Saturday, January 17, 2009

Show & Tell

One thing that really helps to psych me up for opening day is the traditional remix of images for the first show & tell. This is usually the only time over the duration of the class that I’ll actively pimp my own work. Aside from demos and works-in-progress I mostly rely on the volumes of student work to show as examples on how to go about fulfilling the required assignments and critique pieces. Personally I don’t get off too much on tooting my own horn at the expense of a captive audience. On the other hand, it sometimes might establish oneself in their eyes as legit, instilling confidence that the teacher really knows what the hell they are talking about. Or, in my case, sometimes severely undermine it. Still, I think it can be good for a fully-informed class to openly and honestly display both your weak and strong points as an artist in case they are looking for something else in a specific direction or style, and it also gives them an idea what sort of a person you are personally, in what work you not only like, but do yourself, along with any heroes and inspirations. This might run the risk of predisposing students to adopt a style that would curry favor with the teacher’s own aesthetics, but as of yet I haven’t seen that work too well. To a certain degree I suppose it is inevitable that students will at least temporarily echo some of the aesthetic choices their teachers champion, as evidenced by the stylistic shifts I’ve seen over the years within our own art department. But realizing it is one of our missions to push people into making their own personal creative choices hopefully nips that unconscious mimicry and they develop their own unique style.
The first “slide-show” (reminds me I still have to convert the billions of slides stashed away in storage) also serves a valuable purpose in letting folks know that my approach is pretty laid-back in many ways, in the studio and in the classroom. And there is a distinct advantage that when I emphasize my cartoons, it can put them more at ease without all the lofty and pretentious intimidations “Fine Art” carries. Rather sneaky but effective, and while I’m at it, the class is clued in my sometimes, eh, unorthodox methods, sense of humor and warped perspective, which usually culls a few right off the bat.
So this semester I have selected around 120 images largely culled from recent examples of published pieces, ranging from the “Nuggets” feature, to commercial design work for random clients, doodles & sketches, finished pen & ink illustrations, and figure drawings. Given today’s modern audience and viewer’s attention spans I can safely burn through an image every five--to-fifteen seconds or so, more or less depending on the prompt each picture gives me to expand upon. More often as of late I rely on the images to cue an associated topic which in turn lessens the stress over having to come up with a rehearsed speech. Which runs the danger of rambling along with charming personal anecdotes and meandering trips down memory lane, but hey, hopefully there’s a lesson to be learned somewhere in all that too. After 45 minutes they will have a pretty good idea of what they’re in for and where I’m coming from. After this show it becomes mostly samples of previous student work used to provide specific examples of each assignment.
And lastly, since this presentation takes place on the first day of class, it goes somewhat against established unofficial tradition in that a lot of teachers just hand out the syllabus, quickly go over policy and expectations, and then dismiss the class to go get materials & supplies. I have tended instead to take full advantage of the time by first going through the motions with all the official required stuff, then take a short break during which I can answer questions or directly address individual concerns, and then devote at least another hour to this introductory lecture. This serves a couple purposes; the first being a practical consideration that they in fact are paying for a full class’ worth of instruction, and secondly, even if they ultimately bail out and run promptly to admissions to drop the class afterwards, they will at least have (hopefully) learned something already about art and about drawing.

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