Thursday, January 21, 2016

Day Four: First Projects part deux:

Two weeks into the class. Hard to believe. I don’t feel like we have covered much yet, and yet, we have tons of material we can draw on. As we explained to the students the first day, their answers to the project prompts provide content for the course. I’m not sure they recognize what that means at this point. Connecting the projects and discussion to the set of reading for next week students already understand a number of key ideas without realizing it. Some of the ideas about juxtaposition were generally clear going into the projects, but now we have a host of ideas to discuss. Allowing the students to generate the list of concerns or ideas in the project discussions will begin to provide the framework on techniques so useful as they continue to generate work. The goal with this is that by the end of the class they have a kind of generative art tool kit – with ideas and techniques useful in a variety of ways. We do need to pair this with the historical material and so moving from these first projects through dada and John Cage will help ground the ideas in time. Bob and I have discussed the second project question – which continues to morph as we see opportunities to nudge the conversation one way or another.

The differences in section is always quite interesting. Section one seems much more contemplative, quieter, more focused on the discussion. Their projects had less of a performative feel as opposed to the other section. Section two seems much louder, more easily distracted, more active. This may have something to do with the earlier VS later class times. Both lend themselves to the material quite well, but means the sections will be drifting away from each other a bit over the next few weeks. As with Tuesday – lots of great projects to discuss. We have a ton of material to weave into the conversation on Tuesday.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Day Three: First Projects:

I find that a day or so before the first projects are due I become a bit anxious. So much doubt, so many questions. Was the project prompt set up to generate interesting responses? Did I provide too much information up front? Not enough?  Will we have enough time to discuss them all? Or, what happens if we have nothing to talk about? Will the students take the project seriously? Will they create provocative and interesting pieces? Unlike a traditional class where the teacher may control the content of a particular lesson, these classes are wide open. It is both terrifying and exciting. And, as has so often in the past, the students never fail to amaze me. So many interesting projects, so much to discuss. In taking a cue from Lois Hetland’s process we started the discussion just by looking at the pieces in front of us, just noticing the basic elements of each piece. The trick is to try and hold off judgment or conclusions until we have talked about what is in front of us. It is hard not to jump right to meaning, but if we can hold off on this for a bit we tend to see deeper into the projects.

As these were about juxtaposition, the whole point was to spin out on how we as a group were reading the elements. Often I find once we get started that students see a great deal more than intended. Occasionally less, but then that is typically because we don’t recognize all of the pieces – personal or otherwise. Some great tensions created with the pieces today – some funny, some, frightening, some just odd. It is always interesting which ones stick – which ones I come back to again and again – may be the simplest, may be the most complex. The projects then become the content of the course – ideas and techniques we can point back to as the class develops. Not only juxtaposition, but how the tensions were created, personal meanings, interpretation, etc.

It is with the first projects that the two sections begin to pull away from each other in terms of tone and ideas. The first section was a bit more somber, more contemplative, quieter pieces in intent and presentation – far few media driven pieces than section two. In addition section two had a few more performative aspects. Having to watch and then discuss always takes more time than looking and talking. I did apologize to Bob for hijacking the critique role, but it was mainly to try and get through all the presentations – which we did in section one but were two short in section two. We have enough time if we need to spill over beyond Thursday – but not by too many presentations. This is where we get into a time crunch based on the number of students in the class – 25 and 28 – probably 10 more than the subject can hold comfortably. So – this may affect how we structure the next few projects – more focused, limited by time constraints. Looking forward to Thursday – this is the first time I have broken the project classes into two different groups. Bob and I both wonder what impact this will have on those who present second.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Day Two

So we asked the students to talk about things they felt were well designed or well structured. The point of the talk was two-fold, to get everyone up, on their feet and in front of everyone else, and to generate a list of terms and ideas connected to the notion of structure. It never fails to amaze me that I can’t predict what students will bring in to class. My expectation was a sequence of artworks either directly or tangentially connected to what each student is studying. To my surprise, the first class largely talked about objects and experiences that were only occasionally grounded in a discussion of aesthetics. So, the list of ideas we came up with to tie all of these presentations together revolved around interaction, usability, and the relation to the body or the individual. A great starting point for the course. The second class, however, largely moved into the realm of aesthetics, focusing more on compositional devices and the interaction of individual pieces with the whole. What becomes increasingly interesting about this class is that Bob and I can the use this material to generate a discussion, weaving the unique ideas brought in by each section.

The structural conversation gave way to a discussion of the white cube essay assigned for class today. Bob contextualized the essay with an overview of how the avant-garde challenged systems – specifically the modernist system of control both physical and social – which gave way to more contemporary ideas. The key term in this discussion were “context” and “frame,” specifically about how artworks are framed by space or psychology. For me the key idea in the essay is how museums are designed to block out the outside world – something that can be extended to theatres, concert halls, and interestingly, shopping malls. That sets up the idea of control of how a work is viewed, but also received and interpreted. I suspect we will return to both of these ideas when we discuss the first project on juxtaposition – due on Tuesday. So far, a great start to the course – lost of ideas we can mine as it develops.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Day One

One of the things I forgot about team teaching is the luxury of stepping back on observing the class. The give and take between two different teachers with different ideas of the subject is a valuable asset for both students and teachers. Bob and I had mapped out the basic structure of the class – go over syllabus and projects and requirements. Hit on big ideas connected with the subject. Play an improve game with an unusual object to get the students up on their feet and their brains in gear. The on to the SSC material. A nice list of ideas emerged – although interesting to see the differences between the sections. Bob followed this up by asking about today’s concerns –which generated another wonderful list of ideas. This gives us – right up front – a kind of snapshot of where we are coming from and where we are headed. The content of the class is then the connective tissue that gets us from one list to the other. It is a great way to approach this class, one I undoubtedly will use in the future. Aside from the general day one intro stuff both classes seemed to respond to the material well – although we did loose a few from the 8:30 class that did not seem interested in this particular journey, but that did open up some space for interested students we initially had to turn away. So, all in all a good start to the term.

Monday, January 11, 2016

Bob has already seen much more potential for tweaking these assignments in a new direction.

Wow – the last post was seven years ago. In that time Bob and I taught another project-based course (Virtual Worlds in 2011) and I taught six other project-based courses (Aesthetics of Dissonance – twice, Chaos Theory and the Arts, Postmodernity, Symbolism and the Theatre of the Absurd, and Postdramatic Literature). I have found a fairly stable rhythm with the project classes and the intent on revisiting this class with Bob is, in large part, disrupt that rhythm to more closely study how best to approach this style of class. It is hard to overestimate how impactful that first Gen Art class was on my development as a teacher. The flexibility of both the subject and the syllabus allowed us to guide the class depending upon where it was headed. While the same was true, to an extent, with the other project courses, the past few years I have been working to strike a balance between flexibility and structure. Bringing Bob back into the mix allows that dynamic to be a bit more fluid. It has also helped shift me out of the habit of using project prompts over and over. While there are a few “tried and true” ones built into this class, Bob has already seen much more potential for tweaking these assignments in a new direction.

Our approaches to the subject have also evolved over the past few years. Having two instructors who don’t necessarily see the subject the same way has great potential for dialogue. If I had to define those directions I believe Bob has more of a focus on systems, whereas I am more interested in the improvisational or “generative” aspect of the work. Similar approaches, but with some fundamental differences. I am looking forward to the intersection between the two. While I may have some apprehension about sharing the space this term, I do know that sharing often leads too much more of a focus on pedagogy. Specific to that is to focus on leading students through in-depth critiques of the projects – my weakest area as an individual teacher. We have mapped out the term fairly well, but I realize that even the first projects may send us off on a completely different course.