Learning is one of the most important aspects of human life. It is very fulfilling to be able to facilitate this process as a teacher. In my opinion a good teacher is also a student, who stays critical of his knowledge and is always eager to dive deeper into a subject matter or to broaden his horizon. Teaching in the Visual Arts presents special challenges, as it is balancing act between stimulating artistic development, offering a broader perspective and the training of technical skills.
It is essential to provide students with an environment that encourages expirementation and where they can feel comfortable enough to express themselves. Within certain boundaries, a student should be able to find hers or his own way and set personal goals. I try to create an atmosphere of trust in which class critiques and one on one discussions can be open and frank. I consider reflecting on the work and its creation, and listening to the impressions it makes on others, to be important means to grow as an artist.
With all the information sources available to them, students get exposed to a massive amount of imagery and new developments. What they need is for that information to be put into perspective. This is a bi-directional process: students will alert me to new developments while I can supply them with more in depth background information and help them to make connections. It is important to be aware of the historical perspective in which events take place and works of Art are created. This cultural awareness has to be part of any artist's baggage. I also find it a useful teaching tool to offer a historical overview of how things came to be.
When teaching technical subjects I usually work from the general concepts down to the software specific implementations of techniques. The didactic course I took while teaching in The Netherlands encouraged me to vary this approach, so I occasionally start with a very practical example. To acquire skills students have to practice a lot. I will usually show how I perform a certain task, so students can learn by example, but the main thing is for them to have a go at it.
Since the challenges of teaching in the Visual Arts are threefold, I give three types of assignments. First there are very specific assignments to train technical skills. A well-defined product has to be handed in or presented. Material to work with is usually supplied. Second, to stimulate creative development I give out assignments for which the basic criteria are given but the student has to come up with a plan and set his or her own challenges. The creative process is part of the assignment, class critiques are held to evaluate and stimulate the student's progress. While the technical training exercises are to be completed individually, for the larger "free" assignments I do allow collaboration as long as the roles of individual students are clearly defined. And finally, to get students to look beyond their own workstation, I ask them to research a topic related to the class but of their own choosing, and present their findings in class.
As an artist, I continue developing and trying new means of expression. I find the combination of teaching and creating work to be very fruitful. It helps to keep me up to date, and supplies practical examples to use in class. I mentioned earlier that as teacher I am also a student and learn from feedback and experience to keep improving the content and instructional methods my courses. In the subjects I teach there is a tension between getting the students to grasp what is behind the software they use and how to utilize it for artistic creation, and what is sometimes called "button pushing". The software used for digital content creation is increasingly complex and it is easy to spend most of the class time on teaching the students where to click to accomplish a specific task, leaving little time to reflect on the work and the creative process. To address this issue I am increasingly moving the software instruction on-line, through websites I create and by using Learning Management Systems such as Blackboard and Moodle. Recently I have also turned to creating and posting instruction videos on-line. Not because I like to receive content that way myself, but because students appreciate it and creating them can be more time efficient then typing all steps out in a web page. I still cover the software instruction in class, but find there is less need to keep repeating steps covered in the videos, and I am leaning towards increasing the use of this hybrid approach for teaching "button pushing".