First faculty meeting of the new semester this morning; meet-and-greet new faculty members, adjuncts and grad students, catch up with folks & friends. The department renovations are a little behind but overall the facelift on the facilities was jaw-dropping and a real inspiration, even if everything isn’t in place or working quite yet, still a refreshing environment to hang out and do art.
Now is the annual ritual of overhauling and updating the syllabus, tweaking the upcoming class’ schedule. Changes are based on notes taken over the course of last semester, taking into account student feedback and my own experiences of what worked and what didn’t, which makes for a constantly evolving lineup and prevents falling into a rut of rote assignments and activities. There is always a core set of basic principles and concepts that have been gradually tightening up over the years, to the point where I don’t waste much time getting down to what I think are the most important skills to impart and the best way to do it.
But given that there’s an always-changing group of people with different levels of ability and needs, it is important to stay open and flexible enough to adapt to random situations. Dealing with the constant speed-bumps makes teaching art as much of an exercise in creativity as making art. A great example of that was last semester’s class, when the entire art department underwent code-corrections and was consequently scattered throughout the campus, mostly amongst faculty housing (like the painting room became the painting house). My class met off-campus at an old refurbished elementary school that now serves as a satellite of the university, hosting a suite of offices and classrooms, and necessitated some rredical eworking of the schedule. I didn’t have access to some familiar resources such as props and storage, and I dropped the larger-sized materials (18x24” paper) in favor of keeping everything 9x12” and easier to be packed around. This in turn shifted emphasis of work produced towards a more illustrative end – geared towards publication, and by necessity limited some materials out of consideration for the shared room we were meeting in. That and this was the first class that I went against years of training to always push students to work bigger and instead narrowing focus on smaller pieces – the jury’s still out as I think in retrospect it was ultimately a stimulating change to work on smaller, intimate compositions for a change. Either way, now this is a new factor I’ll be folding into the next class, and adjusting the materials list and required work accordingly.
These days I first type up a list of all the dates the class meets (Tuesday and Thursday mornings, 8-10:30am) and then plug in what and when particular topics are introduced, demonstrations held, in-class and take-home assignments and critiques, sketchbook reviews and filed-trips. Having the calendar in front of me helps to visualize the rhythm and flow of the semester along with the overall pacing of required work – staying one step ahead and knowing when work is due is crucial, especially while monitoring work-in-progress of each individual student. Double-checking dates against the official university semester schedule is a must, as I’ve inadvertently scheduled classes during holidays and breaks – plus knowing in advance the deadlines for faculty-initiated withdrawls and student show submissions etc. And due to the inordinate number of field-trips we take, it is usually a good idea to make reservations or at least give a heads-up that the art-posse is saddled up and ready to invade.
Lastly I format one massive PDF file to print out with revised syllabus, schedule, materials list and all assignment and critique handouts. Makes for a vastly less stressful routine; getting all the details figured out this far in advance frees up time & energy to better concentrate on the tasks at hand while in the classroom. Grab a new folder and the grade book, and all that’s left to do is to stop by the department office and pick up the roster of registered students to have for taking attendance on the first day – crucial when trying to add wait-listed folks. I usually drop anyone who doesn’t show up on the first day ("first-come-first-serve") so as to make room, because even with studio art courses limited to 15 students now what with the real-estate issues in such a small space, there will usually be anywhere from twenty to twenty-five at the start. More on the “dropping like flies” phenomenon along with attendance policy later….
Note in passing: "Artist Andrew Wyeth, who portrayed the hidden melancholy of the people and landscapes of Pennsylvania's Brandywine Valley and coastal Maine in works such as "Christina's World," died early Friday. He was 91."
"Really, I think one's art goes only as far and as deep as your love goes," Wyeth said in a Life magazine interview in 1965.