The strong commitment I have to my own artwork, as well as to my teaching, helps set a positive example of dedication and commitment in the classroom. I set high standards for myself as well as for my students and share with them my own experiences as an artist—both my successes and failures. I encourage students to become responsible for their own learning process. Regardless of student level, I’ve developed projects in my courses that offer structure while allowing students to explore what interests them. I feel it is my responsibility to expose students to a wide variety of ideas and approaches to problem solving and it is their responsibility to develop those ideas and pursue their own interests.
Students gain confidence by developing strong technical skills. They need strong technical skills in order for their ideas to materialize. Those skills should be varied, crossing media boundaries, so students can draw from them as needed. Trained as a painter and sculptor and now a practicing fiber artist, my technical skills are eclectic. This comes in handy when solving technical problems with my fiber students, and it is essential when working with students in our interdisciplinary core program. I rely on demonstrations to teach technical skills and they are an important part of my teaching.
It is crucial for art and design students to develop a standard by which they judge their work and the work of others. I encourage students to ask questions and formulate their own conclusions. The studio environment fosters team building, and I encourage students to interact and verbalize their ideas with one another whether informally or during critiques. By questioning and evaluating their work as well as the work of others, students learn to trust their own ideas and to appreciate other points of view. Allowing oneself to be vulnerable to both criticism and accolades for one’s work is an aspect of risk-taking that goes beyond experimentation with materials and methods. I believe that through critiques, a pedagogical tool unique to the studio environment, students learn as much about themselves as they do about their work. Critiques allow students to see their own work within a larger context, to practice presentation skills using discipline-specific vocabulary, to assess the effectiveness of how well they communicate ideas on a visual level, and to see and hear multiple solutions to any given problem. Perhaps most importantly, critiques allow students to engage in dialogue and work through ideas in a safe yet public environment. Critiques help them to develop “thick skin.” In order to realize the benefits of critiques, I vary their structure from project to project. Varying the structure of critiques throughout a course allows students to diversify their understanding of the subject and fosters communication on multiple levels—verbal, written, and visual.