaning’ isn’t deep enough for some students; meaning only starts when they connect directly with their own lives and experiences. Therefore if we had pushed on much further with the transformation brief on its own, students will have started to lose interest because although the brief helps develop an understanding it doesn’t tap into the student feeling tone and can therefore be read as simply a device to stop them liking or going back to their earlier work. These complexities are things to embrace as pedagogic drivers, because if we get the balance right students will be constantly moving forward and trying new things, but at the same time will feel that everything is meaningful. Get it wrong and they will stop coming in and will build up resentfulness.

Most of the day was therefore spent trying to uncover what drove individual students to want to make art and what their passions were. One thing I’m sure of is that if they can channel their obsessions into their practice this can make for a very powerful driver for the student and usually some interesting art comes into being because it comes from genuine passion and not from trying to make art. 

We have also introduced a system to ensure that we record the name of everyone we talk to and each time we do so. This will help the ‘lost student’ problem; without something of this sort in place staff naturally tend to speak to some students more than others and if that starts happening it can breed resentment amongst those students who feel nobody is interested to them because they haven't been spoken to. Typically what can happen is some students are very open and come up to members of staff all the time and pull them into conversations, however other students tend to hide away slightly and make it harder for staff to single them out, some even watching staff movement through the studio and when it looks as if they might get spoken to, they disappear for a while hoping the 'danger' has passed. This is of course about personalities and confidence, but unless you have a checking system in place, those who lack confidence can lose even more of it. The trick of course is to not offend those wanting constant attention, so you have to let everyone know what's happening and why. 

No comments:

Post a Comment