I have been reading The Ignorant Schoolmaster- Five Lessons in Intellectual Emancipation by Jacques Rancier. If I was to completely simplify his thoughts on education I might say it is not unlike the inquiry method, except here the teacher does not even have to come in with any strategic knowledge or information at key points of discussion. She only has to verify, consistently, the students own understanding of the material, against their previous understanding of the material.
“There was only one rule: he must be able to show in the book, the materiality of everything he says”. He being the student in this case. The book being Telemaque and the teacher being completely ignorant of even the language the book is written in!
Empowering, insane ideas. The kind only great literature and philosophy have in them.
It is in this spirit that I took an experimental step in the classroom. Instead of showing and teaching new materials and methods every week to the students ( drawing basics, some lite version of printmaking, color theory etc) I asked the students along on this experiment. I requested that they each take home a material from the art room. Spend some time with it. Get to know it as intimately as possible. Make a list of words they would describe the material with, how it behaves. And finally, to lead the class through a ‘sensitivity training’ of the material.
This has achieved a few key things: it has moved the students away from the internet as their first step of information ( looking up available lesson plans to teach the material, or artists who work in the material). Instead they at least begin with the material they have in hand: watercolors, or vellum, or bristol board, or clay. Through their own play with the materials they have chosen to bring in objects/ drawings/ paintings they made with the material and some have also extended this presentation with elaborate slides and research on artists who use the material. It has also been interesting to note that when two students have chosen the same materials, they tend to sequence off the previous person’s introduction to the materials. After we ‘experience’ the material we discuss what developmental ages the materials may be appropriate for teaching or what could possibly be done with the material at all.
This exercise seems to have impacted their artists talks. Besides researching and introducing the class to one artist of their choice, they must share with us why the artist and their work resonates with them. The students are speaking directly to the experience of the encounter with the materiality of the works, be it Van Gogh’s thick painting or Ann Hamilton’s immersive cloth and thread installations.