by Clara Lieu
RISD Pre-College ended a week and a half ago, and already, the program feels so far away. Teaching RISD Pre-College is like stepping into a time warp which exists in a different universe than the rest of my life. During the school year, I generally teach at RISD only 1-2 days a week, whereas for RISD Pre-College I teach studio classes 5 days a week. The schedule is really intense, especially since I commute 1 hour each way from Boston, but I always find the program to be incredibly rewarding. I attended RISD Pre-College in 1993, and it was a life changing experience that still continues to impact my life today. You wouldn’t think that a 6 week program could affect your life so deeply, but the intensity of the experience and tremendous growth one experiences is simply remarkable.
Now that I’m a teacher, I experience the program from a completely different point of view: the 6 week length of the program is challenging because it’s so short compared to a usual college semester. For each Pre-College studio class, I only see each class six times, which is nowhere near enough time to truly master any technique. (during the school year, I see students for 12 times-double the length of a Pre-College course)
Since I know there are limits to what I can teach in just six weeks, I focus my efforts on getting students to grasp fundamental ideas that they can then further apply in any future context. I remind students that they have the rest of their lives to learn how to handle compressed charcoal well, and that ultimately, what I’m most concerned about is to teach them how to think about their artwork.
Student Charcoal Drawings from RISD Pre-College
Most students who attend RISD Pre-College are not prepared for the rigorous work load and the mental challenges that come with brainstorming and thinking through the complex stages of each project. It’s a huge adjustment during the first few weeks which is tough for everyone. However, in the third and fourth week, you begin to see some fundamental concepts start to really sink in. By the last week, it’s amazing to see those concepts take root in the students’minds and flourish.
Speaking to one of the students the last week, they told me that the most important lesson they learned at Pre-College was that every action they take in their artwork should have intent. This student explained to me that before coming to Pre-College, they never took the time to think the art making process as being a series of deliberate decisions. Generally speaking, they didn’t think at all while creating their artwork, it was almost a mindless technical exercise. Most of the process was random and had no specific motivation or rationale behind it. Knowing that this student grasped this concept, I knew I had done my job.
The close bonds I develop with my classes and students is very poignant. The first week of class, you are complete strangers who work quietly in the same room. The last day of class, you’re hugging, laughing hysterically, taking silly selfies, drooling over hot celebrities together, and bawling your eyes out. The emotions as just as intense for me as they are for the students. I have never found it easy to say goodbye the last week. As a teacher, I feel that I am just starting to really know the students in that 6th week, and then all of the sudden, we’re gone. We leave campus and return to our “normal” lives.
Thank you 2016 RISD Pre-College students, for keeping my life exciting and fun, and for inspiring me with your tremendous passion and energy! I miss all of you and will treasure those precious weeks we spent going to hell and back together.