Recruitment, Harlingen, Texas
TEACHING PHILOSOPHY OF CHARLES E. WISSINGER
Given the complex dynamics converging on education today, teaching philosophy and approach must be increasingly flexible, open to pluralistic demands emanating from shifting demographics. Teaching style and content are shaped by the necessity of maintaining credibility within discipline, while meeting varied student needs and expectations. Institutional goals and facility resources, as well as, instructor strengths and weakness also impact teaching.
As balancing order and chaos is the primary pursuit of basic design likewise affective teaching must balance juxtaposed dichotomies. There is no Holy Grail. As instructor I have to feel my way through a shifting maze of duality with every turn being both blessed by positives and vexed by negatives.
Thus I must juggle interplays of:
- aesthetic and philosophical isms
- mechanics and poetry
- intuition and logic
- myth and reality
- abstract and tangible
- formal and narrative
- style and substance
- academic and real world interplay
It is important to avoid dogmatic truisms. I am charged with the responsibility of presenting a wide spectrum of philosophical, stylistic, and technical options. Over time students will sort through this array of possibilities to assemble the package that best suits individual expressive needs. While nurturing personal expression is a core teaching goal it is critical to assure that students are exposed to the broadest possible range of technical and expressive options. Flexible response to future career demands is central to professional survival. No one knows what will be encountered 10 years down the road. A one trick pony has a distinct disadvantage competing in the highly fluid art world.
Assuming that program focus is primarily on training producing artists I approach students in three distinct stages - foundation building, facilitation then mentoring. It is critical to initially create a common ground from which meaningful communication can follow. Thus when teaching basic courses I strive to develop:
- a working visual vocabulary
- insight into the creative process with emphasis on the difference
between visual and verbal problem solving approaches and problem
- the ability to objectively make informed value judgments
- an openness to constructive criticism
- perception of personal strengths and weaknesses as they impact
- an awareness of the importance of group dynamics
- an understanding of studio processes and procedures, safety, and
individual responsibility in a communal environment
- a demonstrated facility with basic media processes
- time management skills.
- a basic perspective of historic and contemporary contexts shaping the
I seldom encourage personal expression at this point, as cliched naiveté tends to cloud basic visual skill development. During this initial interaction, I aggressively interject myself into all aspects of the working process.
While student insights and skills emerge, a mutual rapport gradually crystallizes. As circumstances permit I move away from directing to more openly facilitating student interests. Though it is essential to nurture individual thumbprints, self-expression can not be allowed to run a muck impeding ongoing exploration into new techniques, styles, and philosophical approaches. Maturing personal style can lead to a false facility based on schtick that can be quite comforting. It is imperative to steer students away from gravitating toward a single-track myopic focus.
As facilitator I present problems that encourage students to:
- freely engage the creative struggle,
- launch into the unknown,
- seek comfort in the uncomfortable, embracing insecurity,
- muster the tenacity to persevere through failure,
- trust in instinct as they gain comfort with nonlinear visual approaches to problem solving,
- continue expanding perspective and experience through nonbiased exploration.
Individuals must be carefully supported at this time as insecurity and frustration can overwhelm.
The aspiring must be frequently picked up, dusted off and helped back into the saddle. Through on going trial and error the level of student/instructor trust is further enhanced. The tendency to view the instructor as grand inquisitor with a grade book evaporates into open exchange. It has been my experience that most student problems emanate from dissonance in their lives impinging on studio performance. Creative impulse is easily shaken when the fabric of ones life frays. Mutual trust and a sixth sense often preempt slides into poor performance. Art making is a human encounter.
Eventually the level of self directed study is reached - another balancing act. Independent study can easily degenerate into disorganized meandering, to preempt this I insist that students outline a strategic framework for the course of study.
This working plan (contract) must address:
- project intent, concepts and precepts to be explored,
- visual elements or motifs to be used,
- expressive intent,
- compositional concerns, visual devices to be incorporated,
- influences, art/craft, cultural, contemporary, historic, stylistic
- forming process(es),
- media usage,
- surface treatments, manipulated, applied,
- technical process(es), tools to be used
- projected time lines.
Unbridled creative impulse is central to the visual process, but it must be balanced with periods of organized idea development. Skipping across the surface yields new insights while indepth immersion refines. I rarely accept a student's first impression, they are encouraged to toss initial brainstorms into the air by asking numerous what ifs (I push it, pull it, twist it, bite it, etc.). If 20 thumbnail variants are quickly sketched odds are good that a number of the permutations will be stronger than the original. The sketchbook should be considered a body part or alter ego that generates ideas and refines feelings preserving ones' creative tracks along the artistic pilgrimage. I am a firm believer in liberal education. The more one knows and the broader ones life experience the greater the potential for rich expression. Society needs informed individuals who can help shape the future, not more ill informed trinket makers.
As students exhibit adequate command of process, image potency, and impassioned commitment I shift to the role of mentor (best friend and toughest critic). Once a life commitment is evident it is my responsibility to assure a firm footing on the road to fulfilling career aspirations. I impart the notion that successful image making is only the key to the door. The world is ripe with unrequited potential.
We are all drawn into the art world through a love of image making (the ecstasy of it). Most exit jaded by the frustrations of coping with the business of art (the agony of it).
Traditional visual arts credit programming has focused on image making with little if any exposure to the gritty business/political side of art. Cloistered in the "womb with a view" world of higher education creative exploration is nurtured in a relatively carefree environment. This is to be cherished. The high mortality rate of visual arts graduates, however, indicates that something is amiss. Degree and dreams in hand, the aspiring are born into a brittle reality, ill prepared to cope with career pursuits. Left to flounder embittered cynicism soon envelopes naive enthusiasm. It is critical for students to venture out of the hallowed halls to directly interact with the professional art/cultural community, as well as, the community at large. Through collaboration with other educational institutions, arts/cultural support organizations, business, industry, government, and artists I have had considerable success generating non-traditional learning situations that have significantly enhanced student success and heightened appreciation, within the community, of what artists do. Thus a balance of institutional discipline and real world exposure has been highly beneficial. Activities have included; apprenticeships, internships, residencies, public installations, commissions, commercial production, travel, conferences, symposiums and exchange. These ventures have ranged from local to international in scope.
Important insights to impart at this time:
- the institutional environment is artificial. It meets certain professional needs quite well and others not at all,
- it is prudent to shift from thinking as a student toward thinking like an artist,
- the institution and instructor should be considered as resources, merely two among many,
- other resources beyond the school setting should be sought out and investigated,
- students should seek out as much real world experience as possible and begin building a resume.
To this end I begin tailoring teaching/learning experiences that mesh individual talent and ambition with real world demands. Beyond the production of visual imagery I provide information on aspects of career development including assembling a technical resource base, studio set up and management, as well as, the business and politics of art. Students are required to develop a professional presentation which includes a resume, artist's statement, folio (slides and photos) and a five year professional development plan. Technical projects are specifically focused on amplifying the individual's body of work. Professional problems are assigned that require students to engage in real world activities then make formal presentations to their peers. As the situation permits additional activities are organized that require
students to interact directly with the art/cultural community.
My personal career as an artist has been critical to teaching success. Maintaining credibility as an artist has expedited and legitimized teaching while enriching personal well being. As role model my art/cultural pursuits have been woven into interaction with students, school and community. For all concerned my most rewarding teaching has emerged from periods when I have been deeply immersed in art making.
An electricity is generated that draws students directly into the passion, joy and frustration of the creative process. By working in the studio, side by side, with students the role model aspect of teaching is greatly enhanced, the mere technical is transcended. Students are much more apt to experience the spiritual side of art making when a sense of community interaction is generated. My definition of art is relevant here...Passion, Compassion, Compulsion and Vision. If committed students can be induced to ascribe to this notion I have little fear of them failing at image making. Impassioned commitment combined with professional astuteness will carry them through the trials and tribulations of producing ever more challenging visual expression.
I can not over emphasize the importance of community building. Higher education has been a primary patron of the arts for the past several decades. With that being saturated new generations of artists have to look elsewhere for support. Those who can draw a supporting community around themselves have a much better chance of career success. Facilities, costs, and networking can be shared, while spiritual and creative batteries are recharged. A group can absorb the battering of the real world far easier than the lone wolf. Historically every significant art epoch has had community at its core. Without support from like minded artists and his brother Theo what would we know of van Gogh - Vincent who? Impressionism, Expressionism, West Coast Clay all had, at their core, vibrant communities. To this end I work at building an extended family with the learning web stretching beyond school to include interaction with alumni. arts/crafts support entities, other institutions etc. Students must realize that what they are engaged in is about more than the moment, but rather it is being part of a continuum (a history). They learn that they will not be orphaned at graduation. I have formed lifelong bonds with many past students frequently interacting with them years after they complete studying with me.
They come to realize that we are all on a ladder. If those on higher rungs help those following and so on then all concerned benefit.
When teaching non majors I back away from a professional focus encouraging them to shed self doubt and fear to openly find joy in the act of making. It is critical to instill awareness of the value of the arts/crafts in the broader cultural context.
Teaching is central to my life. Initially I set out to teach, never intending to use it as a vehicle to subsidize the art habit. Demands have been great, often consuming but at the same time rejuvenating. Naive optimism and bumptious energy are contagious. Beginners can create work that I can not as I must constantly wrestle with knowing too much. For me art making, teaching, and life are integrated into a single holistically pursuit.