Pedagogy Effective Programs page 3


Typical Reactions by Upper Level Instructors to Structured Basic Design Programs
Assignments are too limited, rigid and look like what was done last year.

Perspective is viewed as being too technical; and drawing exercises such as ellipses or that which is descriptive of structure are too mechanical.

Any structured Basic Design program is a rehash of Bauhaus with an inference that it is outdated and irrelevant.

The student’s education does not really begin until they are enrolled in the major.

Structured Basic Design programs stifle creativity and there is insufficient opportunity for individual expression.

Observations and Comments
My experience and observations tell me that a majority of American students are responsive to the challenge of a demanding educational program if they believe it will benefit them. This is particularly true for mature and serious students. Most students who survive a strong Basic Design program do well over the balance of their education, and a high percentage of them are working professionally five and ten years after graduation. This is not the case with students from weak introductory programs.

In a few instances, Graphic Design has done a more credible job with Basic Design than any other discipline. Within the best Graphic Design programs, Basic Design is better understood, there are less students, the program is focused and basic tenets are reinforced throughout the entire educational experience.

The state of visual education in American educational institutions has regressed to levels that are both tragic and pathetic. It is highly doubtful that there are more than five to ten creditable programs in Basic Design throughout the entire country at this time. And the majority of these are internal to Graphic Design programs. The roots for the dissolution of visual education in this country are found mainly in universities. **

In the short term, perhaps the best step toward improving visual education would be to separate service courses from programs in the majors. Use the general introductory program as a service course for the university. Allow students to enroll in the major the first year, and hope for the best. Each discipline, or division of disciplines, would be responsible for an introductory program. This would require additional faculty lines, space and budget.

A longer range solution would be to draw up a plan for a credible professional education for artists. Institutional policies as they pertain to visual education would also have to be redefined. The plan would be implemented in incremental steps, over a period of years. My experience of working with art faculty on committees leads me to believe that the plan should be formulated by a small, select group of outside consultants. It makes no sense for the people who are the problem to be the ones to recommend a solution.

Another approach would be to establish a separate, elitist professional program in addition to the existing one. The new program would incorporate the most desirable and favorable concepts leading to an effective visual education. The current program would retain its liberal arts emphasis and provide service courses for the university. Over a period of time, faculty lines and resources would gradually be transferred over to the professional programs, and eventually, it would become the program.

** Some of the contributing factors have been
• Putting visual arts into the liberal arts context rather than treating it as a professional program. Administration funding programs on the basis of enrollment numbers rather than need.

• Open admissions where students enroll in classes based on their place in line at registration rather than on individual abilities.

• Accept too many students into the department in relationship to budget, faculty lines, facilities and space. Unlimited enrollment simply does not work in visual education.

• Lumping elective students with majors in studio classes. Reduction, if not actual elimination, of student performance standards. In many respects, grading has become meaningless at the worst, and inconsistent at the best as many teachers in Art give every student an A or B.

• Many universities do not allow minuses or pluses in the grading system seriously restricting the distinctions that can be conveyed to students regarding performance.

• The university policy of repeating basic courses in the Spring semester. This detracts from the education of students enrolling in beginning courses during the Fall semester as teachers must repeat rather than teach new courses during the second semester.

• The policy of repeating courses every semester encourages students to drop in and out of the program at will which interrupts the educational sequence and extends the period of time in school. Both of these factors are detrimental to the best interests of students.

• Over reliance on graduate assistants for teachers.

• On most university campuses, art history has become irrelevant to studio arts. Much less credits in art history courses should be required, and they should be part of the humanities requirements. Art and design history work best when taught in conjunction with studio courses.

• Excessive use of multipurpose classrooms without sufficient dedicated space for individual student workstations.

• Organizational structures where there is no appointed leadership for each discipline.

• Equal Opportunity Employment with institutional quotas for women and minorities that often inhibit hiring the most qualified teachers.

• Too many graduates of weak university visual art programs going on to teach at other universities compounding an already deplorable situation.

• Art schools hiring university graduates to gain academic respectability, and in the process corrupting professional programs traditionally associated with independent schools of art.

• University regents or trustees putting substantial funds into performing arts centers and museums rather than into instruction in the arts.

• Administration putting pressures on individual teachers for professional accomplishment or research ahead of teaching and educational quality.

• Student evaluation of teachers and the merit system are also contributing factors. The problems are not with the demands, but in how administrators choose to define and use them.

• Tenure is definitely a problem for fields such as art and design. A teacher’s sense of security should be grounded in abilities and self-confidence rather than an artificial security such as tenure. Programs in art and design require a flexibility that is seldom possible within a tenure system.
The problems for visual education today are so severe and institutional practices and policies so ingrained, it is doubtful that change can take place. There are few if any sources for teachers that understand visual education even if institutions wanted to reform programs, practices and policies.


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