Origins Tumultuous Years page 2

 
 

My Teaching Years
During the summers while at Yale, I went back to Mandan, North Dakota. We lived with my wife’s parents and I taught watercolor and drawing classes using the church basement as a classroom. Most of the students were older married women and they were enjoyable to work with because of their enthusiasm.

The one thing I was most certain of after my two years at Yale was that my talents were insufficient to consider professional design practice as a career. However, the education at Yale had been extremely beneficial for me; it opened my eyes to entirely new possibilities, one of which was teaching. I had observed excellent teachers, worked in an exciting new program taught by individuals of exceptional ability. I felt a “missionary” zeal to take some of this back to the midwest. It might well be that I moved toward teaching according to the old axiom, “Those who cannot become teachers." It was many years later that I finally realized that for me, Graphic Design was a means and never an end. Graphic Design for me has been merely a vehicle to other things which are exciting and rewarding.

My strengths grew out of being exposed to a good educational background with high standards, being able to come to grips with the educational process and having a great deal of physical energy. I enjoyed the people contact of teaching and working in the community or profession. I was able to set goals, analyze, organize and project an educational program. Being endowed with dogged persistence was helpful but it often put me in jeopardy with administrators. I have been innovative, but no one could ever accuse me of being on the “cutting edge” of design. My inclinations have been to stay with basics, and to demand commitment and productivity from students in addition to a high level of performance.

My earlier education at the University of Nebraska and The Minneapolis School of Art was not negated by what had been learned at Yale. However, those experiences took on new meaning because of what I did learn at Yale. There are teachers and experiences at the University of Nebraska and The Minneapolis School of Art which have stayed with me and contributed to my later role as a teacher.

After graduation from Yale, I returned to The Minneapolis School of Art, and since I was the only teacher with a MFA, the president frequently consulted with me on filling new positions. I recommended those people from Yale that I felt had understood the program. The president hired several graduates from Yale within a three year period. Once they were on staff, I questioned and probed them for all the “understanding” I could get. At the same time, I was visiting Yale once or twice a year for more information.

I came back to The Minneapolis School of Art as a printmaker and established the Printmaking program at that institution. At the time, Advertising Design had the largest enrollment in the school but the program itself was faltering. The teacher in charge was elderly and out of step with changes then taking place in the profession. The president called me to his office and requested that I establish a Graphic Design program. That marked the beginning of my involvement with Graphic Design education.

Another period of learning that was most important to my own education was the time spent working with Inge Druckrey and Hans Allemann at Kansas City. Both were graduates from Armin Hofmann's program in Basel. My feeling is that what I learned from Albers was general, and what I learned from Hofmann’s program tended to be more explicit, and it also dealt specifically with Graphic Design. To this day, I feel greatly indebted to Inge and Hans for sharing their experience with me.

All through my education, I felt that school was something I had to do, but it was not something that I always wanted to do. My energies were directed more toward meeting demands of the teacher than toward learning. This does not mean that I was not involved in doing assignments, because in many instances, there was intense and sustained effort in doing assignments. However, this commitment was limited mainly to those assignments that appealed to me. And again, my focus was more on doing than on learning.

It is difficult to admit that it was not until the last year at Yale that I began to understand the role of education and significance of being a student. It was while going through the stacks at Sterling Library searching information for myself, and not something assigned by a teacher, that I finally realized that education was my responsibility. It is only in retrospect long after graduation that many of us begin to appreciate the opportunities and value of education.

Especially in Fine Art, there is a current emphasis on mood and feeling as instruments of artistic accomplishment. As a printmaker, I went through this phase. I worked until the wee hours, drinking coffee, smoking and playing classical music full blast. It was a wonderful feeling but it did not have a great deal to do with improving my artistic production. In retrospect, there might be some educational benefit from just doing or hyping yourself into an emotional frenzy, but learning is something different. Learning has more to do with criteria, defining visual objectives and interpreting content. It also has to do with understanding what can be taught and what cannot. Skills and criteria can be learned; creativity and concepts cannot be taught as they are inherent to each individual.

Later as a teacher, I observed many, many students making the same mistakes that I made regarding school. Most believed the objective was to please the teacher and make good grades. They did not realize that assignments are given for their benefit and not the teacher. If students found the proper perspective while still in school, they became motivated, worked independently, productivity increased and they were rewarding to have in class. Unfortunately, many students do not understand educational process until afterwards when it is too late to make the most of it. If students could only see education as an opportunity rather than as a requirement, their attitude would be different and they would gain so much more from the educational experience.

At The Minneapolis School of Art many classes were taught in museum corridors with free-standing dividers between classes. A substantial number of teachers were drawn from the ranks of local PWA and WPA artists who had practiced art full time under government subsidy from the early 1930s until WWII The student body was composed mainly of veterans, and it was overwhelmingly older and male. Curriculum was dominated by Fine Arts. Even as an Advertising major, many Fine Art courses were required. What we now call foundations, was a two year program consisting of classes in basic design, color, painting, sculpture, calligraphy and drawing. The only academic course was Art History, and this was taught by painting or drawing instructors. Most studio courses were required with few electives. The school awarded certificates to qualified students after four years. Tuition was between three or four hundred dollars for an academic year.

 

My Teaching Years continued >
 

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