Investigating and working with ceramics allows for an enduring understanding of the power and potential of clay in sculpture – the paradoxical nature of tactile immediacy and permanency inherent in this medium. I explore alongside students, incorporating our collective experience and diverse cultural backgrounds in order to encourage and facilitate a growing understanding of art-making and history. Through objects, space, images and language, we investigate the physical and conceptual potentials of ceramic sculpture.
In my studio classroom, I teach and support a rigorous ideation process of drawing and creating three-dimensional sketches. My students focus on the importance of using life experience and imagination as a foundation for their work. By employing the Surrealist’s model of cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse), or collaborative visual collage drawings, students explore how art often begins with open-ended ideas and intuitive approaches. Together, we begin to articulate ideas derived directly from the process and materials. The inherent value in this method of research is that it invites students to create art spontaneously and instinctively without overanalyzing their creative process.
In one particularly memorable assignment, my students were asked to investigate the role of ceramics in historical and contemporary architecture from their own heritage or other cultures that interested them, and to post these images on our class Flickr account. In this way, they were introduced to Iranian, Columbian, Korean, Japanese, eastern European and Israeli ceramic facades, interiors and structures. Students were then able to create works that were inspired by their own research.
Just as it is important to infuse our art with an investigation beyond our own geographical borders, it is crucial to travel outside of the classroom, utilising museum facilities, art collections and the experience of other working artists. As a professor of ceramics at Eastern Oregon University, students in my Foundations to Visual Literacy course travelled to Portland, Oregon to attend gallery openings, speak with artists in their studios, and visit the Portland Art Museum’s collections. Following the trip to Portland, students were able to approach their work with a renewed sense of place within the contemporary art world.
In class, a successful critique involves everyone participating. It is my experience that a breadth of opinion engenders a meaningful discussion. If students are new to the critique process, or feel hesitant to contribute, I encourage active participation in various ways. I often give a short presentation about a contemporary artist or issue, selecting material that is particularly relevant to the work being critiqued. This presentation functions as a catalyst for stimulating discussion. As well, I invite students to share images of their previous work, creating an alternate context to discuss their current work. In this way, an understanding of objects and ideas can develop in an intuitive space beyond language.