I teach art to a variety of people from ages 10 to 50+ at a private college prep school and a community college. Most of the students I teach would be considered to be at the foundations level, regardless of age. The artistic backgrounds and exposure to art vary tremendously across all ages, and this affects student’s ability to try new ways of making art or making new types art.
In response to this varied background/cross-‐generational teaching situation, I have attempted to develop a curriculum that teaches technical skills & concepts in the context of making individually imaginative artwork. The curriculum is adjusted only slightly for different age groups. Importantly, the curriculum has grown directly out of my own interdisciplinary studio practice and varied experiences as an artist.
Using simple instructions, the projects generally cover the connection between real and depicted space through shading, linear perspective, isometric perspective, line weight, observational drawing, symbol studies, personal color studies, texture studies, and 3D paper constructions. The media is generally limited to graphite, colored pencils, gouache, watercolor and ink.
While the instructions I give are fairly straightforward (“Draw a line, fill every shape with a gradient, make a shape with 3 different line qualities…”), they can be interpreted and applied by the students in an infinite number of ways. I like to think of this method of teaching as asking objective questions that can be answered with multiple correct and subjective responses. These instructions also reveal the malleability of language and the unique ability of visual art to simultaneously communicate seemingly contrasting ideas.
The instructions are often in the form of changing or erasing something that has already been drawn. For many students, they have never thought of erasure or covering as being a meaningful and intended mark. But this process of erasure and experimentation carries with it the echoes of all the past work that went into the final work. In a sense, it is integrating layers of time into a flat picture.
The projects are sequential. When a project is complete, it forms the basis for the proceeding project. One of the reasons for this is so that students actually make a cohesive body of work that grows organically and allows them to develop a personal style through the discovery of personal tendencies.
This way of teaching reflects the ideologies and tendencies revealed in my own studio practice: a continual attempt to make and re-make some thing into a new thing, where processes and ideas merge within a single medium in a search for beauty through material inadequacies. In my process, things fall apart, but ultimately come back together in a dance between design and chance. In a sense, a striving for perfection with the acceptance that imperfection will continue to exist.
Jay Henderson, 2014