I talked yesterday about giving up on the academy, letting go of my professional dream of a tenure track job in an art department. I haven’t abandoned my commitment to art as the voice of humanity, the longest record of human engagement that exists. I thought I wrote a compelling statement. It didn’t get me a job but it did sum up my views and I think it captured my passion. . .
Looking in the rearview mirror of my own education and successes I have had in the classroom, I am happy to report that art school prepared me to do all the things businesses, industries, and government agencies are screaming we don’t have enough of – critical thinking and problem solving, agility and adaptability, curiosity and imagination.
I am inspired by companies like IDEO that bring everyday people into every design decision they make because serving everyday people is at the core of their process, their product, and their profit. IDEO is making design decisions that impact lives in positive ways. All the buzz around innovation and nimble climates for responsive adaptation, R&D, accepting ambiguity, rapid prototyping – I learned all those things in art school. I had to come up with my own problems to solve (what was my idea – my question, my statement, my concern and what were the right tools to convey that idea.) I had to believe it was relevant (to me and to the larger world).
The practice of critique used in art classes builds grit in students as their work is discussed, dissected and sometimes dismembered. Art is by its nature ambiguous and abstract. Articulating ideas and unbundling processes, debriefing the mistakes can lead to new ideas and better solutions. I keep sketchbooks and journals and have rough drafts and half-finished everything in my studio – the prototype is the process.
Art school taught me to think flexibly. Art is the story of humanity over time. Its narrative arc covers politics and power, want and need, transcendence through beauty, passion and purpose. Art is about craft – the steps necessary to create something that will last, that will be looked at or experienced. Art is about what it means to be human – how to celebrate that or survive it. Art is about discovery -considering new ways to tell old tales, finding my voice among many, hearing it (or seeing it) through other’s eyes and learning about myself through that process.
Creative thinking is at the core of invention – we see those leaps of thinking in art, music, and science, the “Aha moments”. The best art classes set students up to be surprised and amazed. The best teachers nudge, prod, push, and provide insight. They connect students to themselves, their peers, their communities, and to the larger world.
Art school taught me to look more closely and to act on that reflection. It required me to understand the history out of which each movement grew, and it expected me to add to that history. An MBA might have made me more money and taught me about the triple bottom line, but I don’t think it would have taught me the compassion for humanity that art history has. I don’t think it would require me to look at things closely or listen attentively so that when I was ready to add my voice, I would do it in a way that prompted collaboration.
We are on the cusp of a new industrial revolution. Technology is unleashing a huge amount of talent, energy and creativity and it’s all available to peruse on your mobile devise. We are reimagining the production of knowledge. We can train a generation to believe that anything they can imagine, they can make. Programmable carbon fiber, computational media, drones the size of nanoparticles, neuroplasticity and brain health. The world has gotten flat again. But, the power of technology combined with critical thinking (and all those other skills we know we learn in art school) allows us to collaborate across networks, lead by influence, access and analyze Information and use that information to innovate.
DIY culture, art activism and social practice, the Maker Movement, and entrepreneurship are core themes I can bring to the classroom. I learned all those things in art school. I have taught all levels and types of photographic media, bookmaking, drawing, 2D Design, graphic design, art history, and printmaking. I work in multiple and mixed media, though the core concepts of my work remain consistent.
The personal is political; think global, buy local – these are more than catch phrases, they are calls to action. Art can be a pure form of expression, a precious object, an ephemeral experience. At its best, it is deeply individual and representative of the human condition simultaneously.
I strive to help my students see these contradictions and opportunities as demands on their intellectual capacity. Their cultural imperative as artists is to design problems to solve, identify the right tools for the job, find relevance in their work and their community, and articulate that relevance visually and verbally. My job is to help them get there.