It’s vital in every classroom to create an atmosphere where students feel able to share ideas, work together, and where they feel like a cohesive group who share making art as a goal. I do this through leadership, through humor, and by giving in-class group assignments where students have to work together under a deadline. These collaborations early on make group critiques much more effective as students are used to talking with each other honestly and with respect. It also facilitates a safe environment as students feel less embarrassed about asking each other for help and me for advice.
Once students are comfortable with the materials they are using, I try to make them less comfortable with the artistic decisions they are making. I spend considerable class time helping students question their intentions and better prepare their artistic game plan while addressing their projects. For example, in one assignment I ask students to make two pieces, that while related, use opposing aesthetics. I found that this succeeds in forcing students out of patterns of predictable decision making. I assign in-class collaborative projects, such as building large newspaper shelters and fabricating matching outfits, to teach students to communicate, brainstorm, prioritize, and to synthesize their ideas.
I teach students that the process of making art should be driven by content. In one semester long assignment, I asked each student to build a personal theme park in miniature (1/148 scale). They then designed and fabricated uniforms for the employees of the park (which have to fit the student), built furniture for the park (1/1 scale), and created park souvenirs (as multiples). Each section of this assignment introduces new materials and techniques. Keeping each piece of the project in line with the original theme forces students to breakdown their ideas into different facets and then to spread those facets out in order to create multiple pieces each relating to another. When each piece suggests the next one, or asks new questions, I hope to teach students that making art is a form of communication and a means of exploring new ideas.
In a shorter assignment, which I call “Evil Twin,” students design a proposal for one piece, then they are required to design and build a second piece which would have all the feature of that piece, but that would have a second and possibly conflicting, read, order to create a piece that would seem to have ulterior motives. My plan for this assignment is to force my students out of an area of comfort, and to challenge them to get more out of their ideas and skills. Overall, my intentions as a teacher are to challenge students to be aggressive and honest with their own art, to take risks, and then to critically assess the success and failure of their work. This should lead to a process of continuous exploration, one that is critical to any studio practice.