Foundation Programs

There are very few people in this country who understand theoretical design or the sequencing of exercises and who can teach an effective introductory program. It is entirely possible that the number of individuals can be counted on the fingers. Not long ago, an acquaintance of mine reported a conversation with the Dean of the School of Art at The University of Michigan. The Dean mentioned that the School would no longer make basic design a required course, but instead would offer it as an elective. When asked why, he stated that none of the graduate students understood basic design well enough to teach it, and for that matter, neither did any of the faculty.

My comments are based on personal experience and observations, and they are not to be construed as definitive descriptions for all programs and practices. I would surmise that there was considerable variance among programs throughout the period from World War II until now, and there are undoubtedly many with which I am not familiar. Although first year program were listed under a variety of names, I am using the word foundations as a generic term for all entry level programs.

Foundations, Basic Design or Core Program
The introductory studies for the visual arts were perhaps best defined by those who first created them as a separate program of study.

To my knowledge, the Bauhaus was the first educational institution to conceive of a single, general program for students as preparation for entering a variety of disciplines. The program focused on those studies that were in common to all disciplines in visual arts such as painting, sculpture, design, architecture, photography, etc. Early curriculum centered mainly around two- and three-dimensional design, color and drawing. All courses were taught as perceptual, theoretical exercises.

The problem of structuring and teaching the introductory studies in visual arts have been approached differently by various institutions at different times.

In evaluating the various programs, it is understood that there are numerous variables ranging from instructional abilities, to credibility of program content, administrative enlightenment,resources and facilities and so forth. The abilities of individual students are another factor when identifying educational effectiveness. The most talented students tend to survive and do well regardless of their education. Therefore, comments are general and point a direction rather than toward a specific point.

How the variables are approached by the institution is often revealing as to whether the emphasis is on educational quality (faculty concern) or operational efficiency (administrative concern).

Significant Variables: Faculty
Josef Albers strongly advocated only the most experienced and best teachers working at the entry level. His rationale was that it was in the first year where students developed work habits, commitment and laid the foundation for later studies. American educational institutions tend to do just the opposite, they assign the less experienced or weaker teachers to the first year and reserve what they consider to be the best teachers for upper division classes.

It is extremely important that faculty in Foundations share a common educational philosophy and that there is consistency in objectives, standards and criteria. Students greatly benefit from a cohesive faculty that is constantly interacting among themselves. A faculty that is divided never achieves its potential. The overall effectiveness of Foundations is greatly enhanced if faculty from the upper division courses reinforce what is taught during the first year.

Within my experience, the most effective entry level instructors are those who are graduates from programs with a strong pedagogical base. They better understand structure (sequence), theory principles and vocabulary. It is of interest that programs taught by Josef Albers and Armin Hofmann, two of the most influential teachers in the last fifty years, graduated large numbers of teachers who impacted strongly on the profession and education

Significant Variables: Pedagogy
The most effective education relies on exercises that are focused on theoretical, perceptual, and often, abstract content that is in common with all art disciplines. Exercises should be sequential and build one on another. There should not be rigid deadlines and students should be encouraged to refine and to refine again. Hand skills are emphasized in connection with doing exercises. The development of a design vocabulary is extremely important. A unified and sequential program of study is critical to student learning.

Significant Variables: Program Structure
The most ideal program structure promotes a consistent educational experience for all students as this is most advantageous for both students and the program. This can be best accomplished by restricting enrollment to two sections with the same teacher for both sections; a team taught program where all students are taught as a single group or a program where students are rotated through courses. All of these structures require limited enrollment which ideally ranges from fifty to one hundred students.

Significant Variables: Observations Based on Personal Experience
Within my educational and teaching experience, I encountered a variety of programs. Also, through consulting and lecturing at other institutions, I became familiar with additional ones.


Significant Variables: Prerequisites >


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Rob Roy Kelly as a visiting critic at RIT, 1978

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