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A Student’S Guide To Building An Esthetic Foundation


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#1 Stephen Robison

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Posted 14 September 2010 - 11:06 AM

I think it is a good idea to challenge students right of the bat. I put this together as a way for them to start to think about why they are creating something.



A Student’s Guide to Buildingan Esthetic Foundation

The expansion of your conception of what contemporary art and craft are and are not, will be the beginning of your foundation on esthetics and philosophies. In my classes, I ask you to look beyond commercialism to find your own visual voice. With that in mind, there are certain ideologies and objects that are inappropriate directions of study and research in my classes. Not to say there is no place in the world for these types of generic expression; there certainly is, but not in a college level class. Watered down, overtly commercial i.e. tourist trade, cookiecutter art or Kraft objects are unacceptable. Examples that fall into these categories include ash-trays,pot pouri burners, teddy bears, hearts, big beer mugs that say bet ya can’t on them, bongs, pipes, piggy banks, religious orother club-oriented iconography, light houses and sea gulls. This is only a short list and I do reserve the right to include other examples if they come up. Reasoning for certain esthetic rules lie in the fact that to learn about the art and craft of ceramics or any other media, you must look beyond the blatantly obvious. My classes are not about creating a product; they are about learning skills to create, building a conceptual direction and about learning to see. Searching for an individual voice through historical and contemporary reference points outsideof commercialism will be your main objective in my classes.

Whether you build on a visual voice that is directed towards a socio-political agendaor based on ideals of beauty, your visual voice begins with your investigation into the almost inexhaustible accomplishments of the past and the present. Your individual voice builds as an amalgamation of historical and contemporary work and grows with your understanding of both. Your audible voice grew by learning to speak through your mom, dad and other voices,you then furthered your education by learning to read and finally thinking more for yourself. I hope that even theway you speak and think continues to grow. Remember, a major aspect of learning is acquiring a taste that you may presently want to spit out or won’t even try and being open to new ideologies that presently you may not understand.

If you allow yourself to taste things that may be too sweet, too bitter, too ugly or incomprehensible to you now, you may open your mind to flavors that will make your mouth (or mind) water later. Everyone has disliked some food as a child and now loves it because they have learned the subtleties, textures or nutrition of that taste. The same direction can be taken when learning a visual (or musical) language if you listen to music or look at art more in depth and try to see or hear what it is saying you will expand your horizons and see the bigger picture. For instance there are probably quite a few songs you listen to and really like but you don’t know what the lyrics are. Once you figure out what the lyrics are sometimes you say to your self, “Wow what a stupid song”. In turn there are probably some songs you don’t like for some reason but what they are singing about you may totally be in agreement with. We all start out somewhat sophomoric atfirst, just making meaningless noise in music or marks in art, and then start to build dexterity through practice and knowledge of the tools. Just like the gibberish (gib·ber·ish n.spoken or written language perceived as incomprehensible, and probably not worth comprehending) of a toddler. It is after more and more exposure to the historical and contemporary use of the media that you will begin to see beyond the obvious. Looking at art and listening to music becomes like reading; if you don’t open your mind to what is out there you just become a mocking bird and never learn to sing with your own voice.

As an educator it is my goal to make you realize you have a voice, train it a little, get you to practice a lot, and then you can sing solo or join a band. I intentionally rely on analogies to help you relate to this ideology as it relates to any field ofstudy; creativity is important in every discipline. We call areas of study, disciplines because that is what it takes. I really don’t believe that one is born with talent; I believe one acquires it if they want to or if they have a nurturing environment that allows them to. I will try to make the environment as nurturing as possible for those who have the discipline and work ethic it takes to learn and not just play around and have fun. Learning should be fun also so I will try and make it so. However you are paying for this education and if you do not want to get your moneys worth that is more your decision then mine. Show up to class and do the 6 hours a week of homework and I guarantee you will be on your way to being what ever you want to be. It is a creative approach to growth and knowledge that makes any student successful and always above average. So not only showing up and doing the assignments but also going to the extra steps of studying the material will reward you greatly in the end. If you are in the class to obtain a grade and get credit then you may be in the wrong class. If you are in the class to learn about art and how art imitates life and how clay touches your life then I am excited to get to know you and help you along the way.
STEPHEN ROBISON
Head of Ceramics, Central Washington University
Ellensburg WA

http://stiffyguss.blogspot.com/
http://liquidceramics.blogspot.com/
http://teapotspitchers.blogspot.com/
http://woodkilns.blogspot.com/
http://jomonhaniwa.blogspot.com/
http://stephensrobison.blogspot.com/
http://www.flickr.co...ffpottery/sets/

CWU offers; BA, BFA, and MFA Degrees, (Post Baccalaureate also available). Images of CWU Ceramics studio can be seen at

http://www.flickr.co...57623735313670/

#2 Candace Birchfield

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 01:29 PM

Thank you for sharing your "Student's Guide." I have been teaching ceramics in a rec department and after school setting for more that 20 years. Although the commitment and interest level of my students is probably not as high a standard as yours, I will be able to pass on some of your ideas on commitment and artistic development. Thanks, too, for your "no nonsense" way of writing--very refreshing.

Sincerely,

Candace Birchfield

#3 Seasoned Warrior

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Posted 08 February 2011 - 04:28 PM

Interesting "Students' Guide" but I must say that I would be heading for the office and looking for an add/drop form as soon as I laid eyes on that. Now let me say that I am not an educator, I have no background in pedagogics, I don't know the psychology of education I can just speak as a user of the educational system. I've spent a fair amount of time within the hallowed walls of institutions of higher learning and have achieve a modicum of success as a student. I have also had my share of teachers who to this day I do not understand. As a freshman I took an English composition course from an elderly maiden who was a former matron of a women's penitentiary: Miss B. Now Miss B had a pedigree a mile long in English and it promised to be an exciting semester. One day Miss B suggested that we write an argumentative essay on a subject of our choice. I wrote extensively postulating that Dante borrowed liberally for "Divine Comedy" from Aristophanes. I thought I had actually created a cogent and plausible argument and supported it with excellent examples so I was quite surprised when I got a failing grade on the piece and a note to see Miss B after class. During the after class meeting and after severely belittling me and my lack of erudition she proceeded to tell me that Dante was her hero, an author she admired and in fact had done her master's thesis. I was never able to get a passing grade from Miss B after that. I failed the course, seriously questioned why I wanted to continue and decided to try it again. Repeated the class submitted mostly the same essays and did very well in the class.

I like to think that teachers actually want students to do well although I did have a professor who immediately told the class he never issued a perfect grade because only God was perfect but I managed to eke out a nearly perfect grade even thought the class was sheer drudgery. I had lunch with a friend of mine who teaches ceramics at a local junior college. when I went to let him know I was there I watched as several students were finishing up their work. There was one young lay who did a very nice clay sculpture of the Caterpillar in the "Alice in Wonderland" movie. The caterpillar was complete, sitting on his mushroom smoking his hookah and at that point it struck me that what she had sculpted was a bong. The execution was excellent, the design was excellent, I would have hated to think that your first paragraph would have stifled her attempt at art as not being worthy of even consideration.

The last thing I would deign to do is try and tell you how to teach, or how to set your goals, you obviously have reached a level of ability, education and obviously of respect in your field as a result of your hard work and dedication. I merely suggest that your goals for a class of young brains full of mush might be severely daunting. I know that at 45 years ago It would have certainly had me looking for alternatives and I believe that 45 years ago education was a lot more demanding of the student than it is today, at least as I see it manifested in California. I believe that it is far more productive to guide a student along a path to a goal.

I also believe that with the goals you set also set up expectations from students that are not readily attainable. We recently had a resident artist at a local art center who had recently been awarded his MFA. This young man was an excellent potter wo liked to throw large and he created lifelike and lifesize scupltures. He did an installation at the Art Center with large wood-fired bullet shaped pieces which he placed at random in a room both hung from the ceiling, set on the floor and set on pedestals. In the room he played an audio recording of voices in aparrent attempt at making a social statement regarding war. I spoke to the artist over tea one afternoon and we discussed his installation. I expressed that I did not completely understand his work. The artist stated that neither did he completely but it was a work that was directed by and individual at the art center and one for which he felt no affinity. I believe that there is a lot of pressure on artists to make social statements which they may not feel, but it seems that the powers that be demand it. In my oopinion art needs to flow from the soul and not all art needs to have a social implication, some of it might just be free spirited fun. One of my favorite visual artists seems to believe the same. Dale Chihuly is a very playful man and in my opinion therein lies his charm.

Anyway, I've gone out on a limb, left myself no safety net and fully expect the limb to be chopped off behind me but I felt it needed to be said. Sometimes we fall prey to the ivory tower syndrome. In my long and varied engineering carreer I have found that it is very healthy to go out into the field, visit the trenches talk to the people on the front lines actually doing the dirty work. When one surrounds oneself with like-thinking individuals I believe on loses perspective. Of course some say that the perspective from the ivory tower is best . The foregoing is my opinon, and you know what they say about opinions.

Best regards,
Charles

#4 OffCenter

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 09:37 AM

I enjoyed reading the original post and, even more, I enjoyed reading Charles’ response. If I were a student about to take Robison’s class, I’d be more interested in seeing his pots than his handouts and if his pots were good enough to make me want to take the class, one of my goals in that class would be to make some really great ashtrays, beer mugs, and bongs.

Jim

E pur si muove.

"But it does move," said Galileo under his breath.

#5 Guest_Herb Norris_*

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 12:10 PM

You can see some of Mr. Robison's pots at :

http://stephensrobison.blogspot.com/

and at some of the other links he has provided above.

I think Mr. Robison is at least making a "plea for danger." He's trying to get students to stretch their aesthetic, visual, and imaginary "muscles" if you will. I can't imagine that is done much these days, in ANY educational setting, or maybe I am cynical.
I would like to take a class where something was expected of me that required more effort than just showing up, and this class seems like it would be that way. I have taken several classes at a major art center, and at one point I asked the Director if there was a syllabus for the classes they teach, so that students have some structure, and so they all learn the basics of clay. She looked at me like I had two heads. Structure, standards, and discipline seem to be anethema to most (visual) art instruction (music, I think, is different).
I think Mr. Robison is somewhat like Bernard Leach, in that he wants to establish a standard, and from what I have seen of his pots, he succeeds. I think Leach talked a good game, but was "all hat and no ranch," his pots do absolutely nothing for me. They seem pale imitations of Eastern aesthetics, filtered through a Western perspective, and who needs that? Yeah, he hung with Hamada, but so what?
As a funny co-incidence, I have attached a picture that I made using Picasa two years ago, and I ocassionally use it for my wallpaper. I had no idea who made these pots, I just thought they were interesting; turns out that all of them (except the last one) were made by Stephen Robison! I had stumbled onto his flickr stream somehow, and was interested. The clay world can be really small sometimes!


robison wallpaper

#6 Seasoned Warrior

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 08:33 PM

I had no intention of impugning Mr Robison's work and in fact I know little of what Mr. Robison does as an artist. I also had no intention of suggesting that classes should not challenge, some of the most difficult and challenging classes I've had I've enjoyed the most. My only intent was to offer that an instructor when they are handing out their syllabus and guidelines sets the tone for the semester. I suggest that an instructor can discourage a student. A lot of the goals Mr. Robison sets are subjective. I have a problem with subjectivity: there is no way of judging accomplishment of subjective goals because there is no way to measure them and so the student has no way of gaging their progress. "Reasoning for certain aesthetic rules lie in the fact that to learn about the art and craft of ceramics or any other media, you must look beyond the blatantly obvious. My classes are not about creating a product; they are about learning skills to create, building a conceptual direction and about learning to see. Searching for an individual voice through historical and contemporary reference points outside of commercialism will be your main objective in my classes." This statement begs a number of questions that can only be answered by the individual writing them.

Music is often used as a parallel art but the structure of music is much more defined and the path to learn music is more obvious. I am a fairly accomplished musician. I play keyboards primarily and synthesizer and organ specifically. One has to start with the common language and terms of music and how they are implemented. If one does not study notation and understand fingering one is never going to be an accomplished musician regardless of how one tries: talented, popular, commercially viable but never accomplished. Even within music there is subjectivity. I personally like Bach and Beethoven and detest Mahler but that is just my opinion. I know lots of people who like Mahler. Have you ever been made aware of performance on a prepared piano? A prepared piano is one in which the strings have been enhanced with other objects to alter the sound. There is a whole body of music out of the 1930s up until the advent of electronic music written for prepared piano. However as subjective as music is to many the actual making of the music is pretty exact and not subjective at all: notes are specific frequencies, tempo lives in real time, even dynamics fit within envelopes. music is actually pretty precise. One can actually say that one is wrong if the composer intended you to play an F# and you decide to play an A instead. The closest thing to visual art in music might be Jazz but still if everyone is playing in the Mixolydian mode and you decide to go Phrygian I suspect even the jazz dilettante will know something is wrong.

I am just suggesting that in the visual arts as with music there is a lot of subjectivity and a lot of objectivity. I suspect that Da Vinci would be appalled at Pablo Picasso just as Beethoven might consider Mahler dreck! Yet today we consider all 4 to be at the pinnacle of their art. So I suggest that instead of presenting lofty goals that the student might be hard-pressed to define, especially at the beginning of the semester that the syllabus might give more objective goals so that the student can get a sense of direction and then, within the structure of the class, introduce more abstract concepts and provide a framework for understand those abstract concepts.

Again I meant no slight to Mr. Robison and this is just my opinion as silly as it may sound: I am not a teacher I am a user of the teachers' products. One needs to bear in mind however the necessity to pay the bills and to keep classrooms full as well as to achieve one's loftier goals. Lets face it the vast majority of students in one's class are never going to be the next great artist. I would venture to guess that of all the students an art teacher sees in school the vast majority will be doing something a lot less lofty than proposed and their lives will be consumed by the minutiae of making a living, raising a family and taking their place as members of the hive not as outstanding artists.

To take a page from my own education, every engineering professor I had, taught me to design lofty structures, high-rises, engines of industry, devices that altered the social structure of the world while upon graduation I was ushered to a small cubicle where I was to design stairways and ladders for tanks and there were people in my immediate circle who had been designing the same stairways and ladders for the same types of tanks for over 30 years and were ready to retire. Unfortunately education sometimes sets goals that are not realistic.

Teachers are extremely vital to our future as a civilization. I am only suggesting that education may be better served by a more quantifiable approach in the arts. But then what do I know, I am not a teacher and the resposnes to Mr Robinsons syullabus have been positive. Sometimes people in a closed group understand one another but may not see how it looks from the outside. I was only giving my perspective as a user of that service.

Best regards,
Charles

#7 Seasoned Warrior

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Posted 09 February 2011 - 09:13 PM

I wanted to add that after I wrote the response above I went to Mr. Robison's blog and had I read his teaching philosophy and artist's statement. In my opinion a class based on the artists' statement in the blog could be achieved ith more certainty than the one stated in the post. From Mr. Robison's post on this site I gathered an imprecation regarding anything Mr. Robison perceived as commercial in nature and since perception is hard to quantify that statement alone would have made me pass on the class because it would did not provide any objective criteria for achieveing a passing grade. Ultimately one goes to school to obtain a satisfactory grade and if the path to the satisfactory grade is obscure it puts the whole endeavor in question. I believe that there should be a place where the grade is not a consideration but that is a discussion for another time and place. I have audited classes where I achieved the results I sought without the grade hanging over my head but my motive was to learn a very well defined objective.

Regards,
Charles

#8 Guest_Herb Norris_*

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Posted 11 February 2011 - 07:40 PM

Wow, Charles, that is quite a response! I hope you are not thinking that I thought you were denigrating Mr. Robison in any way, the thought never crossed my mind. I have read many of your posts, and you are certainly nothing if not an intelligent, insightful, and diplomatic forum member.
I simply wanted to convey my enthusiasm for Mr. Robison's work, and the fact that he is trying to get his students to try harder.
I apolegize if you thought otherwise...
Now, about the fact that you play the synthesizer... I have been listening to a lot of Morton Subotnick lately. Do you like his music?
(Yes, I'm very familiar with prepared piano!)

#9 Seasoned Warrior

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Posted 11 February 2011 - 09:08 PM

Wow, Charles, that is quite a response! I hope you are not thinking that I thought you were denigrating Mr. Robison in any way, the thought never crossed my mind. I have read many of your posts, and you are certainly nothing if not an intelligent, insightful, and diplomatic forum member.
I simply wanted to convey my enthusiasm for Mr. Robison's work, and the fact that he is trying to get his students to try harder.
I apolegize if you thought otherwise...
Now, about the fact that you play the synthesizer... I have been listening to a lot of Morton Subotnick lately. Do you like his music?
(Yes, I'm very familiar with prepared piano!)


Thank you for the kind words. I have no problem with teachers trying to get the most out of students they can: that is their job. I try very hard to stay on subject. Sometimes I believe people respond to disagreement on a personal level and I have nothing against either you or Mr. Robison, I was just responding with my thoughts on the subject which I understood to be Mr. Robisons expectations of his students and how I believed it may have been misunderstood and actually a disincentive.

I am pleasantly surprised to hear that you know of the prepared piano, most people just kind of shrug like it is some oddity that some might indulge in but not in the mainstream. I always felt that the prepared piano was an attempt at extending the vocabulary of he piano. I am a little bit familiar with Subotnik, mainly through the work of Don Buchla and Leon Kirchner. While most people like Robert Moog worked with frequencies and variable oscillators Buchla made a synth that utilized voltage control, a very interesting variant. I have a baby Moog but my primary synth is a Kurzweil 3600. Besides a couple of pianos I also have a Hammond X-66 and a Rodgers Cambridge hybrid organ with both pipes and electronics. I am not a great fan of dissonance and while Slubotnik's music was interesting and even fascinating structurally I don't find it pleasant for listening. I enjoy jazz along the lines of Dave Brubeck, Ramsey Lewis, Thelonius Monk, I love the classics in particular Beethoven and Bach. One of my most memorable mountain bicycling experiences was while blasting through the redwood forest listening to the Brandenburg #6! I particularly enjoy playing the two part inventions and for the organ the Toccata and Fugue in D minor to me is probably the ultimate auditory experience (especialy the Fuge). I also like some Rock and Roll; Ray Manzarek is a wonderful Hammond organist, I certainly enjoyed him as an artist on the Doors albums, Greg Rollie (early Santana band) is another I've enjoyed. I've been actively involved with the Oaktown Jazz Project run by my good friend Khalil Shaheed (Pharaoh Sanders and Jimi Henrix) in Oakland, CA. I tend to like opera also, especially some of the Sopranos and Coloraturas. Anyway enough about that, I do like music and can go on and on and on ad nauseum.

Nice to hear from you, there is nothing to apologize for.

Best regards,
Charles




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