Teaching students how to create art and design is both serious and playful business for me.
Whether I am teaching 2D Foundations or a 4000-level interactive/motion design course, I try to establish a baseline of high expectations, from which artful play and experimentation can emerge. Serious, engaged and purposeful play is what I am after. Both formal and informal, both serious and light-hearted, art and design should have spirit and heart in it.
In each class I teach, I try to inspire students to become greatly interested in the visual and physical world around them. As David Hockney has said, “It’s in the very process of looking at something that makes it beautiful.” To this end, I routinely show many examples of the best art and design, from historical and contemporary viewpoints. I also bring in objects from our everyday world — books, t-shirts, posters, the packaging of croutons from a fast food place — and encourage students to look at these objects that have been designed and constructed purposefully. There is art in the everyday. I also furnish visual examples from the history of art and design to illustrate how design elements and principles have been realized by masters.
I believe the best of art and design originates with a thorough understanding of basic elements and principles of visual design: point, line, plane, volume; scale, emphasis, rhythm, asymmetry, etc. Without a thorough understanding of color theory, composition, principles of design, students can flounder.
I try to ground my students firmly in understanding the context of a project before beginning. For example, in 2D design, students might be exploring asymmetric vs. symmetric compositions, order vs. chaos, and value and hue in one digital project. In another project, grid or semi-grid structures and photographic manipulation might be formal parameters. In another, creating unexpected meaning with found imagery might be the primary focus. Formal concerns are first, meaning second. Without strong design and artistic compositions or constructions, meaning becomes secondary.
I demonstrate the how of working with digital media (and the basics of analog art-making). I walk through the fundamentals of programs thoroughly, spending time to make sure that students have proficient skills. I also introduce more advanced techniques as I go, to get them excited about possibilities. While I am most centered on digital design and art, I have conducted demonstrations with ink and paint, matting, paper-cutting and folding techniques, and more, in 2D Foundations classes I have taught. As I often tell students, with a few simple techniques done well, one can imagine and create great works of art and design.
I believe the integration of analog and digital skills is essential to contemporary art and design courses, and in all of my classes, I emphasize the need for students to move from original ideation in a sketchbook to digital design on the screen, and back again.
In the end, a love of craft done well (whether in digital space or on paper, or other), delight in creation, satisfaction in the process of generating new visual ideas that can become pure formally beautiful things that did not exist before, or deeply meaningful objects — this is what I encourage my students to do, in all of my classes. To put themselves fully into their work.