Students, Inspiration, and Teaching Online

For years, I’ve heard art educators talk about how their students inspire them, how working with students contributes to their own work/creative research/artmaking.  This always sounded lovely, but I never quite wrapped my head around it.  From my past experience teaching or assistant teaching, I knew I enjoyed working with students, engaging with them, talking about techniques and ideas.  But this sense of feeling inspired in my own work by students was something I did not experience.  Students could impress me, engage my interest, and so on, but they never inspired me in the realm of my own work.

Until a couple weeks ago.  I was holding open studio hours for the students in our hybrid studio art course.  One issue with STA 112, as it stands at present, is that all 130 to 150 students meet only once a week for about two hours in a lecture class.  STA 112 is a three-credit studio arts course, so the remaining hours are “arranged,” and intended to be fulfilled through attending visiting artist lectures, exhibition receptions, a bus fieldtrip to Chicago, etc.

However, students also are required to complete two studio art projects (hands-on artmaking projects) during the course of the semester.  Normally, in a studio course, these projects would be introduced in a class of 15 to 20 students, and students would have the opportunity to work on their projects in class as well as outside of class.

Because STA 112 is currently not structured to support multiple sections of studio class time, I elected to hold four open studio sessions, each three hours long, as drop-in work sessions and as an opportunity for students to get in-progress feedback on their projects.  In a standard studio course, the instructor would be seeing students working on their projects on a weekly basis, and would be present to redirect and offer additional resources and technical expertise when necessary.

On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving (despite it being almost Thanksgiving Break), I had three students come in for lengthy discussions on their projects (they are each working on two projects simultaneously until the end of the semester: a sketchbook/artist’s book and a wearable art piece).  Through the course of these discussions, following on the heels of similarly stimulating discussions with students during open studio hours on Monday, I became energized and just genuinely thrilled to be an artist.

I have one student who is making a complex cut paper piece; cut paper, I was reminded, is one of my own favorite media.  I paged through sketchbooks in-progress and discussed bookbinding techniques; again, engaging with some of my favorite media.  Through talking with my students, talking about ideas and making, and the intersection of those things, I was completely re-inspired to make my own work.  Even the resource books I was providing for them to look through are resources I want to read cover to cover!

Voila!  Just what they’ve always said: my students inspire me in making my own work.  This written description may not encompass the feeling of suddenly understanding this concept, or the concept of suddenly experiencing this feeling.  I am thankful for the opportunity to be an artist, teaching art.

image of cut paper installation (artwork)

Eleanor du Jambs Mille

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