My teaching philosophy emerges from my personal experience as a struggling grade school student and the ability of a remarkable Brooklyn teacher (Mrs. Hall) to guide and motivate me. This life lesson is the core of my teaching philosophy. Teaching is more than the delivery of curriculum measured by standardized testing. While these components are important an educator can and should be more. Teachers need to inspire, encourage and mentor students. Teaching is, in a way, a performance, an art form in its own right and must be molded and transformed as circumstances arise, so to meet the needs and expectation of the students.
The art teacher must cultivate a non-intimidating and encouraging environment that fosters participation and self-expression. This requires a balance of pedagogical content, skill practice and a flexible responsiveness to the classroom environment. I have sought to achieve this balance in the way I teach and interact with the class and with individual students.
The place of learning (classroom/ studio) and its physical and emotional environment play an important role in the learning process of fine art, as in no other discipline. Rearranging the classroom/studio for a specific lesson or exercise can impact the lesson immensely. For me it is akin to a theatrical stage where different sets must be used to transform scenes. This flexible environment allows for lecture, demonstration and practice simultaneously.
Each class begins with a lecture relating to the technique and/or creative concept being taught with applicable historical references. This is followed by exercises in which students apply what they have learned. For example after a discussion of a major painting, students are asked to critique or evaluate other paintings by the same artists and then to critique their own painting in progress. I have them use an established critique form as a guide to the multitude of elements to be considered in critiquing art. The students share the critiques of the assigned work and critique painting they have in progress. This leads to contested opinions (often fervently expressed) and a constructive discussion develops. The exercise and discussions assist the student critiquing the intention and execution of his or her own work.
In teaching level one coursework, such as beginning drawing and painting, I believe that exercises must achieve a balance between learning technique and developing self-expression. As students are guided through the creative thinking exercises I try to ensure that they develop their individual vision and not become clones of the illustrations I have used. The technique exercises are intended to expand the skills and improve the execution of their work. These techniques must be so well leaned that they reside in the subconscious and not thought about during the creative process, simply executed intuitively when needed.
All lectures and assignments are based on the concept that the class is preparing the student for further exploration of fine arts and their individual development as a fine artist. This is accomplished by insuring that class assignments are realistic and attainable, and that all students are given the support and structure necessary to achieve these goals.
The principles and examples touched upon above outline the way in which I continually strive to achieve a balance between technique and creativity in my teaching. I believe this balance is the way to successful learning experiences for all students. However, my goal is also to assist the student in finding a path to think and live as an artist both in and outside of the classroom, and to understand that the evolution and advancement of art is like a living organism. Each new artistic endeavor, from kindergarten art teacher to Picasso, is an element in the advancement of art and every student, teacher, art lover and master artist plays an important part in that evolution.
Edward A. Burke