I often feel somewhat caught in the middle of art and design. I teach art. I enjoy art. However my training and experience lies mainly in design. In college I was a graphic design major. I had somehow convinced the college I attended to allow me to take my studio electives in the theatre department. I am not really sure why I did this. I didn't like theatre any more than I liked art. I suppose I felt comfortable there, mainly because of the people, but I also appreciated the tangible aspect of creating for the theatre. I liked that it had a purpose and an end product. In art, almost anything goes. In design, hardly anything does. Because I spent my studio electives studying things like sound, lighting and set design, I missed out on the very important classes that I would eventually need in my career. For instance, I have never taken a ceramics class, ever. I actually really don't enjoy clay. I hate the way it feels on my hands. (I also can't touch glass which is very hard to explain to strangers who hand me a glass) When students ask me to teach them pottery, I explain honestly that I know as much about ceramics as a kid at camp.
I decided to become an art teacher despite the fact that I had a lot of catching up to do in terms of advancing my "elective" skills. I started out my career learning all that I could about different techniques. In graduate school I was taught to expose the students to as many mediums as possible. A healthy balance of technique, history and concept was stressed and expected. Technique was always at the forefront of the lessons that my classmates were teaching. While observing them, I thought back to a couple of intelligent and inspiring undergraduate professors who taught me that concept is equally or even more important than composition or technique. Now, learning this in the design department is very different than learning it in the art studio. In design, concept is everything. The idea is the child; technique only nurtures it enough to allow it out in the world to roam. This simple rule in design is not so easily translated to fine art. I did my best to create a precedent for my lessons; technique is important, but concept, idea, or the ability to move the viewer is even more essential.
As I began actually teaching...like in the classroom, all on my own, I had to sort through what I felt was expected of me in the typical art classroom and what worked for me, my philosophy, and my students. I learned that placing concept in front of technique didn't always make for the best art gallery in the hallways. I also learned that getting my students to talk about their work became essential and even teaching them how to "massage" their explanations was a somewhat useful skill. I felt good about what the students were learning and thought that my experience in design had helped to mold this approach. The thing is, I knew deep down that design wasn't something I had to just fit into the art education world. I had a feeling that there was something brewing in the world of art ed and that design was going to be an essential part of that. I was right.
Daniel Pink spoke at the NAEA conference in NY (I don't know when; a few years ago) and I became aware that design could and should be placed on equal playing field with art. It was a great feeling to be able to have my design passion come out of the closet. In that room, with all of the typical art teachers and their cool looking stockings, dangling earrings and daring scarfs, and me in my black, blue, and grey simple ensemble, I felt as though I finally fit into the world of art education. There was a place for what I learned about, and what I thought was important. I decided then, to go with design...put it in the forefront and give my students the piece of me that was strongest.
Through the years, my curriculum has morphed from a studio-heavy, traditional art class model to a nicely balanced, art and design partnership. Students in my school take a Foundations of Art class in 9th grade and Foundations of Design in 10th. In that course they learn what design is, how to do it, why it's important, and what they can do with it. I am very proud of this course and the addition of it in my school's class schedule. The purpose of this long-winded explanation is to provide the purpose of this blog. My goal is to post the lessons that I have been using in my class, gain feedback and share with those that did not have the design training that I did. In the same way that I searched the web for the best way to use watercolors ( I still don't have the knack) I hope that other art teachers can find some answers here. I also hope to be inspired by designers that are much better at it than I am. And yes....this is a part of my Smart Goal!
I have been teaching art and design at the middle and high school level since 2006 and learning about both for a lot longer.