Thursday, February 12, 2009

Teaching forwards backwards

I gotta say that I was really pleased with the way the class went today. I keep wondering what the results would have been if we had done this two weeks ago. I can imagine many questions about the parameters of the assignment and about what Bob and I expected. But, we were refreshingly struck by how quickly everyone just jumped into these projects. Our intent was that the four separate pieces (text, sound, sculpture, and video) would be brought together into one larger piece with many elements. Naturally we didn’t share this with the class because we were less interested in students making connections and more interested in connections that would be made. This also provided a way to approach the third project – just diving in without too much thought in advance. The end results are always more interesting this way. I can’t wait to see the mash-up of all of these pieces.

I have been teaching performance art, avant-garde, happenings, etc for about 12 years or so – studying it for quite a bit longer. My approach to the subject in the past has been primarily that of a scholar and historian – looking back on what developed and observing, or manufacturing, patterns, rules, definitions etc. My courses on performance art and the avant-garde are much more theoretical, much more historical than the generative art course. The intent is to provide a history and rationale for the development of a specific genre. But in a team-taught course we could be less linear, focus less on constructing a narrative and to work forwards rather than backwards. The revelation here is certainly no surprise to folks that work with practical or skills based teaching, but to approach a subject that is largely theoretical this way is something I have only dabbled with in the past.

If, as Lyotard contends (and yes Joe I still need to look up the stuff I have on the Sublime, but I am convinced it is less than), artists like Eno and Reich and Tinguely were creating works in the face of the rules and the history of art forming the rules of what will have been. Why then start with the aftereffects? The decision to teach backwards from my traditional pattern (and forwards in relation to the subject) just makes a great deal of sense. Why tell a student what something means or what something is about when you can have them do a project that will tell them much more about it. The knowledge is then embodied and not remembered, internalized and based on their individual skill set and not imposed from outside.

What we saw today were artistic impulses – the foundation for asking the same kinds of questions Eno and Reich and Tinguely asked. While the students may not interpret their actions this way, there were some marvelously creative solutions generated in a very short period of time. What do you do in front of a camera? You perform – to the point of seeming artificial – a quotation of an action rather than the action itself. What do you record as sound besides your own voice? Whatever you encounter – including the sounds produced by the recording device. How can one approach text and not make it a static object? You disperse it both as fragmentation and through multiple found or commandeered voices. Is sculpture an object or something else? The act of watching it move, float, and decay suggest something completely different. The point with all of this is that in a more traditional class we may have given you a mid term at this point just to see what you already knew. The projects told us quite a bit more.

We are, of course, reaching the point in the term when students tend to tune out. They are overworked, over scheduled and exhausted. But I really am looking forward to the third projects, mainly because I still haven’t hit on a solution myself. Given what we saw today – the room is filled with creative and quick thinking individuals, all of whom have a unique approach to this question. Tuesday and Thursday should be quite interesting.

No comments:

Post a Comment