Exploration and encouragement are the two most alluring qualities I find in art. I consider art a form of applied philosophy and find any aspect of life approachable from an artistic perspective. Art frames the world so we may look at it in a new way; art can challenge our assumptions. In a world full of too many answers, art is nourishing for its surplus of questions. To walk away from an artwork having been challenged or awestruck, but not necessarily having all of the answers, that is like falling in love. Art can go beyond right and wrong or yes and no. Art can be a “maybe” that opens up a world of possibilities.
There has been a recurring thread throughout my educational experience of instructors finding a number of ways to ignite my imagination by sharing those possibilities. Through their guidance towards both contemporary and historical artists and ideas, their willingness to encourage my curiosity, and even their sometimes frustrating unwillingness to give me all the answers I found myself inspired and stimulated to discover my own answers and solutions.
If there is a key mantra that has stuck with me through the years, it is to “Problem-solve it!” First introduced to me by Frank Hamrick, I found myself endlessly frustrated by this simple phrase. I wanted easy answers delivered quickly and clearly, and yet I was continually urged to work through a given problem and think critically in order to find my own solution. This is an attitude I carry into the classroom with the goal that students will take a given creative problem and find the appropriate solution that not only teaches them how to accomplish something, but how to be the type of people who can accomplish anything.
My goal is to share artists, ideas, and possibilities with students to encourage them to be curious and engaging. I strive to ignite their individual passions, motivating them to work with purpose and intent. To establish this foundation, I find it is necessary to explore the relevance of their work within the context of photographic history, art history, and contemporary artists, and to explore the relevance of photography to the world.
These explorations have been incorporated in previous classes by designing projects that combine historical photographic processes with the conceptual framework of contemporary technology and social media culture, such as an introductory project that uses the Iphone as a negative projector in the darkroom. Other classes help students reconsider some of the most basic assumptions of what a photograph is by highlighting the materiality of images and sculptural photography. It is imperative to encourage students’ explorations of photography, wether its aesthetic potential, social context, or ontological boundaries.
In The Nature and Aim of Fiction Flannery O’Connor wrote that “People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.” I find this an apt observation describing all artists. It takes courage to experience the world, to explore the work of others who have engaged with and challenged long-standing traditions. It is also entirely nourishing to do so, and I consider my role as an instructor to be one who empowers, encourages, and challenges students to have experiences.