Middle class income and lifestyles for alllllll! Nope – not the kind of class I’m talking about. I came to a crazy realization this semester: I think a lot of my assignments suck. Let me stop you right there and assure you that it’s true. I’m sad that I’m just now having these insights so deeply into my teaching career. I mean, just look at this drawing:
The end result is quite incredible, but the assignment? Students are drawing the same cabinet full of crap that they’ve drawn for years. Decades. I wouldn’t be surprised if college art studios around the world have a still life crap exchange just so everyone gets fresh crap every ten years to spice things up a little. But it’s crap! Is a drawing of crap something a student will be proud of later? The answer is a resounding maybe, but most likely no.
For the past year, I gamified my class to try to boost some morale and get students a little more competitive. It worked for some. I always tweak the assignment with the weakest results to make it more interesting and see if they meet the goals any better/easier. I encouraged the students to bring in their own crap to draw, so that they would be more invested. This also helped. But it was still crap! (We don’t draw crap alllll semester. We draw inside of the library, a landscape, figure models, and a self portrait too.)
I had a handful of crappy students that taught me a lot – so… thank you? I should clarify that the drawings of said crappy students weren’t necessarily crappy, but there were some personality issues that really challenged me. It’s hard too, this semester, because last semester was hands down the best goddamned semester I’ve ever had. I mean, can any future semester ever hold up to that? I don’t know, but I sure hope so because if not it’s misery from here on out.
My plan to make it not miserable is to completely restructure the class. I realized, due to the crappy students, (again, thank you) that I wasn’t getting the results out of them that I sought. Heck, I wasn’t even getting the results that I sought out of the awesome students. SO: all new assignments, all new sketchbook assignments, all new grading criteria, all new PowerPoint lectures, all new materials list, all new online class shells (we’re moving from blackboard to canvas) all new STUDIO, (twice the size of the one I’ve currently taught from for 7 years) all new furniture, all new office. Crappy students (thank you) were only part of the impetus. The Dallas art fair this year was tepid for me UNTIL I walked into the Tim Van Laere Gallery (hailing from Antwerp, Belgium). I enjoyed their show, but was blown away by some huge drawings on the wall by Rinus Van Der Velde. While I regret not getting a closer look, I certainly made a big enough fuss to attract the attention of the gallery representatives. I asked if they had a takeaway that had more information about the artist, and they said that they had a book. I asked for a card, but the wide-eyed worship I had for the artist must have been oozing out of my pores (Don’t worry, it smells like lavender.) because one of the other ladies went to their back room and handed me a book. (Pretty sure it was because I had told them that I wished my students could see Van Der Velde’s work. Also my mouth was hanging open. That always impresses people.)
Van Der Velde builds his own sets to draw. He then draws (Paints? Not exactly sure at this point because they appear to be on canvas. THIS JUST IN: He does both.) huuuuuuge images. Huge, loose, lovely images. I brought the book into class and had everyone flip through it. They were about as impressed as they could be without actually seeing the work in person, but their eyes dilated, jaws relaxed, and the smell of flowers filled the room. I can tell you that much.
His work not only inspired a whole new teaching methodology but has inspired me to get back to the drawing board. I will document both processes for you as they play out. I’m planning to draw a bunch of larger than life cat butts. You already know I’m not joking.