Jonathan Kaplan on tue 30 apr 96
Need to query those who have been teaching for longer than I..
My semesters at Colorado Mountain College are 15 weeks long and I have
tried to cover alot of material, maybe too much in that time in my
beginning clay classes. I split the class in two sections. Half take on
handbuilding projects, the other half spends the first 7 weeks throwing, or
learning to throw. At mid semester, we switch.
There is not enough time to cover each area thourougly, and I feel that I
am shortchanging my students. I also feel that handbuilding is very
important and in fact, essential, even though most want to learn throwing.
While the wheel throwing sections are pretty much skill oriented, the
handbuilding projects are both conceptional as well as learning the basics
about clay, and exploring learning to think in three dimensions I have to
cover lots of stuff here as these kids have pretty much no visual arts
background, other than perhaps an exposure in high school, if they are
I will have some time this spring and summer to prepare a new syllabus and
would really appreciate any input from those with greater academic
experience than myself.
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Patrick Veerkamp on mon 6 may 96
(Jonathan: this bounced back to me once so I'm sending it via Clayart
just to be sure.)
Jonathan: your situation is very similar to my own in many ways. Even
though I teach at a private, four year, liberal arts school, most of my
students are non-majors often with no or little previous experience in
the plastic arts. I find it very difficult to try to develop a course
of study at the introductory level that is both challenging and
rewarding. I try to build in some measure of success for these beginning
students in order to stimulate their interest in this very demanding
process. I decided early on that trying to teach them too much with
regard to technique was self defeating in the sense that they quickly
became frustrated and discouraged. Therefore, I separated the throwing
class from the handbuilding class. There are advantages and
disadvantages to this approach which I will try to describe from my point
of view. One of the main advantages is that it allows me the opportunity to
include lectures on ceramics history and theory. After all, most of them
are taking the course to fulfill general ed. requirements and this gives
them a broader perspective on the field then simply a technique class.
Oh yeh, I can hear a chorus of voices responding to this idea by
saying: you can also "history and theory" the art right out of pots.
Over-intellectualize it and talk it to death. This has not been my
experience. I find that those who really want to learn more technique do
so and I accommodate them. Now it seems to me I just might be one of
those guys you yourself have been critical of in recent posts who
neglects to teach their students all they need to know about design and
technique. But keep in mind here we're talking about beginning level
classes. I think the real key is to find a balance. BTW this course is
called Ceramics: Handbuilding. So, the question now is: when do they
learn to throw on the wheel? Well actually they get to do that in the
other intro level course called Ceramics: Wheel-forming (I believe in
building a firm foundation). This class also has a substantial
ceramics history and theory component to it. In the handbuilding class
I do a sorta survey of world ceramics (what I like to call a selective
survey). In the wheel forming class I focus on America. In both they
are required to write a short (750 word) formal analysis of a selected
pot. Now here comes the tricky part, students can take either class as
the intro course. What this means is that if you don't go on to become
an art major with a focus in Ceramics you don't get the full deal. But,
if you do go on to study ceramics you have to take both intro level
courses as prerequisites for the advanced courses (which also have
history and writing components).
So, where am I coming from with this kind of curriculum? Well, it's
like this: I think there is a difference between an artist and a
craftperson. Don't get me wrong, it's not a matter
of hierarchy, and I'm not saying that they are mutually exclusive endeavors.
The point is, I think the art of pottery should begin with serious
reflection on the nature of art/pottery and not technique. Personally, I
think there should be more emphasis on developing the conceptual foundation
(history, theory) and less on trying to cram students full of craft, and
particularly at the undergraduate level. Now remember, I've already said
that I think there is a need for balance. But, I think the imbalance
has been in favor of the latter. I think technique can and should be
taught and esp. in advanced classes, but I think that at the beginning
level a great deal of attention should be paid to conceptual
development. In a sense it seems to me like "the system" has got it reversed.
(BTW, I also teach Design and your recent remarks on the need to
understand design concepts was music to my ears.)