Perspectives on Praxis
Perspectives on Praxis
RISD students test ideas about art and pedagogy by working directly with local teenagers.
RISD students in a Photography department class called Art and Pedagogy lead a workshop with local high school students in the Chace Center.
“Don’t worry about making a mess or creating something you think is ugly or abstract,” Meghan Strevig MA 22 tells the teenagers gathered in the Chace Center’s Common Room. “The goal is to explore what kinds of marks you can make with the cotton balls, ribbons and other objects on the table.”
A grad student in RISD’s Interior Architecture department, Strevig is working with high school students for the first time. “I’m passionate about architecture, but I’ve always wanted to teach,” she says. “The exercises we put together for today’s workshop are about using materials in unexpected ways, which is similar to the principles of adaptive reuse I’m learning in my department.”
Strevig and Christina Koutsoukou MLA 22 are considering teaching as part of Art and Pedagogy, a fall course offered through the Photography department and headed up this year by RISD Museum Assistant Director of Family and Teen Programs Christina Alderman. The course was designed last year in collaboration with RISD’s Project Open Door college access program for Rhode Island teens and the Met, a network of small public high schools that offers students individualized hands-on learning opportunities.
“The class is open to students who are interested in teaching, philosophy of education, socially engaged art praxis, and working with the local community.”
“The class is open to students who are interested in teaching, philosophy of education, socially engaged art praxis, and working with the local community,” Alderman explains. “And these workshops allow students to put ideas into practice by working directly with a group of 10th grade students from the Met.”
Are these high school sophomores thinking about becoming artists and designers someday? “Probably not,” says their advisor Desiree Gamble. “These students are focused on everything from theater to construction to aviation. We find that young kids often identify as artists, but as they get older, they start to develop negative perceptions of their own creativity. Being on a college campus and working with RISD students who take a nonjudgmental approach helps to change that self-critical perspective.”
“We find that young kids often identify as artists, but as they get older, they start to develop negative perceptions of their own creativity.”
Koutsoukou rushes across the room to help clean up an ink spill. A grad student in the Landscape Architecture department, she’s interested in social issues connected to the field, such as racism and gender inequality. “I see this class as a continuation of that work,” she says.
In addition to developing and leading these workshops, students in the class are delving into pedagogical theories by scholars and practicing artists like Yolanda Medina and Lynda Barry. Medina’s work focuses on her capacity to see lived experience in the arts as a way of empowering students to create and promote self and social change. Barry encourages students to keep a visual diary as a means of “being present and seeing what’s there.”
The thread that connects the readings and forms the core of the class, Alderman explains, is making teaching and community work part of one’s artistic practice. “Community work is messy,” she adds, “and you have to learn to respond on the fly. The big question is how this work will ultimately feed what students are doing as artists and designers.”
—Simone Solondz / photos by Jo Sittenfeld MFA 08 PH
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