Why Art

The Preamble

Note: In late October I began to dig out my studio after having sold my home and moved onto the studio property. While renovating a mobile home on the property originally intended for an employee to live in, I decided the best way to do it was if I lived in it during this period of transition. The studio was packed with belongings and I began to move out the things I wanted to keep and toss what I don’t need anymore.

The glass furnace was in the process of being rebuilt when I had a furnace block fall on my hand, nearly pinning me under the block. This catalyzed an effort to do what I had not done in years past, which was to add automation in the form of pneumatic cylinders controlled by foot pedals to open and close furnace doors.  Sounds like a simple thing, and it is, but the implementation wound up being more complicated and drawn out than expected.  But then, this can often be the case when engineering “one-off’s”.

The result has been a subtle but important transformation taking place at the studio.  The vent hood,which controls the ventilation was also updated in a significant way, essentially enclosing the vent hood completely in order to help make evacuating hot air from the studio more effective.  It will result in a more comfortable experience for me, my assistants, and for those taking classes there in the future.

The injury to my hand slowed me way down from where I planned on being, but it also opened up a new avenue that I am glad is now largely completed.  Despite delays from the engineering firm, I have managed to get all of the automation done that I have wanted to do for years but never did.  As a result, I am looking to the Fall of 2018 as a time when I will begin holding workshops again while also beginning production work again after a long hiatus teaching at the university.

I will be baking into my design of my website the ability to see the schedule and register for any and all classes from the convenience of your computer or mobile phone.  I am working with a web designer who will be including commerce solutions for purchasing work and for making the process of connecting with the studio more streamlined.  Those changes will be rolled out in the Fall, but for updates and important announcements, follow the studio on Facebook HERE.

If the link doesn’t work for your device, copy and paste this link into your browser:

https://www.facebook.com/Stafford-Art-Glass-273860936858/

 


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The “Why” (and How)

We create to express and communicate ideas, feelings, and experiences. The arc of art is so broad and takes in such broad swaths of considerations and mindsets. It’s been used to express religious fervor and religious ideas, political propaganda, social justice (speaking truth to power) as well as recreating the beauty of nature. Art accepts all comers. The only rule is that there are no rules. You get to make your own. How that winds up turning out is really up to the artist, and if you are a professional artist, your ideas need to hit a nerve in order to gain acceptance most often. If, however, you create art as a hobby, you are the freest of the free; you can create just as you wish to create. I have, as I have gotten older, sought a path through both of these polarities because I have found that my greatest discoveries came when I wasn’t worried about the bottom line. It has also served to inform my teaching at the university level as well as in my own studio.

Glass takes years to learn. It is gymnastic in the sense that there is a lot of muscle memory involved, and all of this takes time and patience.  The best glass workers have been at this for their whole lives and they make what they do look easy when it is anything but that.  When I began introducing people to glass I realized that there is this considerable gap that exists with people and their skill level in glass that disrupted their ability to enjoy the material as an expressive medium. As a result of this, I developed a way of working with students in the studio to help fill the technical gap for the time being and working on what they can do on a technical level straight out of the gate in producing glass objects.  This method has resulted in being able to give people from all walks the fullest experience in glass possible without having to spend years developing the requisite skills necessary.  Since glass is a very expensive medium, it makes learning very expensive also.  Not everyone wants to be a maestro, some are content with running around the block to see what glass blowing is all about.

This process is effectively 75% student work with 25% hand-holding by the teacher.  This 25% consists of techniques critical to the successful creation of glass objects and represent a technical level that can take weeks or months to master just one of them.  Instead of taking weeks worth of repetition, I pick up that part and we work together to ferry objects like ornaments, suncatchers, vases, bowls, and paperweights to their completion on a first-go. This is also why the workshops have been so popular.  Most studios do not provide this level of access to the glass for beginners. I have found that by teaching in this way, I can help provide a closeup introduction to glass without years of preparation and work. For those who are serious about learning glass, they will grab the bull by the horns and do what needs to be done to accomplish that level of mastery.  For everyone else, it seems my method as developed works very well for the beginner.

 

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A suncatcher made by a first-time student

 

My process is to encourage the student to follow the glass and what it wants to do.  This may not sound like the kind of control that is necessary for a medium like glass, but over years of experience, glass has a quality that when you allow it to be itself, can and does do some really amazing things.  Instead of working in a precisely controlled way, I suggest more room for surprises to occur for students so they can witness the expressive potential of glass.  As a result there are creations that are far more complex and interesting than if they had been carefully controlled. Don’t get me wrong, control is necessary in being able to reproduce results in a production environment, but this is not what we are doing in a class.  In a class we are trying to get the biggest bang for our buck here: we seek to explore as broadly as possible in a very limited time frame.  The student, then, gets a snapshot of the potential that glass has. The results are nothing short of amazing, though, and is one reason why even when I am not offering classes, I tend on average to field three to four inquiries a month about classes even though I have not offered them now for a number of years.

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Closeup of a student suncatcher

Some folks are content sitting and watching glass being made in the studio. The ability to sit and watch glass being blown is free here at the studio.  We encourage everyone who wants to to sit in and learn a thing or two. For those who are not content to sit on their hands and watch, there are the classes.

If you are interested in classes, or just to come watch glass being blown, announcements will be made publicly on my Facebook page. Classes will include offhand glassblowing, and torch worked glass (bead making). Glassblowing will be available first while the bead making studio has to be built around the torches I already have in-house and will take some time to build the tables, venting, and small kilns, tools, etc., in place before classes can be offered. My hope is that I will be offering both by next Fall. Please “like” my Facebook page  to remain up to date on events and classes there. For those who want to know when a class is being offered, I recommend also that you email me at info@staffordartglass.com and include “classes” in the subject heading.  This will enable me to bring up all of the inquiries over a period of time and respond to them very quickly and easily.  And no, we wont spam you.  If you want off the list, you will be removed promptly.  For the rest, there is the Facebook page below:

https://www.facebook.com/Stafford-Art-Glass-273860936858/

Writing Your Educational Philosophy

This article is written for my graduate students in ART702 Studio Management at Radford University.

 

Increasingly, schools that advertise for positions in higher education ask for a teaching philosophy.  It seems simple at first blush, but putting together a teaching philosophy can be daunting, especially at first.

If you are minting your first version of your teaching philosophy, there are some things that you will want to consider.  First, the document should be broad so that it can encompass a world of issues.  In many ways less is more, but perhaps even more importantly, efficient is best.  But are there really any rules?  If there are any, no one gives them up. Like that helps on your first go-round, right?

You might feel like you have no idea what your teaching philosophy is about, but you in fact do, even if you don’t know it.  For example, you do know how bad teachers have impacted your learning over the years, right?  So given a negative, you might be able to work from that in order to begin thinking about what it was that you didn’t like in their teaching and correct for that.  The corrected version, then, is you.

Now think about the things that all the best teachers you have had embodied.  Think about all the things they did and said, or maybe didn’t bother to do (which could be just as important) and think about what those things meant from a teaching perspective.  Let’s say you had a teacher that always listened to you and always encouraged you to talk about your work without interrupting you or inserting hard critical advice at a time when it wasn’t needed or wanted.  Maybe that.  Or it could be that no matter what, you know they had your back.  Or how they conveyed technical information.  And you know, you might find that some of the characteristics come down to character, to personality.  And you know, how about that? How might personality play into it?  Truth is, you can’t teach personality, right?  So what might that have to do with teaching and a philosophy?  Now I hope its obvious that I am not saying that you try and address personality, I am of course using it as an example.  A what if.  You, you have to deal with what is.  and I hope I can help you see a little clearer when we are done.

I will give you some examples that I know were operative in my life.  I had a great high school art teacher.  I was increasingly showing interest in 3-D work and this meant that I was veering off the beaten path since most kids in high school were 2-D and thus often did projects together as a group.  But me, I was suddenly hungry for 3-D.  So when I asked about what was possible, my teacher told me how I could throw clay and fire it using the kiln and pottery wheel.  We had a few glazes.  I could do stained glass, small projects.  I could do a kind of jewelry work cutting copper sheet and polishing it.  So I took off on all three of these things.  She gave me the barest of demo’s with each.  She kind of showed me the way and I took off on my own pretty much.  I liked that.  And for me, it was a perfect approach.  In time what I learned was that as a teacher was that we learn by doing, and art is certainly “doing” for sure.  It led me to examine the fine line between needing to know when to convey information and when to stand out of the way and let the student do it.  So this experience was huge for me.  It was all the bigger because this teacher was highly esteemed by nearly every student who darkened her door.  Catherine Pauley.  She was, and is, the best.

I also had a number of very good teachers in college, and each of them form the basis of the things that I try to do with students.

But just as a teacher can give, another can take away, and I had a teacher in graduate school who did this.  He took away by having favorites.  I saw what this did to all of us.  It made us hyper-competitive.  This teacher chose students for opportunities because he liked them.  Now, 20 years out, I can look back at the people I went to school with and see who is using their degree and who is not.  Its interesting because I am one of the few who is still using his degree, and I was never one of the golden children who would be approached with an opportunity to do a public commission. This experience taught me a lot about what NOT to do with my students, which is NEVER to set up a pecking order of favorites.  It’s probably  hard enough as it is to not create the appearance of favorites just in regular conversation in class with students.

I believe there is a better way.  I know there is because the art world is competitive enough as it is without my adding the kind of thing my teacher did to the mix.  Don’t get me wrong; I really admire my old teacher, I just didn’t agree that his way of operating in this regard was helpful in the  short or long run for any of us.

So there you have it; two of my most intimate takes on how my educational philosophy was, and continues to be formed. Me, I had to find a way to express this simply and directly.  And for me, my educational philosophy is a series of important notions that I bring to teaching in the arts.  What I had to do was to put it together into a narrative or work that reads well and also expresses who I am. This is not an easy document to put together!  But by starting, you have the document, and as I have told you before, it is a living document and it will naturally change over time.  I can tell you that five years after graduating with my M.F.A. my teaching philosophy changed a lot (I had digested a lot of new experiences) and it also changed a lot when I did more teaching as an adjunct at Radford University.

While you may not have done much in the way of teaching, you do know what makes a good teacher.  If you are committed to teaching the way you believe makes a good teacher, then by golly, THAT is a teaching philosophy!  this is your guiding light, a statement of principles that you find important in your career in education.  Oh, and you know, that philosophy can change from one year to the next.  I know mine has.  What has changed mine has been my own experience in education.  Like instances when I saw a teacher being unfair to students, like me and others, and was able to see what the fall-out was from that.  I bet you didn’t think your teachers might be teaching you how to teach based on a negative model, right?

I am loathe to mention this next part, but I am going to put it out there not because I feel I would personally do it, but because it is relevant for some people, which has to do with the type of school that you are going to teach at.  Yes, context can matter.  So I ask you, what is the context? Would there be a difference between teaching at a community college, an all-women’s school, a baptist-based small liberal-arts college?  think about that one for a minute.  Would your teaching be different for a school with a strong ethnic population? Fact is, these kinds of things are relevant.  It might be that yes, you do teach differently in an environment where the first language is not English.  How would you deal with this?

What I am saying here is that context could well change how you teach.  How I teach beginners is different from how I would teach graduate students.  I write about this in my education philosophy because I think it is important.  I expect certain things from graduate students that I do not expect from undergraduates.  I want the school that is considering hiring me know where I stand.  To avoid any misunderstandings, but also to be clear about how I would run a program, for example, were I to be hired.

The bottom line here is that a good teaching philosophy will clue people into who you are as a teacher.  So to begin, especially if you are having trouble getting started, I suggest that you make a list of all the characteristics that you can think of that you esteem, and even the ones you don’t, and begin from there. Think broadly and generally and let those general principles be your guiding lights. Oh, and one detail; keep the document within a page to two pages.  Say what you need to say, so if it has to run longer, then the reason is a good one, right?  There are a lot of suggestions about how to go about this important document, and there are some very good advice out there.

To learn more about this important document I am including some links to a variety of blogs and pages that discuss this in some greater depth that will help you even more in your quest for the perfect education/teaching philosophy.

http://www.acs.org/content/acs/en/education/students/graduate/six-tips-for-writing-an-effective-teaching-statement.html

http://theprofessorisin.com/2011/09/16/thedreadedteachingstatement/

http://chronicle.com/article/How-to-Write-a-Statement-of/45133/

http://www.fctl.ucf.edu/facultysuccess/professionalportfolios/philosophies.php

http://www.vpul.upenn.edu/careerservices/writtenmaterials/teachingphilosophy.php