Everyone begins their most serious bouts of learning through the act of play. Or, at least I can say that play - the act of projecting one’s imagination onto the real environment, with real and imaginary consequences - is a universally acknowledged part of both child and adult development. As an artist, I still engage in this practice of psychical projection, of conflating and occupying the physical with the imagined, constantly to create my work. In this way, art makes ideas real. Learning about art is like learning the rules of the game of ideation through material, a kind of play.
Play is usually more fun when there are other people involved. And play is progressively more fun when the rules of play can change, when the practice isn’t cemented to history or dogma. I encourage students to develop themselves through interaction with each other, myself, new artworks (and, equally, popular media), and their own new constructed rules. Susan Sontag’s statement that “style is content” or Marshall McLuhan’s stadium-shouting, “The Medium is the Message,” though certainly not new, are examples of a newer prescription for young artists that have often been proscribed against: a call to conflate the physical with the imagined. Meme versus material is a consistently relevant metaphor for the utopian versus the real, in art and beyond. In the real world, artists and art students are forced to engage in a back-and-forth dialogue between their own ideas and the way they express those ideas. I call this open, dialectical approach to thinking about art and art-making the ideation-through-craft method. This way of thinking challenges students to simultaneously think of their work as made up of separate components like content, style, context, material, and idea, and to see it as a living whole.
No student makes work alone, as all work is made in context of the larger body of the class, of their past work, and of the history of art making in general. These contexts, though often taken for granted, cannot be denied. A large part of the student’s development is informed by this context, and its relation to it can activate or null the work. Every assignment begins with a laying down of the relative context in which the student’s work can most effectively speak. This historical “couching” session is made up of short slide lectures, field trips and library visits, in which I present material old and new, canonical and contemporary. My favorite artists to bring to the table are those in fields most often undetected by academia: product designers, matte painters, illustrators, architects, filmmakers, etc. One of my goals as an educator is to ensure that individual schools of profession are not presented as disconnected from one another. I was brought up in an environment of professional community art-making; my family was composed of commercial musicians and costumers - a theatrical community. No one works alone in completing these massive projects, and of course, organization is key to working together efficiently.
My past profession as a community organizer and gallerist prepares me to place student works historically and, more importantly their aims and goals, into context of the track they’ve chosen to take in college. I understand that not all art students want to be professional gallery artists. I encourage my non-art-school students to research ways to integrate an art practice and the ideation-through-craft method into their future lives as psychologists, copy writers, business women, chefs, etc. All students need to “break the bubble” and interact with the world outside of art school. I require that at least one student project per semester be displayed outside of the university setting or be activated by the public in some way, be it performance, web functionality, or whatever the student can imagine. Given my six years full-time experience as a gallery director and scene builder, I am well equipped to help students display their work in the traditional gallery/museum setup, but it’s often more potent to display the work in non-traditional environments; to use the city like a blank canvas, playing and composing according to the specific needs of the place.
There are many kinds of space - emotional, physical, psychical, virtual, relational - that act as the blank canvas on which to make art. The prevalence of digital art is making it ever more important to incorporate the virtual spaces of new technology into the practice of creating culture. As a painter who works with both paint and pixels, I encourage students to open up their definitions of painting and drawing to involve all kinds of mark-making, physical or otherwise, and likewise provide them with the tools to do so. As our day-to-day lives become more connected to the virtual, the value of - and the realness of it - becomes more equated with the traditional act of smearing pigment on substrate.