Saturday, January 9, 2016

Teacher Tweaks: Virtual Critiques

Especially in such a vast state as Alaska the idea of distance ed conceptually makes sense, but after years of mulling it over and flirting with on-line experimentation like vodcasts, at least when it comes to studio courses in art still work best when rubbing elbows with other folks while sharing meatspace, I'm still hesitant to embrace virtual instruction. Might seem odd coming from an art teacher that runs a blog on drawing, and as a practicing professional that regularly enhances my own promotion + education with useful tools such as YouTube channels and the innumerable resources available on the web. but what I mean to say is that one of the primary factors that distinguishes taking a class from other modes of learning/instruction is the indisputable advantage of being there actually watching firsthand while someone does it, and having them in turn watch you do it too, then the comparison + contrast with the efforts from other students who are also all doing the same thing, or at least variations thereof.

Technology may very well evolve to address some of the logistical difficulties, but so far I'm manifestly unimpressed with anything other than real-time exercises except in a supplemental sense. Metaphorically it's on the same level a experiencing imagery at 72dpi on a computer screen versus standing in front of a painting and reveling in each individual brushstroke. That said it's simply awesome to be able to utilize a handheld devise that can stream data about what it is you're looking at - like using reference photos in conjunction with your sketches, you'd be a fool not to take advantage of the best tools available. As I frequently admonish students in the classroom or out on a field trip, no, it's not "cheating," to utilize Google Image searches et al, even though I personally feel there is quite an aesthetic distinction between works created on-site as compared to patently inert but technically proficient works derived solely, or even mostly, from a photograph.

So the inherent advantages of being there applies equally in art when it comes to education. The current gold-rush mentality and debatable results (its effectiveness is always a hot topic for debates) of emphasizing on-line/distance education has led to some systemic failures of what is at the core of teaching, and when learning. Never mistake virtual for the real: catch me camping out with a sketchbook at any cafe or pub and ask me about it in person to get the full effect. But again, I'll take great pains to distinguish this opinion from Neo-Luddite positions - as one of the first teachers in my department to incorporate on-line elements into the curriculum (though I draw a line at using Blackboard) and who continues to mandate a strong web presence as a critical aspect of marketing for any and all aspiring artists, it's inarguable how effective and potent a tool it can be.

Case in point here being the constant back + forth with students who take advantage of the opportunity to simply take a shot of their work-in-progress and email it for input. A couple recent examples of digital tweaks on beginning pieces are posted here: a few minutes with Photoshop can illustrate a couple concepts that quite often either save a piece or significantly improve upon the assignment. This presupposes engagement at every point along the continuum, from initial rough sketches, observing demonstration of technique by the instructor and subsequent in-class exercises for practice. And again, absolutely nothing beats the original and best way to critique: physically present in front of the veritable buffet of imagery.

As an aside, I was wondering at maybe how much is too much when it comes to constantly wearing a set prescription glasses that automatically filters the viewing of any artwork. Case in point being spill-over into other arenas where reflexive critiquing can hamper enjoyment of an aesthetic experience, for example viewing the latest Star Wars (two viewings was a cure for getting over much of my initial mental commentary ie shutting up and enjoying it as entertainment). This might be a personality defect or a simple result of teaching and facilitating at least over fifty formal critiques a year in a studio setting. Having standards and recognizing bias is important, but there's a meta-lesson here in that it's sometimes okay just to like (or dislike) something on a visceral level. So nyeah.

Another excellent example of the balance between these two complimentary realms is here in this sampling of some of the advanced works from this past semester that highlight the breadth + depth of talent, vision and skill present in the studio. After another semester is over and the final critiques are finished, portfolios reviewed and grades turned in it's a pure pleasure to sit back and reflect upon the exemplary works that were created: collectively and individually there are some exceptionally outstanding students in our program who really produced some amazing artwork.

 So what to do when one can no longer enjoy the pieces in person? The next best thing: check out their respective websites for more, or better still, attend one of their openings (not to mention purchasing the original). Works by Amy Huff, Chaweinta Hale, Tara Maricle, Melanie Post, Devante Owens, Saeko Kuwabara.

Last but certainly not least is a mix of some images culled from the semester of Beginning Drawing: exercises & critique pieces from transparent/reflective surface, interior space/linear perspective, organic composition/contour line, article of clothing/value study, Xerox face/value study, figure study, caricature, landscape/view from window, personal still-life/wash exercise, final self-portrait. Now just about every single aspect of my class(es) and the processes therein and the overarching rationale behind them has been detailed here on this blog for years - all of the information is there. Is that in any way remotely equivalent to the experience of taking one of my classes? Fortunately, as I've hopefully elucidated upon here, it's not either/or, it's more of a hand-in-glove relationship

Works by Jason His (1,2), Elise Stacy (3,4,5), Kelly Wilson (6,7), Carie Navio (8,9), Amanda Johnson (10)

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