I am a mixed media artist whose expertise spans a range of media, techniques, and creative practices. My educational background includes earning degrees from an arts conservatory, a community college, a large public university as an undergraduate, and, for graduate school, a private research university. My time at these four distinct institutions afforded me a diversity of experience that I now bring with me as a teacher.
My experience in teaching has been just as varied as my own education. I began teaching at the age of twenty-one as an art teacher at Walltown Children’s Theatre, an arts education program for Durham youth. The program’s mission revolved around bringing together students from diverse cultural, racial, and socio-economic backgrounds. Walltown Children’s Theatre committed to creating an inclusive learning space through such policies as never turning away children who were unable to pay. In the fifteen years since, I have taught art classes to students ranging in age from kindergarten to older adulthood, at institutions spanning the Durham Arts Council to Duke University. I worked several years as an after school arts teacher for middle-schoolers at a community organization focused on combating structural racism and the cycle of poverty by supporting first-generation students. I also spent a year bringing art projects into pediatric and geriatric psychiatric units. All of these experiences confirmed my intrinsic belief in the power of art to impact lives, and my fervent desire to have a hand in this process.
Perhaps more than some other disciplines, teaching visual arts requires the instructor to meet each student individually where they are. Courses are usually small and require a great deal of interaction and direct exchange between teacher and student. My strengths involve learning who my students are individually as artists and honing my approach and guidance to be most useful and beneficial to them. Cultivating observation, attentiveness, and insightfulness allow me to effectively support my students in their creative endeavors.
At this stage in my career, my goal is to move into a full-time position teaching art on a college level. My current focus is positioning myself to be as strong of a candidate as possible for this aspiration. In addition to earning my MFA, I have completed my Certificate in College Teaching at Duke University with this goal in mind. While at Duke, I have had the opportunity to work as a teaching assistant for Beverly McIver and Stephen Hayes, both of whom are in the Art, Art History, and Visual Media Studies department.
As Professor Hayes’s teaching assistant for his Introduction to Drawing class of ten students, I gave a lecture introducing students to one-point perspective. I was able to assess the effectiveness of my teaching by witnessing how the students tackled their subsequent one-point perspective projects. I was invited to plan a project of my own in this class as well: I looked at the existing syllabus to assess how I could build upon already existing projects to contribute something meaningful. I planned a project to encourage the students to thoughtfully approach creating visually compelling compositions, while also giving them an opportunity to hone their skills of rendering form through shading techniques in pen. (Click for example of student work by Grace Chung.)
One of the greatest challenges of teaching visual art is effectively challenging student resistance to trying new things and stepping out of their own comfort zones. Undergraduates are often afraid of failing. A good grade is seen as the ultimate goal of any class and many would rather follow a prescribed formula than veer off into experimentation without a predictable result. The students I worked with in Professor’s McIver’s Intermediate Painting class were no exception. When given the opportunity to teach the students myself for a module, and lead them through an extended multi-week project, I knew that my primary goal would be to try to break through this insistence on playing it safe.
In Professor McIver’s Intermediate Painting seminar, I worked closely with a cohort of seven very motivated undergraduates. In addition to providing students with feedback and support as they completed her assigned projects, I introduced the students to a mixed media project which involved them assembling a field of abstract collage work. My idea was for them to paint a portrait superimposed onto this collage. It was an opportunity to explore the boundaries between abstract and figurative work, the play between transparency and opacity, and the push and pull between foreground and background. The initial collages were beautiful and loose. I was impressed with their ability to let go in this process. But when it came time to approach the portrait work nearly every student had the same tendency. Each wanted to approach the portrait as they would a portrait on a blank canvas, filling the space entirely with paint and completely obscuring the collage work underneath. I addressed the class about this, as well as speaking to each student individually, and encouraged them to reconsider and to explore the nuances in the process. Once spoken to individually and personally, they were all receptive to approaching their work in a different way. The resulting pieces were truly remarkable and I was so proud of them for their willingness to step out of their own comfort zones. Students expressed their pride in the resulting work, how they appreciated being challenged to try something new, and said they learned a lot through the process. (Click here for example of student work by Jessie Bierschenk and Devon Wolfe.) Taking risks creatively is an essential part of discovering your own voice as an artist and creating meaningful work. Moving forward in my teaching career, I hope to continue to find ways to both challenge my students and to encourage and support them through the journey of undertaking these challenges.
I am committed to supporting diversity, equity, and inclusion in my classroom. As a graduate student at Duke, I enrolled in a class called Diverse Learners and Contentious Issues. The course made space for a deeper examination of equity issues within the classroom, the challenges that may arise, and the best practices for supporting inclusion as an instructor. I know that I still have much to learn, but I believe that showing up and engaging with these topics is the most important step and I have been, and remain, committed to.
My background as a student in four unique learning environments has given me an unusually wide spectrum of experiences and tools to draw upon. Perhaps more than anything, my experiences have taught me to not make assumptions about what is going on in the life of another human being. This profoundly influences the way that I view and interact with my students. I know people are rarely as simple as we like to think they are and so I have largely abandoned that initial human urge to box people in and categorize them. I watch them instead and let them show me who they are. I am able to view and interact with students from a place of openness and lack of assumptions. I provide my students with a safe space for taking creative risks, exploring authenticity in their work, and surpassing their own expectations. As a teacher, I am able to be a voice that encourages my students to come to believe in the importance of their own unique voices.