An Ode to Art History
This post is going to contain a lot of navel-gazing, fairly warned be ye says I…
So, today was the last class of my current art History class. When I first got the opportunity to teach this two-class series, I was thrilled. I had to fight for it, but it was worth the fight.
Over the past few years, the class was taught on and off, but as the school is closing they are getting everyone through so I have had several terms in a row where I have been able to teach it. The very best part about teaching art history, aside from the subject matter, is the wide variety of students I get to teach. Prettymuch all the majors need to take it, so I have my fashion students, graphic designers, interior designers, and digital media and animation students. The latter are one of the most fun groups because that’s where all the geeks are, or as I like to call them: “my people.” There are geeks in other majors, but not in the same saturation of numbers.
So, where am I going with this? I’ve been sentimental about these guys for a while now, ever since last term when I had most of them in the 28-person behemoth of class. This time around, there were only 19 (“only” as if more than a dozen is not a ginormous class!). Most of them came through from the previous term, where we’d developed a serious rapport. This extended to those of the class I didn’t know yet who were friends with the folks I had already gotten close to.
And also, I have a reputation of being that teacher. The geeky teacher. The mouthy teacher. The teacher who cracks everyone up. The tough teacher. But also the teacher that really knows her stuff. And who is geeky, did I mention it had gotten out (at long last) that I was a geek? And did I mention the digital students (DMA) were mostly geeks? Needless to say we hit it off right well.
So this term, I don’t know, the stars were aligned. We started out with JackFM’s Ice Cream Truck on week one. We had a lot of opportunities to go to some really cool field trips. But NO CLASS has loved Cheekwood (Botanical Garden and Art Museum) like this class did. In fact, I don’t think any class has ever loved the subject matter as much as these guys (and their predecessors in Term 2). What was I doing differently?
Well, the school is closing so I have cared less and less about keeping my job. I have taken more risks teaching. I have taken more risks connecting with the students. I’ve kinda gotten to the “What are they going to do, fire me?” attitude. Which evidently is very liberating. My challenge now will be to connect this to future classes…but I am not sure I can.
Once in a while, everything is just right. My enthusiasm, their interest. My ability to draw parallels to their interests, their world and their ability (and desire) to follow me down that rabbit hole. And that’s where we were. A teaching/learning sweet spot.
Every week I have tried to savor the experience, knowing it was so fleeting. When I’m done here, I’ll likely never get another chance to teach art history (most universities and even community colleges have a dedicated art history teacher with a degree specifically in that). Next term has 4 students in it, terms after that is still nebulous (the class is scheduled but I am not the teacher currently assigned to it, but that can- and likely will- change).
So, this was kind of my goodbye. To a part of my life and teaching career I have loved and to the wonderful students who made it possible. I thought this couldn’t get better than last term. I was so wrong. The love, it was felt, on both sides I think.
The goodbyes and tributes brought me to tears about a half dozen times this morning. 10 weeks, a tiny lifetime. And what I am the happiest about, is that I have actually taught a bunch of folks who really might not have understood the value, significance, and joy of art history. And like I told them this morning, that is something that will serve them as artists, always. They wrote papers that were thoughtful and reflective and expressing the wonder of finding something new to enjoy, or seeing things from a new place, or finally learning the backstory about something they thought they knew and gaining a new appreciation. They brought in their art projects that showed me how much they had internalized their lessons and could apply them to their own work, their own visions. And that right there is the most I can ever hope to accomplish as a teacher.
Not to make them memorize artists and genres and styles and histories, although those have value, but how to see art, how to interpret art, and how to create something unique from it. And they did it, with style.
I have never given so many As before. I say “given,” but that’s not the right word. They EARNED every last one. And I am really really proud of them. To the point I actually BLOGGED about it, OMG.
Sometimes, I have doubted doing this, the purpose of teaching, especially at a much-maligned for-profit school. And I don’t know what their futures will hold, but damn, they know their art history and that will take them far, farther than people think. And all the drama has been worth the culmination of a couple of terms of classes.
I love you guys, good luck, and don’t lose your enthusiasm for art!