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Peter Symons - Statement of Teaching Philosophy

 

My main objective in teaching studio art is for my students to embrace the uniqueness of their personas and grow the confidence to act upon their visions. I ask: What is your question? How is this object or image attempting to answer that question? What is your unique perspective on this subject, that only you have? How can you best communicate that perspective with the world?  I do not believe in innate genius. I believe in practice.

Practice is integral to the formation of the artist. All students have the capacity for unique thought. For students to meaningfully express that individuality, they must find confidence through repeated making, active observation and critical dialog.

I have adopted MIT’s motto as my personal mantra: mens et manus. Mind and Hand. Conversation and Creation are the products of the mind and hand, and students’ growth is equally tied to both. They support each other, and both are simultaneously visible within a completed artwork. Therefore, I teach them simultaneously. During class demonstrations, I integrate discussions of Art Theory as a way to show that the thing being created is not separate from the ideas behind it. Because of this, I discuss Apollo and Dionysus while demonstrating how to hammer a piece of metal flat on an anvil. And when better to discuss Walter Benjamin’s “Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” than while making modifications to a digital file? When a student is physically engaged in the act of making, they are far more open to this kind of mental engagement. The association of the physical action with broader ideas and philosophies solidifies the students’ remembrance of both topics much better than if I separate them into lecture and demonstration. It keeps the conversation dynamic, and encourages the students to use both hemispheres of their brains simultaneously.

As class progresses, critique becomes imperative. I push students to examine more than just the visual aesthetics of an artwork, whether that is their own, their classmates’, or anyone’s. Conceptual Analysis and Physical Examination are equally important within class critiques. I want the students to grapple with Why the artwork was made and How the artwork was made, as both affect the viewers’ relationship with the work. One of the most difficult concepts for student artists to grasp is that artists don’t just make artwork for themselves, but also for the viewers of their art. I want my student artists to successfully communicate their own unique artist perspectives through object and image alone. I also want my student artists to be receptive to the visual cues that key them into understanding what is being communicated through another person’s art. Art is a conversation between the maker and the audience. I encourage students to embrace failure and question what it means to make a successful work of art. Critiques can also be some of the most valuable class experiences in that they demand engagement through conversation. Students must pose questions to the group, bring up relevant talking points, and come to conclusions through dialogue. I encourage a moving away from a monolithic right or wrong, and moving towards nuance.

When students learn to see, they can reframe questions in ways that allow for more critical thinking. When students learn their craft, they can begin to provide solutions to those questions. The tendency, particularly in lower level classes, is that the assigned projects begin similarly, almost homogeneously, as students are anticipating “yes” or “no”answers, or looking for normalcy. I know success has begun at the point when they open up to differentiating themselves as each student begins to discover his or her own artistic perspective. Everything else is just practice.