Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
I was informed a few months ago by a colleague at the local university that there was a chance I could be supervising a student teacher this coming fall. Initially I was very intimidated by this prospect as it would be my first occasion hosting a student teacher and I was uncertain if I was ready for the responsibility. I__™ve always strived to be very personally reflective of my teaching style and have functioned under a credo of never teaching a class the same way twice. I challenge myself to try and constantly be tinkering, tweaking, and adjusting my instructional processes and aesthetic motivations. Being one of five art teachers in a single school has undoubtedly made these efforts much easier by providing a wealth of influences and inspirations. However, to some extent, my continuing efforts towards improvement have created some latent feelings of inadequacy in my professional opinion of myself. I remember clearly wondering how I could instruct an eager new teacher when I__™m still trying to figure this whole thing out myself.
Granted, I don__™t view myself as inept, I certainly have a hefty bag of tricks concerning teenagers and art making that I would readily share with any new recruit. And there is an undeniable confidence I feel in a room full of teens that certainly was not always there. But somehow I imagined when the time came for me to supervise a student teacher, I would feel more professionally mature than I do presently. Even now as I prepare to enter my tenth year in the field, there are times I am absolutely and unquestionably flying by the seat of my pants. I guess I imagined at some point that would stop.
So I spent much of the last few months of the school year in a kind of educational schizophrenic dialogue with an imaginary student teacher. Scripting out what I would say to explain whatever it was I was doing, or had to do, or wanted to do. I became hyper-reflective of everything I was doing in an attempt to figure out if I felt up to the challenge of being the role model to a hopeful new art teacher. If you__™ve ever taught high school you__™ll know that the last few months of the year are no time for an ongoing soul-searching debate with yourself, but I continually engaged in it nonetheless. And here I sit, two weeks into my summer break, and only now are my eyes beginning to come uncrossed.
But in that frenzy of activity and contemplation I realized, or rather remembered, the reason that I__™ve intentionally tried to keep myself in a state of professional flux. Because in art, and only in art, there are so many deliciously satisfying shades of gray. This is, perhaps, what I love most about it. There are no rules, no constants, and no absolutes. There is only infinite opportunity laced with imagination and wonder. Therefore, to truly be an effective teacher of the arts, my instructional style must model that. As soon as I get rooted in educational repetition and pedagogical habit, I begin to slowly fence in the limitless boundaries of artistic possibility. I begin to suggest, even if only subtly, that art is finite. And that would truly be a shame.
I understand that there are those that would view this line of thinking as na__ve or needlessly overzealous. And I__™m aware that there is nothing new under the sun, that__™s been true since Solomon said it in Ecclesiastes 1:9. But I like to think that doesn__™t diminish the possibility that there might be. I__™ll admit that I cling desperately to the romanticized notion that art is indisputably whatever someone wants it or needs it to be. I find that idea to be endless fascinating and completely invigorating. And in order to truly demonstrate this, my teaching style needs to remain loose and flexible with room to spontaneously explore unexpected tangents. Of course, the down side of teaching this way is that I often find myself not knowing what will be going on during any given day. Consequently, that__™s also the upside of teaching this way!
As it turns out, I don__™t have a student teacher coming under my tutelage next semester, and I__™m actually quite happy about that. Not so much because of my concern over how I would handle the situation, but more because I__™ve got a bunch of new ideas and I selfishly wouldn__™t want to share the class time. And while I will certainly continue to inform my students about many of the popular guidelines in the artistic community, i.e. elements, principles, composition, symbolism, etc. I very much hope I can maintain an enthusiasm for art that would peel back the curtain and reveal to them not just what art is, but what it could be.