and design must reflect or challenge society to remain relevant.
This creates a process of ongoing reaction resulting in change
with constantly shifting definitions and values. My premise
is that skills and visual principles remain constant because
they are the means rather than an end. Skill and visual principles
are applicable regardless of concept or style.
education begins with learning basic principles and developing
eye and hand skills which are then applied to interpreting
styles or expressing concepts. To effectively educate students
requires appropriate instruction in visual principles, standards
and discipline. The same tenets applied to traditional media
such as graphite, paint, clay, or ink are equally germane
to computers, light or video. Understanding of form, shape,
line, space and color are essential to all visual expression.
With these tools, students can embrace new concepts, technology,
materials or styles with confidence.
My experience is that visual principles are best taught within
a context which is abstract, theoretical, sequential and within
strict limitations defining objectives, criteria, materials
and format. It is requisite to emphasize development of hand
skills and train the eyes in conjunction with exercises as
these are germane to expressing concepts through use of the
A major fault in visual education lies with teachers who attempt
to move students from the beginning to the practice too quickly.
This results in improper or no preparation, and it is without
that arduous transitional learning experience that falls between
the beginning and professional practice. When the educational
preparation for music or dance are examined, it becomes clear
what is lacking in visual education. Young musicians and dancers
spend endless hours doing exercises while moving from the
simple to the complex. Music students learn and practice the
scale, do innumerable exercises, develop manual dexterity
and train the ear to nuances of sound. Skills are acknowledged
and carefully nurtured. It is difficult to understand why
more teachers do not recognize the need for comparable preparation
for artists and designers.
is reputed a wise man once said that anything worth knowing
cannot be taught. During my student days, a professor talking
to us about education pointed out that there are things to
be learned where there are no courses. He used virtue as an
example. There are no classes in virtue, but it may be acquired
by studying other subjects. Visual education is not so much
taught as it is learned. Teachers define exercises with appropriate
objectives, criteria and limitations where students learn
through discovery, refinements and the experience of doing.
effectiveness of the teacher is determined by an ability to
devise assignments, usually in the form of sequential exercises,
where students learn for themselves. It is a experiential
learning process leading to understanding. The teacher must
have capabilities to guide students, identify and explain,
provide criteria, evaluate work, make comments and demands
that expand the learning experience.
visual properties could be more easily articulated, visual
education overall would undoubtedly be better in this country
than it is now. Art or design history and technical information
can be orally communicated, but visual literacy which is at
the heart of visual education cannot.
remember a first-year student who came to see me on his return
from Christmas vacation. He related that on arriving home
his parents inquired as to how school was going? He told them
that once he understood Basic Design, school was going much
better. His parents asked what it was that he now understood?
He tried to explain but was unable to communicate it to his
parents. At this point, the student looked me in the eye and
exclaimed, ŅI understand! I really do know! I just can't say
it. Another student once defined Basic Design as a time-bomb
that goes off several years after graduation.
literacy also is an ability to view any image as an abstraction,
to understand what is happening in purely visual terms as
well as knowing and understanding visual terminology. It involves
training the eyes to see minute detail and being sensitive
to color, shape, form and line. It has little or nothing to
do with content or style. Visual literacy applies to all the
visual arts and crafts without exception. The teacher needs
to instruct students in how to view work abstractly. Suggesting
that students work on imagery on its side or upside down helps
in this respect.
Design is the weakest link in most art programs in this country.
Americans are strong in technical areas using media or materials;
they are energetic, innovative, and well-versed in professional
practice. But too many educational programs prematurely stress
conceptual over perceptual values.
design studies are variously labeled Visual Perception, Foundations,
Basic Design, Visual Communications or the Core Program. Josef
Albers, a prominent Bauhaus instructor, described introductory
studies as encompassing those principles common to all visual
arts, painting, sculpture, photography, crafts, drawing, printmaking,
design, and even architecture.
instructed in fundamentals establish their status as designers
or artists by how each internalizes and applies design principles.
The abilities of the student are determined by how they apply
the principles, make connections, and not so much by how well
they do the exercises. Teachers have no way of foretelling
students who will succeed, so all students must be treated
equally. The quality of instruction often determines whether
students become victims or beneficiaries of their education.
Weak programs inhibit professional careers for most students,
but some talented students might succeed despite poor education.
always maintained that only the very best teachers should
be permitted to instruct during the first year of education.
His explanation was that it is the first year when students
establish work habits, develop commitment, acquire values
and build the foundation for the balance of their education.
The use of graduate teaching assistants by universities to
instruct in foundation programs has been an educational disaster
for most art and design students.
often digress into misguided attempts to teach expression
or creativity or engage in making art. Creativity, feeling,
mood or expression can be discussed in the work of designers
and artists, but remarks should be kept within a proper context.
The qualities are inherent within each individual to varying
degrees, but none of them can be taught. Talent can be nurtured
and developed, but it cannot be enlarged through instruction.
Instruction is only a means of making the most of what talent
is there. It is of utmost importance that teachers recognize
what can and cannot be taught. The role of teachers is instruction,
with emphasis on what and how to provide students with the
tools to visually express themselves.