There are very few people in this country who understand theoretical
design or the sequencing of exercises and who can teach an
effective introductory program. It is entirely possible that
the number of individuals can be counted on the fingers. Not
long ago, an acquaintance of mine reported a conversation
with the Dean of the School of Art at The University of Michigan.
The Dean mentioned that the School would no longer make basic
design a required course, but instead would offer it as an
elective. When asked why, he stated that none of the graduate
students understood basic design well enough to teach it,
and for that matter, neither did any of the faculty.
comments are based on personal experience and observations,
and they are not to be construed as definitive descriptions
for all programs and practices. I would surmise that there
was considerable variance among programs throughout the period
from World War II until now, and there are undoubtedly many
with which I am not familiar. Although first year program
were listed under a variety of names, I am using the word
foundations as a generic term for all entry level programs.
Basic Design or Core Program
The introductory studies for the visual arts were
perhaps best defined by those who first created them as a
separate program of study.
my knowledge, the Bauhaus was the first educational institution
to conceive of a single, general program for students as preparation
for entering a variety of disciplines. The program focused
on those studies that were in common to all disciplines in
visual arts such as painting, sculpture, design, architecture,
photography, etc. Early curriculum centered mainly around
two- and three-dimensional design, color and drawing. All
courses were taught as perceptual, theoretical exercises.
problem of structuring and teaching the introductory studies
in visual arts have been approached differently by various
institutions at different times.
evaluating the various programs, it is understood that there
are numerous variables ranging from instructional abilities,
to credibility of program content, administrative enlightenment,resources
and facilities and so forth. The abilities of individual students
are another factor when identifying educational effectiveness.
The most talented students tend to survive and do well regardless
of their education. Therefore, comments are general and point
a direction rather than toward a specific point.
the variables are approached by the institution is often revealing
as to whether the emphasis is on educational quality (faculty
concern) or operational efficiency (administrative concern).
Josef Albers strongly advocated only the most experienced
and best teachers working at the entry level. His rationale
was that it was in the first year where students developed
work habits, commitment and laid the foundation for later
studies. American educational institutions tend to do just
the opposite, they assign the less experienced or weaker teachers
to the first year and reserve what they consider to be the
best teachers for upper division classes.
is extremely important that faculty in Foundations share a
common educational philosophy and that there is consistency
in objectives, standards and criteria. Students greatly benefit
from a cohesive faculty that is constantly interacting among
themselves. A faculty that is divided never achieves its potential.
The overall effectiveness of Foundations is greatly enhanced
if faculty from the upper division courses reinforce what
is taught during the first year.
my experience, the most effective entry level instructors
are those who are graduates from programs with a strong pedagogical
base. They better understand structure (sequence), theory
principles and vocabulary. It is of interest that programs
taught by Josef Albers and Armin Hofmann, two of the most
influential teachers in the last fifty years, graduated large
numbers of teachers who impacted strongly on the profession
The most effective education relies on exercises
that are focused on theoretical, perceptual, and often, abstract
content that is in common with all art disciplines. Exercises
should be sequential and build one on another. There should
not be rigid deadlines and students should be encouraged to
refine and to refine again. Hand skills are emphasized in
connection with doing exercises. The development of a design
vocabulary is extremely important. A unified and sequential
program of study is critical to student learning.
Variables: Program Structure
The most ideal program structure promotes a consistent
educational experience for all students as this is most advantageous
for both students and the program. This can be best accomplished
by restricting enrollment to two sections with the same teacher
for both sections; a team taught program where all students
are taught as a single group or a program where students are
rotated through courses. All of these structures require limited
enrollment which ideally ranges from fifty to one hundred
Variables: Observations Based on Personal Experience
Within my educational and teaching experience,
I encountered a variety of programs. Also, through consulting
and lecturing at other institutions, I became familiar with