A Different First Day of Class at RISD

Final Crit

RISD started the fall semester last week, and although I went through all of the familiar tasks and emotions of the first day of classes, this year was noticeably different compared to the last several years.

The vast majority of classes that I’ve taught over the last 9 years I’ve been at RISD has been Freshman Drawing, although I have taught in the Illustration department and in the Printmaking department a few times.  My Freshman drawing course has evolved a lot over the years, but the changes in the course have occurred incrementally because I usually taught that course 2-3 times a year. There have been countless tweaks along the way, as well as more dramatic adjustments as I reflected upon the course at the end of every semester. Eventually, I got to the point where I had taught this course so many times that I stopped referencing detailed notes I had written for each class.  I had cemented all of the fundamental activities and core content in my head.  In recent years, teaching this course became as natural as breathing.

This semester I’m teaching a course for sophomores called “Drawing I: Visualizing Space.” I taught this course way back in 2008, and that experience was definitely helpful in planning the course this time, especially in terms of teaching linear perspective.  I constructed numerous charts and graphics which were hugely tedious to make at the time, so it felt great to be able to just drop those images into my course materials.

However, 2008 is far back enough that I’m in a completely different place as an artist and teacher.  After unearthing those course materials from 2008, I found myself compelled to write the course almost entirely from scratch this time.  For example, only one homework assignment made it from my 2008 version of the course, and I completely reconfigured the structure and sequence of the in class drawing exercises.

I enjoy the challenge of writing a course, and it’s definitely stretched my brain in many directions since I started preparing the course materials this summer. This week I’ve been scrambling to construct slideshows, which can be time consuming, but also stimulating and even enjoyable in terms of how mindless it can be.  I got to revisit some artists and artworks I hadn’t thought of in a long time, like Michael Mazur’s set of lithographs “Images from a Locked Ward.”

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Michael Mazur, “Images from a Locked Ward”

I stumbled across some odd topics and pieces that were relevant to specific assignments I’m giving. I think the most unexpected discovery I made was of Frances Glessner Lee’s work, “The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death.” Her work was perfect for a homework assignment I’m giving that asks students to set up a mock crime scene in real life in order to create a drawing.

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Although I’ve been familiar with Antony Gormley’s work for a long time, I discovered his work “Blind Light” which was perfect for a homework assignment that asks students to create a feeling of claustrophobia in an interior space.

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Compared to teaching my freshman drawing course, this course makes me feel like I’m in a foreign country. Being in a foreign country can be fun and exhilarating, but there are so many tiny logistics that you have to deal with every moment of the day.  I am enjoying the change of pace with this new course, but keeping track of all the details is tricky.  I need to constantly reference my detailed notes for every moment of class time, and every week I’m revising my thoughts for how to run each class. We’ve only had 1 day of class, and already I’ve tweaked several aspects of the course multiple times. On top of all of the preparation, there’s also a constant critic in my head that analyzes the results of every drawing exercise and homework assignment. I think through how the students responded, and then ask myself how I could format or present the content more effectively the next time. 

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Not only am I teaching a different class, but the Illustration Studies building just went through an amazing renovation. I was an illustration major, and I still have crystal clear memories of walking up an ugly stairwell, situated next to an elevator that never functioned as long as I could remember. Of course, my studio was on the fifth floor and so I logged many hours climbing up and down that drab stairwell.

Between the ISB renovation, the new class, and teaching in a different department, I practically feel like I’m at a new job.  It’s hard work, but it’s the first time in a while that I can guarantee that every moment will be new and exciting.

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One thought on “A Different First Day of Class at RISD

  1. fabulous reading about your experiences of teaching and reflecting. I too feel those emotions of the first day of teaching – and the revisiting of core approaches ( technically and conceptually) to ensure a worthy ,exciting and interesting session. Love your honesty, openness and downright humanity – what lucky students you have!

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