Content of the program is restricted to theoretical
or fundamental exercises in design, color, drawing and form
in conjunction with an orientation lecture course.
All exercises are given with strict limitations in terms of
format, materials and objectives. Most design exercises are
done in black and white; the majority of drawing exercises
are done with pencil or pen; color may be done as collage,
Extensive refinements are demanded for all studio work. Exercises
are sequential and accumulative. There is correlation between
different courses with common terminology.
The unequivocal thrust of the program is instruction
not art, expression, professionalism or anything other than
focus on visual principles, criteria, craft and orientation.
Criteria are objective and made available to students with
each assignment. Subjective concerns are never a factor in
evaluation of student work.
There is conscious and ongoing effort to develop and require
eye and hand skills.
There is discipline. No radios, headsets, visiting or other
disruptive behavior during class time. Students are expected
to be in class at a fixed time and excessive absences result
in being expelled from the program.
There is instruction in the use of basic tools and media.
Nothing is taken for granted when dealing with first year
students. This includes such mundane things as how to hold
a pencil and that it must have a point.
All work is self-paced and students move ahead only after
they demonstrate understanding of an assignment. Student work
is not graded or collected until the semester end. It is recommended
that evaluation and grading of student work at the end of
each semester is by review with all faculty members participating.
Each student is given a space to display their work. After
faculty examination of the work, individual students are brought
in and the work is discussed with them. A grade is given at
Concurrent with studio work, a one hour orientation lecture
and slide course is offered. The content is slides of work
by painters, sculptors, designers, photographers or architects
that provide exemplary role models or illustrate the visual
principles being worked on in class. There should be opportunity
for faculty presentation and student discussion.
Happens the Next Year?
Basic Design should not begin with the first semester and
end with the second semester. As students move into the discipline
of choice, teachers need to be familiar with the Basic Design
program, its content and objectives.
have to be reminded that moving into a discipline is not something
entirely different, but rather, it is an extension of previous
studies into more specific areas of concentration. It is essential
that instructors in the major reinforce what students did
in Basic Design. Students have not always assimilated what
they learned from the first year, and they have to be reminded,
prodded and pushed to carry over earlier experiences. Student
efforts in this respect are often clumsy and obvious, but
in time, lessons from Basic Design become reflexive and automatic
leaving students free to concentrate on new objectives connected
with the area of concentration.
my experience, the third semester is the most critical and
difficult to teach because of the necessity for bridging the
gap between general and specific or theory and practice. Making
the connections is determined to a great extent by the attitudes
and abilities of teachers within the discipline.
Have Basic Design Programs
So Often Failed in the Past?
primary reasons are
Upper level teachers do not understand connections
between Basic Design and their area of concentration.
Upper level teachers cannot define or agree upon what is basic.
Because upper level teachers do not understand
connections between Basic Design and the major, they do not
know how to build on the first year experience, so they tend
to dismiss it as a waste of time.
teachers themselves have come out of strong basic programs
so most do not have a model by which to judge or formulate
an effective program in introductory studies. They do not
know what content or structure is required or how it relates
to upper level classes. Consequently, they do not grasp the
concept of a general program that can accommodate a variety
of these conditions, upper level instructors within the majors
tend to either be critical even hostile, contemptuous or completely
ignore the introductory program.
I enrolled at art school during the 1940s, the introductory
courses were taught by a mixture of painting, sculpture, design
and drawing teachers. Painters felt that monochromatic painting
using black, white and shades of gray was basic.
believed that modeling with clay and working with plaster
were basic. Drawing teachers started students with charcoal,
newsprint pads and figure drawing from a model. The design
teachers gave disconnected exercises dealing with line, point
and plane. Many of these notions still persist and some that
are even more nonsensical still prevail at many institutions.