Art History is interdisciplinary by nature, and in my practice as a professor, I use the field to encourage students to reconsider the world they know visually, with the power to make change. I encourage students to view art history critically, inspiring them to question their preconceptions and notions about an area that is at once the same as it was 500 years ago and is also constantly changing due to technology and the increasing acceptance of visual culture. By the end of each term, I want my students to examine the world in a new light, questioning what art can be and realizing the value that art can bring to society.
My teaching style fluctuates weekly, as I have found that students respond to a number of different methods and styles. Each class will be filled with lectures, discussions, group activities, films, presentations or museum trips. Above all, I want to maintain an active, participatory classroom environment. I strive to create an open, welcoming, and comfortable experience, so that my students can be involved in the presentation, even if it is a lecture. I frequently return to works from previous classes to make comparisons, thereby allowing the students and the class to make connections themselves. Additionally, I encourage debate between my students. For example, each time I teach Kara Walker and her use of stereotypes, I find the students swaying me either in favor of her use for or against them.
Besides exposing students to art that they have not necessarily seen or explored before, I’m interested in challenging their expectations. Drawing from my feminist background, I ask my students to question the canon as we discuss what makes a work of art important and challenging. If they have a negative reaction to a piece (as many inevitably do to Duchamp’s Fountain, 1917, for example), as a class we question why they respond that way and what preconceptions they may have about a piece. My hope is that they begin to develop critical thinking skills necessary to be dissatisfied with the status quo.
In that vein, I often strive to connect art and art history to everyday life. Making connections to current events and popular culture throughout my teaching, I ask students to do the same. We discuss what it means that a popular soap company can use J.A.D. Ingres’ Grand Odalisque (1815) to promote their products. Furthermore, I encourage them to go out and see art in the flesh, which is why one of my favorite assignments for introductory students is to write a formal analysis of any artwork they choose – from a work in Dallas Museum of Art, a subway mural they pass every day, or a sculpture in their neighborhood park. This encourages them to look at things in a different light, and it never fails that by the end of the semester, students are discussing artworks they have seen on their own and are starting to make their connections and comparisons. But further, in a tumultuous American society, I think art has the potential to open students’ minds further. Teaching Identity Politics today, in light of Ferguson and protests across the country, takes on a new weight. As my students are increasingly born in the 1990s, I work to teach them the art and history of the more recent past (that they are often unaware of) with the hopes of creating better, more socially conscious students.
In upper-level courses, I encourage my students to develop their research and writing skills through library workshops, peer review, consultations, annotated bibliographies and combinations of both short and long papers. I have devised projects that include research, but also might include a creative project like writing a blog, curating an exhibition, recreating a particular type of printmaking, ceramics or bookbinding, and even reviewing contemporary movies on artists. Upper level classes allow students to tackle more sophisticated readings and create an elevated level of discussion, appropriate for advanced students.
For me, teaching can be rewarding. Getting the stray email about David Beckham’s Michelangelo-esque abs or having a student come up to me and saying that he finally sees how Fountain can be considered an artwork encourages me to keep developing my teaching. At the same time, the students who have never seen a work of art can ask questions that I might not have thought of before, thereby encouraging me to reconsider an artwork I have been looking at for years. The students’ fresh approach rejuvenates me, pushing me to continue to challenge myself and my own research.