Thursday, February 5, 2009

Multi-point Pespective III

“Looking is a gift, but seeing is a power. “ - Jeff Berner

Today it was off to the Wood Center (UAF’s student activity center) to lounge around plush couches, chatting with passer-bys, snoozing or eating pizza, which are all invaluable skills to hone. But seriously, students are assigned to first complete a rough of whatever view they choose - in accordance with their own respective abilities - in their sketchbooks, which I approve while making the rounds. The class winds up pretty scattered throughout the building, as there are multiple perspectives ranging from simple to complex (given the unique architecture of this building), enough variety to accommodate the range of talents. Some need to scale back a bit when they take on too much of a challenge, still others need to be poked along into persevering with what might start to unravel on their paper. The in-class exercise mirrors the first critique piece in that I’m looking for a setup with two walls, the ceiling and the floor present to some degree in their drawing. They are given the remainder of today's class to complete a finished 18x24" drawing on good paper, while I constantly monitor their progress (and constantly tank up on coffee)
After two 45-minute long sessions - I always enforce taking a breather as breaks are good to clear the head and reassess the work-in-progress - we lined up all the draawing pads along a wall and did a cursory review. Comments are made keeping in mind the elements that should be emphasized or corrected for the Interior piece, and I stress again the importance of time-management when tackling the take-homes.
I was really blown away at the exponential growth rate in their grasp of perspective just over the last two weeks. I have a strong hunch that regardless of the approach, the end result of improvement will come about just as a result of simply doing lots and lots of work. There are a couple individuals who are getting flat-out pissed off at their efforts, which is good, as they are rising to the challenge, not giving up, and keep at it until it clicks. That said, there was some impressive results on display after today's outing - the bar is set high for next week.

As an aside, this exercise also can aid in them getting over any inhibitions at public displays of their activity. The “cone of silence” that springs up like a force field around a working artist is a reflexive adaptation that really comes in handy while tuning out reality in any number of situations. I dimly recall some studies they did on brain-mapping areas of activity that when tasked with concentrating while a steady low-level buzz of conversation is going on in the background actually helps to focus. At least that’s one theory why I camp out at cafes and the occasional pub with my sketchbook, uh, “working”.

Also today I tied up any loose ends with some slackers who didn’t have their thumbnails done by the previous session for the upcoming critique, also triple-checking that everyone knows what’s expected of their weekend piece. For a handful of the students it came as a relief to announce this was the last day of formal perspective exercises - at least until I reminded them it's now an expected integral part of all the remaining assignments. Also a reminder that tomorrow is a "First Friday" and they have to make at least one of the three that will take place during this semester (sketching a favorite piece from an exhibition along with notes taken from talking with the creator of said piece), And another reminder that next week we will begin to play around with value (artsy-fartsy for "shading") and will need to bring compressed charcoal and related supplies (like fixative) to class with them. Tuesday's critique will in all likelyhood take the entire class time, as it will be spent teaching about how to judge art as much as reviewing the works up on the wall.

After class there was a formal BFA thesis show review of the work of a student whom I’m on a committee for. His exhibition goes up in two weeks, so he’s burning the candle at both ends, spending ten hours a day in the painting room. The head of the drawing and painting departments were also there, and the candidate lined up about five completed pieces for us to comment on, and question him about various aspects of specific works plus the overall body of work and how he plans to present them in the gallery along with supplemental things from captions, displaying original sketches, framing, lighting etc. Having been through many of my own solo shows there is so much detail to attend to at this stage, everything simultaneously coming together and seeming to fall apart – one more part of being an artist you get used to. Paperwork, deadlines, meetings, the physical demands and basic time constraints; the logistics of putting on a show like this is exhilarating and exhausting. He is holding up under the load admirably, and I’m really glad to see the stress being translated and channeled into his work to the point some big breakthroughs in ability and maturing of skills is evident. Judging by the other committee members feedback and observations we are all in agreement, but still keep pushing and encouraging. Juggling these multiple demands is as much a valuable skill at this level of study as producing consistent work; as coordinating these big, pivotal events can be a make-or-break situation that sometimes burns out budding talents or turns them off from the whole art scene. Faculty tries to stay alert to such potential trauma and avoid unfortunate casualties – it’s as much of our job as teaching skills in the classroom.
*Note - I’ll get into more detail about the department’s specific degree requirements at a later posting.

I’ve also finally gotten around to transcribing names from the official university-provided class list (which to this point I’ve been using as a default attendance roster) to my main record-keeping system, the cheesy little green book that looks like it was designed in the 1940’s. Dorky but effective, as in one glance I can see how everybody is doing with grades from each assignment and critique + attendance + room for random notes, like comment history, notable enthusiasm (or lack thereof) etc. One more item that I haven’t yet seen its inherent simplicity replaced or improved with a computer. Like me.

Probably the high point of the whole day was hanging around the drawing studio and catching up with another friend who teaches the class immediately after mine – turns out there were half a dozen former students of mine taking her class, and it was just so good to see them all still at it; hard at work, pursuing their own paths – what a kick in the pants to see. Sometimes, especially after dragging my beat-up, haggard ass around the hallways all morning, little things like that just totally turn everything around and make it all worthwhile. >sniff<

Over the weekend I have to finish coloring in some designs for the couple freelance gigs that are lined up and almost ready for delivery to the clients. Also lurking in the background is grading the first assignments from Tuesday in order to have them ready to turn back before next week’s critique - crucial for me to follow my own damn advise and not fall behind in coursework. Also been steadily accumulating (scanning/formatting/ordering) images for a special guest-lecture talk that I’m scheduled to give in a couple weeks for another class.

And finally, today I spent some time putting up fliers around campus + sending out press releases about an upcoming workshop and public presentation by a visiting artist that I’ve been spearheading as a liaison representative for both the art department and a Literacy Council board member. It is a rare treat to have someone of this caliber hang out in our humble town, and there are some huge fans and fellow artists who are really excited at this opportunity … more to follow!

“Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.” - Anna Freud

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