Demo Studio: Teaching as a Design Process by Susan Ren
As assessment methods in education become more rigid and quantitative, art educators are presented with a unique challenge: to create authentic, accurate, and useful grading procedures for themselves and their students. Forcing creativity and abstract thinking to fit into a small, regulated box limits both students and teachers from experiencing the essence of art-making: conceptualizing, connecting with the community, process, passion. If there are no specific “do’s” and “do not’s” in the contemporary art world, why create rules for the sake of a classroom?
At Demo Studio, Baltimore area art educators collaborate in research and discussion of new approaches for teaching art to K-12 students. What they have discovered are methods that emphasize the importance of evaluating the art-making process over simply judging the final product, essentially turning teaching into an art form itself.
Instructors’ individual concerns that address what is lacking or not taught correctly in the classroom are presented as collages of student art, interactive demonstrations, colorful visual rubrics, representative classroom installations, and a great variation of other works. Aesthetically clever for the purposes of a gallery, the informational aspect of each piece takes some deeper digging to understand if not “in the know” about the show’s focus. Exhibited at D Center, Demo Studio: Teaching as a Design Process, is a thoughtfully collected visual archive of educators’ research, reflections, and responses to teaching art.
With infinite forms and processes involved in creation and expression, it seems counterproductive to use a standardized rubric across all projects. Art teacher Rebecca Belleville recognizes the necessity to create specific rubrics based on the context and goals proposed for each project, using descriptive and representative images alongside the numerical system to guide student reflections on their own creative routines.
Becoming preoccupied with final results or “getting a good grade” is an issue Alissandra Seelaus has observed in her classroom, and likewise, she has created a flow-chart rubric to treat the artistic process as a journey rather than a checklist. By evaluating creative procedures, students can learn to understand how their work ethic affects their product, and identify which areas in their process they should improve instead of fixating on dissatisfaction with their product or abilities.
Lisa Perkowski’s visual response to the structure of rubrics explores that student growth is not linear, but organic and branches out by experience. She, as well, provides students with visual rubrics that help them gauge their progress and understand what point of the process they have reached, instead of categorizing their work on a “bad to good” scale. To help students comprehend learning through process and experience, Lauren Cook designed a three-dimensional rubric that sorts project topics and goals into ascending levels of proficiency. In response to these rubrics, Benjamin Tellie made paintings that display varying layers of blocks to visually represent the non-linear, sporadic path that progresses over time – a more realistic expectation than a line graph. In understanding this, students may, at individual paces, begin developing the insight needed to bring their ideas and visions to life.
Since a great variation of visual rubrics have been created, questions concerning curriculum and regulation of grading methods inevitably arise. In teaching such a boundless topic as art, there has to be a lot of room for exceptions, but at what point might this novelty get too carried away? Jessie Nathans has attempted a simple solution: a rubric for creating rubrics. It has concept-driven guidelines regarding the technical aspects of critiquing artwork, as well as the full experience and train of thought behind creating it, covering goals students should aim for while leaving much room for teacher innovation. Though it seems to not quite yet accomplish a foolproof method in addressing everything from large-scale curriculum goals to even the simple but fundamental teaching of the elements and principles of art, the foundation for what will become a solid framework is evident.
Over time, the educational system’s focus on GPA’s and standardized testing can induce a kind of programmed mindset that is difficult to apply in a creative environment. Emotions are mostly left out of discussion in traditional classroom settings, which could be distracting for someone if they are concerned with outside matters, and make it stressful to engage disinterested students. Rebecca Belleville explores the ability art has in affecting empathy. Working with a group of students who were concerned about the Rawanda Genocide to make art for awareness, Belleville observed that when students cooperate with others who have common goals, they display notable amounts of attention and energy. Collaboration teaches how to compromise in procedures and ideas, getting students to think past the assumption that art is just for creating aesthetic objects.
Kathleen Mazurek’s “Finding Your Voice Through Media” helps students regain their natural curiosity with the world by building confidence and self-awareness. When students create work that is reflective of themselves and their own ideas and feelings, they can focus on making art as an outlet to come to terms with themselves. In turn they begin developing early personal techniques or learn to think independently – prevalent mindsets in the contemporary art-making process. At Demo Studio, the goal is to teach art as not just a way to create, but also a way of thinking. Instead of instructing with predetermined steps, teachers provide guidance to students’ own projects.
With all this open ground for expression though, finding a place to land probably seems difficult. In her “Tool Kit Research,” Rachel Valsing discovers that many characteristics can be gathered about an artist by examining and discussing personal tools and supply collections. Looking at supply choice also helps teach and assess student growth in studio thinking and planning skills. Additionally in Lillian Chun’s experiment at Artscape – Baltimore’s largest collaborative summer art festival – she noticed that the dialog and decision-making that occurs with making artistic choices might begin randomly, but quickly develop into deliberate choices. When presented with any assignment, project planning and bouncing of ideas amongst peers is the first step to beginning the creative process.
To promote discussion, Valsing and other Demo Studio instructors make use of social media and technology to the classroom. This allows students to document their works in progress, sharing and starting conversation about each other’s processes, materials, or ideas to self-reflect. When technology is implemented, teaching then takes on different forms, demonstrations become more than just watching, and interaction with the community outside of the classroom brings in more real-world context that can be used in the art making process.
As represented by Caro Appel in her reduced darkroom piece, each step of the creative procedure is equally as important as the final product, and that product, along with the process and experience of creating it should be assessed together rather than separately. Evaluating student work in a way that garners improvement requires tracking progress and growth over time, and the Demo Studio teachers and other art educators who submitted to the show understand that the content assessed in traditional rubrics is often irrelevant to what was really learned in class. The teachers in this show recognize that in order for art education to be successful, it must become an art form in itself – innovative, process-driven, presented in a variety of forms and media, conceptual, reflective, and most importantly, ahead of its time.
This exhibition’s captivating assortment of “unconventionally” recorded art educational research and theories for improvement consider the flaws in traditional assessment, and literally illustrate teaching methods that could better prepare students with knowledge and experiences that are applicable to art-making processes used today. The unlimited forms that instructors’ theories take on may overwhelm or at times distract the observer from realizing the heart of the matter, however the determination and genuine concern behind the work is encouraging.
Maybe addressing topics by theme rather than an “all at once” approach would begin to narrow down presentations. Gaining greater understanding from outsiders, parents of students, and especially non-art educators might also be beneficial to push for. Undoubtedly, Demo Studio’s novel ideas display potential for changing the ways of art education, and overtime more research and development will bring teachers to a comfortable point of balance between traditional art education and contemporary art processes.
Demo Studio: Teaching as a Design Process
D: Center Baltimore
Station North Market, Baltimore, MD
Closing Reception Saturday September 20 from 2-5PM.
Author and Photographer Susan Ren grew up in Columbia, MD (where she often felt misplaced) and graduated from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (where she felt only a little less misplaced). She is now a Baltimore-based visual artist, photographer, writer, cat lover, and DIY-enthusiast in a city that feels right.