I am privileged to have come from a long line of artists. The importance of an arts education was instilled in me from a very early age as I started assisting my mother when she taught art classes through our local community arts center when I was eight. In school, my art classes were always my favorite, as they allowed me to express myself and communicate with others using a visual language. I feel that the arts help shape students into productive members of society capable of critical thought, reflection, and vision. To quote President Lyndon B. Johnson, “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish” (Taylor & Barresi, 1984, p. 49).
My goal is not just for students to come away from classes with the necessary skills to be a photographer. It is my personal belief that art can change the world, and I aspire to help students find their artistic voices and use them to effect change. In my classroom, students are active learners who listen, discuss, question, and analyze. Not only do they create art, but I also aim to help students understand their roles as creators, practitioners and consumers. I feel that educating viewers is paramount to engaging them, and through studying theory, criticism, and history in tandem with practical skills, students will become equipped to translate theory and history into photography.
Although I have worked in a variety of mediums throughout my practice, I have found that nothing else can express the immediacy and honesty of my feelings like a photo. The dichotomous nature of photography is well suited for making strong visual connections and engaging the viewer, as it captures reality, yet this reality can be destabilized through abstraction or manipulation. I have used photography as a method of dealing with the difficult, painful reality of physical and mental trauma. I believe that working in the medium that you are teaching is paramount to being an effective fine-arts educator, and as a practicing artist and photographer I am able to instill my passion for the medium in my students, relay photo-specific techniques and participate in critical discussions about photography.
Photography as a medium is constantly changing, and through my teaching, I want to challenge traditional photographic practices and encourage students to utilize multiple mediums in order to not just articulate ideas, but ultimately to reshape photography into a new medium. In my experience, photography is often not viewed as a fine art, and hopefully in reshaping the medium, my students can redefine prevailing ideas about photography. I will know I have taught successfully when a student has grasped the technical skills necessary not only to take, develop and process a photo, but also to articulate their artistic vision or voice through the medium of photography.
Throughout my own fine-arts education I have had the benefit of being in small classes that allowed for low student-to-teacher ratios. The development of close mentorships with my instructors has greatly strengthened my technical abilities, self-confidence, and enthusiasm for the arts. Art is a field in which you take a lot of risks, often bringing personal and private matters to a public realm so that they can connect people. I believe that individualized attention and an intimate, inclusive, and supportive environment are therefore necessary in creative arts education. I want students to know that their ideas and opinions are respected and valued. To encourage risk taking and critical thinking, I develop a rapport with my students so that they feel comfortable and do not fear failure. I believe that students and instructors are co-creators of knowledge and that the role of student and instructor are always in flux. I am constantly learning new things from students, such as new techniques or solutions to a problem, visual or academic that I would not have thought of.
To facilitate growth as an artist, I set up a feedback loop by providing individualized attention and regular constructive feedback, both through classroom critiques and one-on-one meetings. Through this type of mentorship, I am able to recognize areas of weakness and strength. It is my feeling that by identifying what a student is great at, they will gain confidence and their excitement and passion will grow. I also use the students’ strengths to the benefit of the entire class. For example, if a student excels at a specific practice or technique, I will encourage peer-to-peer instruction with another student that may be struggling.
I take these things into great consideration when developing course content that can be accessed by students with diverse learning styles. Although art is a visual medium, not all students are visual learners, so for example, I may conduct a lesson both as a visual presentation and as a hands-on demonstration to allow students of both kinesthetic/accommodating and visual/assimilating learning styles to engage with the material (Kolb, 1981). It has also been my experience that students at different learning levels within an arts educational program may require different types of evaluation methods. For example, a beginning student might need concrete objectives and rubrics to guide learning and skill development, and to be evaluated based on their proficiency or achievement of set goals. More advanced students might benefit from self-guided exploration, open-ended assignments, peer-to-peer critiques, and being evaluated based on their ability to articulate their artistic ideas through photography.
Kolb, D. A. (1981). Learning styles and disciplinary differences. The modern American college, 232-255.
Taylor, F., & Barresi, A. (1984). The Arts at a New Frontier The National Endowment for the Arts (p. 49). Boston, MA: Springer US.