Thursday, March 12, 2009

I find teaching is a profession where the more successful you are the less necessary you become

I have held off posting for a bit as the class moved into the final project. I must say – some really great work! As I mentioned in class today, part of my excitement with this class was that I had less and less of an idea what to expect for each project as the term went on. Eno suggests that what Generative Art provides is a new metaphor to explore art and the world. This notion of not knowing the outcome – which was often the case for both viewer and artist – reminds me of something Aldous Huxley talks about in The Doors of Perception. “Under the influence” he states “I was seeing what Adam has seen on the morning of his creation – the miracle, moment by moment, of naked existence.” While this may be a tall order for an 8:30 am class, the notion of watching as a process unfolds in which the outcome is not predetermined forces a kind of phenomenological clarity.

I liked that this entire class was a process. As I suggested – the parameters of the projects may have changed up until the moment Bob and I entered classroom. Beyond this, I liked that as the process developed the role that Bob and I played as facilitator became less and less important. I imagine that teaching is one of those few professions where you are successful the less necessary you become. This is kind of what I was getting at with the Kung-Fu blog entry earlier in the term. There are many times where classes sort of plateau and simply coast to the end. Most of the major points have been made and most of major elements digested well before the final exam. This class did not seem to work that way. Rather, the last few meetings, including the final, were as engaging if not more so than previous classes, to the point where Bob and I were able to move into a peripheral role.

From the beginning we discussed the class as a laboratory. Our hope was that we could set something in motion and then step back and watch, comment, ask questions. We encouraged this for the third project, but with limited success. It did happen after we broke up into groups for the final project. Pockets of wonderful discussion, experiments, etc – some dedicated to the final project, some not, filled the space – reminiscent of the mash-up day. Bob and I were able to stand back and watch. The same was true for the final projects. Our presence merely seemed to be to reflect back these pieces via whatever methods of documentation we were using. The projects themselves had a life of their own. I am not sure anyone could have predicted that we would surround a resonating piano filled with chitttering cell phones or that we would all move counter clockwise.

I remember seeing this wonderful film called The Mozart Brothers in which an avant-garde director creates a very unique interpretation of Mozart’s Don Giovanni. I may be miss-remembering, but essentially he struggles to get the company on board with his ideas. As the production begins to take on a life of its own and opens to raves the director is seen slowly exiting the back door of the theatre. I think of this in terms of teaching. I am not suggesting that this class was a struggle (in fact it was much less so than I had anticipated – which probably had a great deal to do with the students) But, it was gratifying to hear today that many students thought that there should be a part II to this class – or that they wanted to continue to play with these ideas.

At that point it is up to Bob and I to slowly exit. Our job is done and the students don’t need us to give any more “assignments.” I can appreciate that “taking a class” provides a kind of shelter (it certainly helps when the campus police get involved), but also provides an excuse as to why you would spend your time on activities like this. To do odd an intriguing machine-like projects on your own time may just seem a bit strange. But isn’t that what artists do? Isn’t part of being an artist chasing down interests, asking questions, exploring possibilities even if they don’t fit into some pre-ordained plan?

The question, of course, is what to do with this generative stuff in the context of more traditional art forms. I do think it is difficult to think of a one to one match – how one makes generative theatre, film, dance, and music. But, if the final projects are any indication – it is possible. What might be more useful, however, is not to think of this process as hermetically sealed, but one that can generate material to be shaped in a more familiar medium. Using a sound collage generated by a series of phone calls in which the content was left up to each individual caller provided the basis for each of the four final projects. It is hard to imagine them without this as a starting point.

So, like Bob’s comment about Michelangelo staring at water stains, the result of generative work can always be used as inspiration, raw material, direction, or even a way of opening up possibilities beyond individual tastes and training.
While Bob and I may have entered this process in the position of authority – it is our class, we are the instructors, we made decisions on how we would proceed, at some point we moved from guides to observers. Just watching these final pieces was marvelously inspiring – clearly I have much to learn from these students. So – like the Jasper Johns quote Bob posted in the hallway, I fully intend to take the final pieces and do something with them. In doing so, I turn my back on the prescribed roles of “student” and “teacher.” I suggest you do the same.

That said, I want to thank all of the students and Bob for a very inspiring and exciting term.