Saturday, June 13, 2015

Aesthetic Appreciation

   This past semester I had the opportunity to take on a lecture course on Aesthetic Appreciation. It met only one night a week for three hours, and was a 200x level cross-listed under music, art and theater. Lamentably I gave comparatively short shrift to the areas outside of my expertise, and found myself constantly playing catch-up and behind the 8-ball for the semester. Typically I was prepping lectures anywhere from six to twelve hours a day or two in advance (sometimes more spread out over several days), compiling images and accompanying notes. It was a real challenge especially given only a few days prep time to create a syllabus (hat-tip to several faculty who let me adopt + adapt portions of theirs), and incorporating many topics and issues and accommodations on the fly. But in the end it injected some vitality in my own academic perspective, and at the very least cycled back into adapting some new and different approaches to my studio art courses. The dynamic of a required class is much different than the usual electives I instruct, and it was humbling - at times frustrating and discouraging - to attempt and reach across some institutionalized apathy and engage with some degree of relevancy, if not outright inspiration. In other words, the general populace can be a tough crowd to instill the importance of aesthetic appreciation as opposed to the demographics of your average art student (ie captive audience versus preaching to the choir).
Course Description & Goals: This course explores the fundamentals of aesthetic experience through observation, discussion, and analysis of the arts. Topics include the creative process, structure, cultural application and diversity, the role of the artist in society, popular movements and trends (both historical and contemporary), and arts integration. The goal of this course is for students to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of the arts and their relation with other academic disciplines through exposure and investigation. Upon completion of the class students will have acquired critical perspective on the relationship between the arts and society, their community, and broaden their personal criteria for understanding and appreciating the arts.
Student Learning Outcomes: 
• Have a cursory understanding of the tools and materials used in some of the visual arts, film, theater and music.
• Have a basic understanding and introduction of the content and timing of current works and how they relate to their historical context.
• Improved ability to observe from sight and sound and critically reflect upon works.
• Build knowledge of the creative process across disciplines and how it applies to personal interests and fields.
• Learn pertinent vocabulary for the subjects so as to facilitate better discussion of the many facets and factors involved in creating art.
• Gain expanded perspective on how the arts are essential to human nature.
   I was instructed to not approach it as a traditional survey course (they can always take an art history class for that) nor did I opt to spend any time on demonstrating processes or assigning actual art work, reason being that they ought to be motivated to take a studio course at some point in the future after this class. Before the smorgasbord we covered the basics of critiquing, featuring the works of former students in my drawing classes as examples, utilizing assignments to highlight different factors and criteria used when assessing works of art (ex: line, value, composition, color etc.). After this foundation we extended our observations and informed opinions into a wide range of subjects such as iconography, caricature and figurative works, landscapes and environmental art, street art and graffiti, tattooing and body modification, to outsider art and postmodernism. The semester was kicked off by diving right into the Charlie Hebdo situation, and so didn't shy away from controversial subjects. Another example was attending the Fairbanks premier and question-and-answer session with the director of the documentary "Tracing Roots: A Weaver's Journey." The film was by Alaskan independent filmmaker Ellen Frankenstein on Ketchican-based Master Haida Weaver Delores Churchill, and was screened in conjunction with the 2015 Festival of Native Arts.
   This class was also used as an opportunity to spotlight local artists (like Bill Berry and Claire Fejes) and we attended many shows right in the UAF Fine Art department as there was a succession of exhibitions by MFA and BFA candidates alike throughout the semester. Bonus in a few very special after-hours field trips to the Alaska House Art Gallery and the Fairbanks Arts Association's Bear Gallery, and also a fascinating foray down into the UAF Rasmuson Library archives. I'm also indebted to some guest presenters, such as two editors from the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that gave us an interesting perspective from those who continually review events and are at the center of cultural events in our community, if not in effect local arbiters of taste.
   Over the course of the semester students were required to attend and review five different exhibitions and five events, such as theater and symphony shows: they were given a calendar of community resources from which to pick any number of extracurricular productions and write up a minimum one-page reaction paper and/or complete a provided worksheet on description/analysis/interpretation/judgement. In conjunction with these there was also two 5-10 minute presentations (midterm + final) which correlated with a field of particular, personal interest. These tended to be the most insightful and educational classes where I got to learn something new: some examples were the aesthetic appreciation of everything from bodybuilding to ice sculptures, to kuspuks and comics.

   On that note I invite you to peruse at your leisure the accompanying blog which fielded discussion prompts and dovetailed with related lectures - it was largely a free-range, hands-off/non-intrusive approach to hosting such a forum, so as to foment some open-ended commentary that might offer some an opportunity to present a different perspective on items covered in class.
Check it out: 200x.  

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