Images have power. As an art educator, I strive to empower my students to make images that reflect their own lives, questions and desires, and to be savvy and critical consumers of the visual world.
Perhaps because of their enormous potential, images fill our lives. Sacred mandalas guide meditation, and department store logos bounce across television screens. Images mesmerize us as they reveal and obscure, wound and heal. In short, for those who know how to use them – artists, teachers, journalists, corporations – images carry significant weight.
At times our visual worlds become overwhelming. We become consumers in a rush, expecting pictures and symbols to lay bare their meaning with just a single glance. Excellent art education slows down the process of understanding our visual lives. My students and I aim to notice the details of content and context. The meaning of a pile of candy changes as it spreads across a gallery floor and becomes a Gonzalez-Torres candy spill. We notice the beautiful girl on the billboard, but we also notice that Photoshop has removed her ribs.
I am an enthusiastic leader in the classroom community, but first, I am a member of that community and a fellow artist. Because I have witnessed the real potential of critique both to inspire and to scar, I advise my students how to use this tool with concern for their peers. My students master art materials, which they apply in service to an idea. I appreciate the importance of artistic journeys that vary in length. Some artwork is completed in a day, while other projects may take a month to finish. Above all, I am an art-lover. I work hard to find meaningful places for others to appreciate student art: on classroom walls, in galleries, or in the pages of handmade books.
By striving to listen closely to the varied language of art and design, we become wise image-makers in our own right. In my art practice, I try to understand the rich visual history of the objects I encounter and render. When I include a handful of dice in a still life it is because I appreciate their contrasting values and their relationship to chance. I also try to recognize that the dice have different connotations for others: of gambling, or of childhood and of play. In much the same way, I expect my students to choose their own references with care and to look at the work of artists who share their interests.
Even in a world of so many images it is essential that artists create new works. I have witnessed many students struggle to find images that reflect their own diversity. When a student is empowered to make art that speaks to her own life’s story, not only does the student herself benefit but so does the entire community.
In short, I strive to show students the power of images, how to harness that power and how to use it responsibly as they create their own artwork. In addition to being technically skilled artists, my students understand their images exist in a greater world, are knowledgeable about the vocabulary of art and design, and feel empowered to make art that reflects their diverse experiences.