My philosophy of teaching (art) is a simple one, based in two tenets. First, I love my students. To love my students is to want the best for them, not to indoctrinate them into being replicas of me.
Whatever happens in the classroom should ultimately lead them to become better citizens through the study of art. That involves teaching students to be thoughtful creators and viewers of art. But it also involves an abstraction skill and a deeper level of thought. At the end of the day, what all art teachers do is to teach people to look, to notice, to see. We teach people to notice detail and to assemble a deeper understanding of the structure and nature of every perceived moment and to abstract that understanding and apply it to new experiences. Those new experiences might be a series of artworks designed to convey a discovery to an audience or to create a new experience for an audience. Those new experiences might also be an abstraction that evidences a thought pattern with broad application in politics, organizational behavior, engineering, or religion.
The second tenet is simply that making art is, by definition, the pursuit of excellence. For a work of art to do what it does, it cannot be ordinary, common, or adequate. It must be extraordinary, uncommon, and exceptional.
In that light, I teach art as a means of pursuing a better world–the passionate pursuit of excellence in all things, knowing full well that we may never attain that perfected state. It is a life based in knowing that we will all fall short of the ideal and that the merciless chastisement of one another will never get us closer to that perfected state. In so doing, I teach Art (as opposed to art) as an expression of grace.
In teaching the pursuit of excellence I consequently don’t think of myself as an excellent teacher, but as a teacher in pursuit of excellence. Excellence is not something possessed, but an unattainable ideal that serves as a lifelong pursuit—the desire to be better tomorrow than I am today. In so doing I model that attitude and pursuit for my students and leave them with a life skill that is applicable in all walks of life.
More precisely, excellence in teaching art is not based solely in technical virtuosity, but in an understanding that the creative mind is engaged in critical thought and in inventive thought as well. Excellence in art cannot be quantitatively measured or assessed, for the benchmark or known quantity—the predictable or anticipated solution–is its antithesis. Creative excellence thrives outside the box.
Because I live outside that box, sometimes what I try works, sometimes it fails. As a teacher, it is easy to create a place where everyone is content, but it is virtually impossible to grow in that contentment if it is based in the least common denominator. And so, some days I succeed in leading students beyond the norm and beyond the goals of attainment to a new way of looking at life. Some days, I fail. Embracing the failures and owning the same in humility creates a teachable moment in failure—and passes on an incredibly important life skill—the understanding that every success is rooted in a field of failures.
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