Pedagogy Introductory Studies page 3


Theory and Practice
To my knowledge, separating theoretical from practical studies as a separate program began at the Bauhaus. The Bauhaus introduced new concepts in visual education with courses and teachers representing a mixture of painting, theater, crafts, sculpture, design and architecture. Therefore, it was necessary to devise introductory courses that would be relevant to each and every discipline. The Bauhaus basic design program served as the model for foundation programs at most American schools. However, it is doubtful whether many American teachers ever understood the pedagogical objectives and practices of the Bauhaus. They borrowed problems, terminology and methodology without adapting them to educational conditions in this country. Many American teachers learned about the Bauhaus program from books without first-hand experience in doing the exercises, or observing instructional practices by individuals who understood the pedagogy.

I think difficulties still exist because American teachers, using art and design books, are inclined to borrow images and terminology without understanding processes or criteria involved with the imagery. The most detrimental aspect of this practice is the inability to make proper critical evaluation of student work. The teachers themselves seldom have the capability to separate content from form or to see visual nuances. Some teachers might have to educate themselves before they can educate students.

The relationship of conceptual to perceptual development in visual education is yet another area of confusion. Recent movements in Fine Arts favor concept over tradition. Design has always been influenced by advertising which generally assigns greater credence to concepts than to visual criteria. In educating artists or designers, instruction in theoretical visual studies should precede focus on content. In practice, there has to be balance between conceptual and formal values, because one without the other invariably leads to transitory or vacuous visual statements.

In recent years, there has been a decided shift in visual arts entry level courses away from earlier theoretical exercises toward professional, expressionistic, conceptual or content-related problems. My experience has been that having students do a theoretical application in conjunction with the theoretical a exercise promotes better understanding of how to bridge the gap between theory and practice.

Opening My Eyes
I had studied art at the University of Nebraska for two and one-half years and earned a BFA degree from the Minneapolis School of Art before arriving at Yale University for graduate studies. In terms of visual awareness, my eyes were as tightly shut as those of a newborn kitten.

I first saw a glimmer during Josef Albers' color course. Once the process began, I could then see more in some of my other studio courses. I believe the next revelation was in Bernard Chaet's drawing class. For the first time, I began to see and to understand space, form and activation in drawing as well as in color. This was a period when I understood and recognized visual properties but could not incorporate them into my own work. I could, however, better appreciate art history classes, the work of my colleagues and student projects coming out of the undergraduate basic design classes. For the first time, I had visual objectives in terms of my own work; I knew what qualities should be represented. Yet, I did not have a clue as how to reach my new objectives.

The process of assimilating my education at Yale was difficult and often painful as I went down numerous false roads that became dead ends. I was working as a printmaker and teaching printmaking classes through the school year and watercolor and drawing during the summer months. At the time, it became evident to me that I could teach what I understood although I could not do it myself.

As a teacher, I knew what objectives the students should be working toward, but the process for directing or leading them to an understanding of visual criteria and standards was still a mystery. It was similar to giving directions to someone by saying, "See that tall building over there? That is where you want to go but I can't tell you how to get there.

It was not until working with Inge Druckrey and Hans Allemann at the Kansas City Art Institute that I began to grasp the process. They were graduates from Armin Hofmann's program at Basel. Where my experiences with Albers had been of a more general nature, those with Inge and Hans were specific in terms of the process being directed toward teaching Graphic Design. Having standards and insight into the process, from this point on, I began to learn from my own experiences.

In hindsight, I have tried to analyze my own learning, what were the turning points, and to identify why Albers' color class was the beginning. Within my experiences, recognition of visual properties preceded understanding them, and both had to occur before being able to apply them, in my case, to teaching rather than to personal work. I learned that there is value to recognizing worthy objectives although they might not be fully understood. They at least provide direction.

Albers' color class was one unlike any that I had experienced before. The imagery was abstract so it was easier to stay focused on visual criteria without distraction from representational imagery or a final product. The problems were sequential, and whatever was learned could be applied to the next one. Albers was always clear about the objectives for each exercise, and they were uncomplicated and specific. With this type of problem statement, criteria was clear and understood.

Cut and torn color paper was composed to meet specific objectives with understood criteria. This resulted in students being able to do extensive exploration and to rapidly make decisions. Albers often explained his instructional strategy as wanting students to learn about color in this class. They could learn about mixing paint, the different kinds of paint and the various tools for applying paint at a later date.


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