Friday, September 7, 2012

Circus Poodle

"Art Teacher" Vasily Perov, 1867

     While the hiking and cartooning continues apace, in the meanwhile I had been quietly advancing along in a couple particular job applications back within the University of Alaska system: one was a term position as an Assistant Professor of Art, and the other as an adjunct at different branch/location than the decade I spent at UAF.

     Ultimately the professor position didn't pan out, but I did manage to advance all the way through up to the end, delivering a career knockout presentation to faculty, staff & students at the college. This was after completing an approximately hour-long, face-to-face interview with the members of the search committee (following the preceding week's hour-long phone interview), and making a couple rounds of initial cuts based on pure paperwork. That left me as one of the three candidates left standing for the fifth and final round of elimination, in what evidently was a heavily contested opening with many qualified applicants from across the state and nation (well-paying art jobs are few and far between). So it was really humbling and extremely gratifying to participate in such a lengthy, detailed process, and nice to be recognized for my experience in academic accomplishments, my work history and community involvement. Particularly validating to use the newly-minted MFA degree in the CV - regardless of any prospective employment opportunities in the future it's great to have a demonstrated track record of accomplishment. Also, regardless of the outcome, it still didn't mean I could stop doing more work - so back to the drawing board the next morning as usual. Which was good, as it turned out after yet an additional week of deliberations they picked me as the alternate and went instead with another person who had administrative experience. Sometimes getting the gig has nothing to do with who's a better artist, or in this instance, a better art teacher - there's usually an agenda that factors in the final decision. This is in line with an observation I've made in many a drawing class: passing an art class sometimes has less to do with any innate skill at making art then it does being a good student (is showing up, being on time, completing assignments etc.).

      Concurrently, another art department had interviewed me to teach a Beginning Drawing studio class for the fall semester, which was another good process to go through. After networking and dropping off the CV, the phonecall came for an interview. This consisted of a candid critique of a newly-anointed BFA student's show in the department's gallery, plus an on-the-spot quiz that covered random hypothetical classroom situations, and also detailed questions about my teaching philosophy and how it would mesh within the department's over-arcing trajectory. Unfortunately our situation with regards to potential opportunities elsewhere abruptly changed, and I had to be honest about the possibility of us relocating, which necessitated them going for someone else who could fully commit - certainly more than understandable given the impending start of the semester. Not the first time I pulled the rug out from under my own feet.

Me: "Which shirt should I wear to the interview?"
Jewish Aunt: "It doesn't matter, your fly is open"

      As far as the parts of the process that dealt with presentations to the public, seeing as how the bulk of my belongings were either in another state or still up in storage (not to mention whatever I had to wear on-hand was well-covered with an impenetrable layer of dog + cat fuzz), some new threads were definitely in order. Especially since I don't own an iron, that meant buying something fresh off the rack. Yet when push came to shove I couldn't make up my damn mind which shirt to wear (see photographs above). Fortunately I didn't have to worry about any ensemble for the outfit, as I only have one pair of shoes besides hiking boots, and only two pairs of pants, one of which are jeans. A haircut and a shave and a fresh pot couple pots of coffee later, I gave the definitive show & tell of my career - one-hundred-eleven images in 30-minutes flat. Needless to say after working up a sweat just from lecturing, I was glad to have brought both shirts.

     The presentation was split roughly into three equal components: the first dealt with an assigned topic, followed by ten-minutes of classroom examples by former students, and lastly a sample selection of my own works. The topic was on how I would go about attracting a potential student to take an art class from me - and how would I make it appealing to both art majors and non-majors alike. The challenge of making art relevant and reachable is one that I've always relished, and creating a dynamic semesters-worth of assignments and critiques has always been as much of a "work of art" as anything ever drawn or hung in a gallery. Therefore I thought it invaluable to show photos of students working, alongside the ones of their actual work.

     But if there was one thing that kept continually coming to the surface of my attention during this entire process it was this: boy do I ever owe my former students for being such a crucial part of the big picture. It works both ways, see - way way above and beyond the usual, stock Hallmark platitudes of "you learn so much by teaching" etc. etc. The pieces I've stashed away of student samples are solid evidence that not only can anybody do good work - in many many cases great work - but they are also indisputable hard proof that I've succeeded imparting what I feel are important and valuable lessons and skills. After being out of the classroom for over a year now, I found it equally as inspirational to compile an exhibition of classroom examples for this presentation and interview, as it was to get up at 6am when it was forty-below zero in the pitch dark of an Interior winter and go to class. Best of all are the handful who, years later, are still working at making art.

     So to any of you out there reading this post, thank you.