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Re: technique vs. expression~ larry


From: Larry Seiler (lseiler_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat Mar 17 2001 - 03:17:10 PST

Pete...and others, just so it is understood...I'm not offended by anyone
here, or what is said. Its that fundamental part of each of us as an
"educator" that spurs us to clarify or share from our experiences such that
another angle might be seen or considered.

For a good number of years...I thought it was just me, something wrong with
"ME!" because I was passed up for one position after another. I taught for
eight years, the first school having their budget cuts, the next one having
no intention ever to tenure an art teacher. The latter has had about 10 art
teachers over the past 18 years now. It took awhile, and retrospect to see
what was going on. It would be 11 years before I would get back into the

I also taught six summers for a university extension system, which offered
varied arts and music courses and CEO credits or regular credits for
certification. That meant roughly 40% of my students were art teachers at
any one time. I've had the unique opportunity to travel and be a
motivational speaker for high school assemblies, giving me a unique
opportunity to meet administrators having no intimidation to speak plainly.
Finally, I've had opportunity to speak casually and one on one with a good
number of art professors, and rented a house actually my first year at my
latest school from an arts prof with a doctorate. It was really speaking
with the profs whom are now older and have been in the system a long time,
whom themselves have seen philosophies in education change that gave me
clues in retrospect.

The truth be told....the changes were probably good ones. Until the artist
as teacher initially died off, it was difficult to bring the major influence
of European Arts History to a place where other art histories would find
good consideration. Most art teachers had their roots in Western/European
traditions. The changes of our campuses, greater involvement of
ethnicities, etc., required more pluralism and diversity. of the things that had been believed to the point of a
period of time of policy decision in hiring...was that teachers whom were
active artists "would" without question have a bias. Things about the
artist were assumed to the point of discrimination. Where at one time I
would have seen my winning a major state art competition an asset, it became
a liability. Especially because I was a realist, which no doubt attested to
my having a strong Western European tradition.

There was also a period where philosophies clashed ideologies over what
could be expected from an inidividual that would value realistic works over
modernism/abstractism. It was believed the latter being "more" creative and
open to experience would be the better candidate to initiate and encourage
critical thinking and divergent processes, while the former would be stuck
defending a closed minded less pluralistic outdated system.

Thinking out loud....I have wondered how much the burden of property tax
increases on property holders to support their schools, and the pressure
mounting on administrators to represent attempting to appease a more
demanding public played on the directions art philosophies took as well.
For example, if in the uneducated nonaesthetic public mind modernistic art
works "appeared" to see high school students producing works that in their
mind believe as 1st grader could do...then cynicism demands accountability
of monies spent wondering what good having art as a subject is anyway.
Realistic works are works the uneducated nonaesthetic mind can determine to
represent that learning is happening, is obvious, and thus money well spent.
It is a shame that art has to be defended anyway, and sad that personal
value for the individual is not enough. If art can be proven to support a
broader educational value...woven into the academics, then it is worthy of
tax support. We've fought hard to maintain art education having value in
its humanizing potential.

I experienced about 15 years ago now...a meeting of a college life anatomy
professor at a state university here in Wisconsin. I was delivering works
from our high school students entering a regional show. I was actually
admiring good solid drawings, rendering of form, lighting, etc., which was
in a classical form. I was surprised, because I went to school during the
anti-art movement of the 70's where you were likely to get the better grade
squirting paint in cow manure and whipping it at the canvas. It had become
apparent to me some changes took place in the university. The prof came
over, and just before I could compliment the good work, she recognizing my
age and being an art teacher began to apologize. She said the university
was engaged in competing to bring students into the university, an apparent
student shortage at that time, and that this particular generation of young
people was interested in learning realism, choosing those colleges only that
would meet their interest. Thus... competition to lure art students brought
changes as to what was going to be taught.

Finally...I have heard and experienced conversation that had another unique
perspective that went along this line- it was believed that talented
persons...born more with the proclivity to make good works were few and far
between and to build an art program designed to develop talent would be akin
to discriminating against those not born with talent. The notion of "good"
was argued, defeated, and redefined....such that the art "experience" was
what really mattered. In attempting to secure art education, or rescue
it....(perhaps from a public demanding something of their dollar spent)
delivering it from being discriminated against on the basis of it existing
only to serve the few naturally talented....emphasis was designed to make
less importance of art making and spread it out with emphasis on history,
appreciation and criticism. Some will remember those days where art was
taught in "units" a painting unit for 9 weeks, jewelry for 6 weeks,
sculpture for 3 weeks, etc;

The artist as teacher was seen at that time as outdated, because it was
assumed he/she could only best serve the "talented" which would be
discriminating against the greater student nontalented population. They
needed teachers that were more well rounded. Educators. And de-emphasizing
talent meant emphasizing and defending more individualistic creativity and
expression. Thus, facilitators fit in well with this aim in mind.

Now...because I've allowed all these thoughts to be mulled over, do not
assume I do not see value in abstract free expression and exploration
because I have taught some good exercises as such and shared such with
everyone, such as my "Painting to Music" lesson. Nor assume I do not
appreciate changes that are necessary for diversity or pluralism's sake.
However, when you have a career ripped from your hands....and find it
difficult re-entering, you do spend much time trying to understand what is
going on....what changes are in the wind.

Now...I believe it was my sense of a possible progression of the changes in
art ed philosophy and who might be hired that helped me best facing the last
school board. Yes...believe it or not candidates were interviewed by the
school board and one administrator. Anticipating the possible reasons
against hiring me, I was prepared to defend why who and what I am would
really be to their benefit and an asset. I assured them that though I were
an artist (like that was a disease or something), that I was in fact a good
educator and facilitator, and would see to it students got a well rounded
education. I shared my understanding of changes in art ed philosophy...and
that evidently seemed to be quite convincing.

It would seem with performance based art education on the rise, and other
things I'm hearing that emphasis seems to be gaining that suggests evidence
of education taking place in the arts as seen by that which the students are
"making." It also appears from conversations I've had that fears against
the artist teaching are slowly fading.

In the end...perhaps I am simply rambling and muttering to the wind, and
what is is what is.