I teach to empower my students and to enlighten myself, day after day after day.
I have come upon the single core element I believe is essential for a successful creative life for any person: the practice of fearless play. The logic I try to get my students to internalize is this: if I cannot take risks in my learning, I will never innovate. If I cannot let go of the familiar or secure long enough to make bold conceptual leaps, I will never excel. If, however, I learn to give myself permission to be as bad or awkward as I need to be at something for a while, I will master the skill and move on to the next one. If I become proficient at this cycle of learning, I will be unstoppable no matter what I encounter.
Teaching, in my mind, is full-on activism: I teach to help build the world in which I want to live. To this end, I strive to make my classes safe places so my students are secure enough to learn openly. I always make it clear that progress is the goal, and I am ever ready to guide the students as they become open to more possibilities. I append the day’s lessons with what I call Meta Moments, wherein I go over what is informing the frame of reference at hand or what personal experiences are shaping my teaching at that moment. I model lifelong learning for my students by deconstructing any mistakes or discoveries of my own with their active input. My transparency earns the students’ trust and they begin to make steady leaps forward — once they realize they can.
After the class gains traction, we build a mutually agreed-upon criticality through frequent discussions, field trips, speakers, and demonstrations. I work to partner with each individual student to extract the most meaning out of the material for that particular person. I do not think shared standards are in anyway useless, but I do believe each student needs to learn how to evince meaning out of the world for himself. I can work to inspire and instill vigor, but I cannot dictate how to achieve true quality for another person. It is as such always an honor to be a part of a student’s journey, and I strive to stay fresh and teachable to be of full use.
In my advanced classes, I model and demand the criticality and work ethic a truly delving practice demands. I engender a culture of open, compassionate, and raucous dialogue as I have seen that students who can articulate their intentions and viewpoints clearly and earnestly are by far the most successful in their later careers. I prefer my class critiques to get exacting in terms of content and effervescent in tone: there is so much to learn, we may as well have good, blood-pumping fun in the process. I am not a trainer of divas but a cultivator of future team builders.
I think today’s students are faced with a particularly tough challenge: they have to navigate the supposed chasm between the older art-making techniques and the emerging technologies of today, all while forging a cohesive art practice. My charge is to give my students timeless tools to establish and maintain a healthy sense of perspective in the face of constant, anaerobic change. I want my students to go forth into the world able to apply their art-making skills to whatever life they choose with clear-minded, compassionate alacrity. In this way, I consider myself a successful instructor and cultural producer.