In the summer between my first and second year of MFA I have applied and was selected to teach Studio Art on Oxbridge Academic Programs in Cambridge. This is an intense summer course program run by the American company in prime European and US locations.
As the name indicates the course I taught was focused around studio practice and aimed at 14-16 years old students. As the tutor I was given a freedom to write the course syllabus from which I was to deliver studio time accordingly. I believe that one of the reason I have been selected is that between the interview invitation email and the actual Skype interview, in the space of few hours really, I have prepared drafts of approach and activities that I would like to apply within certain areas of specialism. Surely myself waving pages of handwritten notes in front of the computer camera with genuine enthusiasm must have impressed the interviewer. He was also very taken with the body of my own works.
I have not been given any constraints in terms od designing the curriculum, only asked to introduce students to as many aspects of fine art as possible while being allocated a generous budget for each student. Drawing on recent and intense experience from the foundation course and master degree, as well as my favourite moments of short time courses I have done previously, I have proposed the set of activities each building upon the previous one, from drawing through the collection project up to exhibition curating. I have dedicated the largest chunk of four weeks time (one whole week) specifically to oil painting, my favourite technique. In regards to theory, I have been specifically asked not to spend a lot of time lecturing, instead to engage students in making, which suited me ideally. To contextualize students work I have used Tate online resources to introduce definitions of object and collection, as well as examples of artworks that can be derived from these concepts. I have also presented Tate interview with Njudeka Akunili Crosby as an example of very articulate artist who can give a precise inside to their practice and dual cultural identity that informs it. Furthermore I have presented BBC series “What do artist do all day” where I choose Chapman brothers and Cornelia Parker interviews to broaden students horizons and indicate a variety of artistic practices. Each student was also given “The Contemporary Art Book”to explore in their own time.
What I have learned about teaching art and myself during this intense month in Cambridge?
Teaching art takes an enormous load of energy and one month per year is maximum what I can do, if any. Definitely an admin site of it, including budgeting, is one of my least favourite activities in the whole world. Assessment and marking is strenuous and upsetting.
I have learned that my original syllabus was too ambitious and not realistic at all - I have planned too many activities. I have not originally factor elements like inexperience or tiredness of students. I suppose I wanted to be a very generous tutor and perhaps was too optimistic in this attempt.
On the positive side I have learned that I can work with existing resources and settings and successfully incorporate them to preplanned program to benefit students further. I was particularly fond of how oil painting week worked out - my major students, who previously had no experience or used to strongly dislike oils, all choose this medium for the final exhibition and presented well accomplished pieces. I believe that skills are important and techniques should be taught. The greatest concept will fall flat if it is badly executed. I am glad if I made it easier for some artists in making and gave them some tools to develop their work.
Most of my students were thrilled with creative freedom I have given them and were very excited to be able to foster their own ideas. This provided the experience very different from their everyday school one. The final exhibition of my students work was a success. I was complimented by the course directors and my fellow tutors on the strongest exhibition in many years of the course.
It was definitely a very rewarding experience. I have learned that I can inspire, encourage and deliver. I have proven that I can apply my knowledge and experience to the benefit of others. I did feel a very valued member of the faculty. It was amazing to be appreciated by students and bosses, and to be financially rewarded too. Naturally I absolutely loved living in Peterhouse on Cambridge campus during beautiful summer month. By the end of it however I was more than ready to come back to London.