For ten days I’m traveling throughout China giving lectures and drawing workshops in Beijing, Shanghai, and Chengdu! The events are all through the PS One Portfolio school, which has locations in all three cities.
The school has provided an interpreter for me, but I’m actually surprised that my Chinese is half decent enough to communicate with the students a bit and to figure things out when I’m speaking to someone who doesn’t speak English. I went to Chinese school for several years when I was a child (like all kids, I complained about it the whole time) and so I find myself remembering random words and phrases that I’m able to just throw out without needing to think too hard.
In recent years I’ve noticed that there are more and more students from China at RISD, which wasn’t the case when I started teaching there in 2007. It’s been really great to come to China and hear from the students about how studio art is taught here and to see the differences between their approach and mine.
The first stop in my trip was in their main office in Beijing, where I worked with 10 students over the course of two days. Being a visiting artist is such a completely different experience than what I’m used to when I’m teaching at RISD. During a 12 week semester at RISD, seeing each other 5 hours per week, you really get to know the students very well. By the end of the semester it’s usually emotional for all of us to say goodbye to the class. One student said to me on the last day of class: “Do you do hugs?” (Yes, I do.)
When you step into a classroom of students you have never met before, you don’t have the advantage of knowing each student in depth, and there’s no way to anticipate in advance how your projects are going to go over. So you have to learn to quickly assess within the first hour or so what skill sets the students have, and how you need to tweak your approach in order to provide the concepts and approaches that you think will benefit them the most.
When I reviewed the students’ portfolios, it became clear that none of them had any experience doing quick gesture drawings. Almost every drawing was a pencil drawing, drawn with extreme precision and detail, and drawn from a photograph. As a reaction to that, I had the students do gesture drawings in charcoal, directly observing their own hands.
The students were wonderful, they were really eager to learn and listened intently to my instructions and feedback. On top of the studio work we did, I also spent quite a bit of time explaining the admissions process for art schools, the differences between a BFA and MFA degree, as well as how specific fields in visual art function. (Example: the various forms of illustration such as editorial, children’s books, etc.)
I haven’t had much time to explore the cities, as I’ve been so busy working at the school. A great reason to come back in the future!