Sunday, February 26, 2012

Upcoming & Current Shows & Events

Current Shows

Today I just dropped off a piece at Gallery One in Ellensburg for one of their three ceramic shows put on in conjunction with the NCECA conference in Seattle. The exhibits at Gallery One open March 2 (this Friday) from 5-7pm. The show continues through April 2. 

My installation and other work at "From the Ground Up" in Larson Gallery remains up through March 31.

I also still have a few pieces at Oak Hollow Gallery. A group of my work will be featured in a show at Oak Hollow Gallery in April with Jack Roberts.

Coming up this Week & this Month
I also want to remind people of a few events coming up this week and this month.

March 3, 2012: Raku Firing
 Raku Firing demonstration outside the clay studio in Palmer Hall from ~9am - ~1pm. 
Students from the YVCC clay classes will be firing their work in our raku kiln Saturday morning, weather permitting. The raku firing process is a fast firing that should take about an hour for the first round and about 30 minutes for subsequent firings. After work is heated to ~1700 degrees Fahrenheit, the work is removed from the kiln and placed in a bucket of combustible materials. The public is invited to attend this firing as part of the clay-centric events of the "From the Ground Up" exhibition at Larson Gallery. 
The firing will be cancelled if Saturday is a burn ban day.

March 10, 2012: Clay Artists Panel & Discussion
  Clay Artists Panel Discussion at Larson Gallery from 1-3pm.
Panel discussion and slide presentation featuring clay artists Renee Adams, Rachel Dorn, Carolyn Nelson, Greg Pierce and Stephen Robison in the Larson Gallery. Moderated by Cheryl Hahn, director of Larson Gallery.

March 31, 2012: Bus Tour
  Bus trip to Seattle/ Bellevue leaving Larson Gallery at 7am, returning 7pm.
Travel to Seattle to see "Push Play," the 2012 NCECA Invitational at the Bellevue Arts Museum and Li Chen "Eternity and Commoner" at the Frye Art Museum.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Student Behaviors

I've had some interesting classroom experiences in the last week or two. I'm not sure they are exactly related, but they do have to do with classroom atmosphere, classroom (or studio) culture and behavioral expectations.

Gallery Visit

I took my clay classes over to Larson Gallery last week to see "From the Ground Up". On Wednesday I took my hand-building class. I was introducing the show, telling them what it was and what they would see. I had a short assignment for them to complete in the gallery and I wanted them to see the variety of clay work. Before I had gotten to the end of my spiel, one student walked over to my wall installation, stepped over the taped line that says "stay behind this line" and started petting one of my sculptures.

mmm... I want to touch you
I amended my introduction to include the never-before uttered (by me) sentence, "please do not rub the artwork." Later this same student walked into a low pedestal and sent the piece wobbling. He caught the tall sculpture and replaced it but I was flabbergasted. I told him to watch where he was going and I pointed out that the work was $4500. I suppose he felt bad and he didn't walk into or rub any more pieces, but I was surprised that he required the dual reminder. For what it is worth, I did tell the class not to write or lean on the pedestals. It didn't occur to me to remind them not to walk into it.

From the Ground Up postcard (that sculpture on the bottom left looks like it might wobble if I walk into its pedestal).
The second class I brought over was warned before entering the gallery not to touch the work and to watch where they walked. I have been bringing class groups to this gallery for almost 6 years. I can't remember anything similar happening. Or maybe I just reacted more strongly because it was my work being "rubbed."

Visiting Lecture

Yesterday I visited a colleague's class to present a guest lecture. I was speaking to this humanities survey class about the influence of wealth, consumerism, and trade in art of the 17th and 18th centuries. (I tried for a more catchy title.) The class met a bit longer than my usual class period but I had built the lecture to tightly fill a 50 minute class and I intended to involve the class in some discussion at several points during the lecture. I guessed that I would fill the time easily.

This quarter, in particular, my problem has consistently been running over or leaving no room for discussion and review. In preparing my lecture for my colleague's class, I planned for my current class. I ended up being surprised when his class reacted differently.

My art appreciation class this quarter tends to ask a lot of questions and they tend to ask more in-depth questions that lead to some discussion, rather than just quick answers. During lectures I encourage them to answer questions, guess and discuss the topic. I only lecture exclusively in about a third of their class meetings. We spend about another third of the class days in group discussions and the final third mixes guest lectures, visits to the gallery or studios, videos and other activities. I intend for the mixed delivery style to encourage them to be more involved, less passive in their learning. Just today I was lecturing about Medieval art. Several slightly tangential conversations and some energetic review caused me to run long in my lecture. I didn't finish and will have to make adjustments later this week or next to accommodate the extra information.

So I went to my colleague's class with this format in mind. What I found, instead, was a classroom with an entirely different culture and habit. I am not trying to say that my colleague fostered this atmosphere. Last quarter, for example, my class was set up basically the same as my current class and that group of students, together, were loathe to answer a question. I even had several instances where I had to remind students to actually look at the screen during a lecture. Sometimes students, for whatever reason, develop a habit and a class culture that is not conducive to learning, discussion or teacher sanity.

What was interesting during this guest lecture, though was how quickly I had forgotten what it was like to teach an inattentive, uninterested and uninvolved class. I have become thoroughly accustomed to my current art appreciation class and I don't want to have to change.

When I walked into this colleague's classroom, students were not there yet, and most didn't arrive until a few minutes before class. Contrast with my current class who arrive often 10 minutes early. Most students sat down with cell phones out and texted or played for the few minutes before class started. To my horror, at least one played with the phone during class. (I don't tolerate this in my class.) During my lecture I asked questions that were answered with crickets chirping. I double checked with their instructor to assure myself that they had indeed covered the information that I assumed they knew (Humanism. They had covered it). Eventually I took to teasing them for not answering. I had asked a question that should have resulted in a laugh and a negative response. I got neither, though perhaps we can assume that no response is a negative. I joked that they wouldn't answer either way. I'm not sure that teasing a quiet class for not responding is a mature way to conduct myself as a guest in someone else's class, but I can't even remember how I handled it when I had this situation in my class--a mere 3 months ago.

Anyway, the upshot was that my lecture finished early. We were able to squeeze a few distantly related questions out of a student I sort of knew before class. My colleague asked some questions and then we just had to end it. I felt my lecture went well (apart from the joke that no one got) but I felt like overall my visit fell flat. Disappointing.

The joke they didn't get: this "Concrete Mixer" by Wim Delvoye wasn't one of the Chinese influenced porcelain pieces made by the famous Wedgewood Porcelain company.

Clay Critique

And finally, back to my beloved hand-building class. Today they had a critique. Though this is their third class critique, somehow they have not quite mastered the art of being civil and supportive to each other. This was the first and only class in which I had a student say "You Suck" in response to someone presenting on their work. That was the very first comment of the first critique and looking back, it seems to have set the tone. I stopped the critique, of course, and explained how "You suck," even said jokingly was not appropriate in a critique atmosphere. Somehow we still had some of this negative energy in todays critique.

We were about halfway through  the critique when one student was energetically presenting his work. He presented a little too energetically and broke his wet clay object in half. The break happened at a seam that hadn't been scored very well and I took the opportunity to point out that fact. I then thought we could proceed with the discussion. Several of his classmates, who had been respectful and involved in the critique with the rest of the students, tittered and dismissed him and his work as a joke. I tried to explain to the rest of the class that this was their opportunity to give the student suggestions on how to improve the piece he now needed to repair. However, the student presenting had basically shut down by this point and it was difficult to continue with his, now broken, piece.

We moved onto the next student who had not tried as hard on this critique as the previous one. His pieces were intact and he had done the basics of the assignment. Several of his classmates noticeably dismissed him as well. One told him, in a condescending tone, that he hadn't make one of his decorations very clear. You couldn't tell what it was. I stopped the critique again here. I explained to the class that they needed to be supportive and offer suggestions, not criticism. The point is to help each other improve and get each other to think about the choices being made, not to prove whose work is better.

I told the students that this is what I'd like to hear:
First, the student should ask the question, "Why did you decided to make the decoration look like that on the top?"
The the artist could respond that he made it that way on purpose or made a mistake but liked it.
The first student could now tell him that she thought it was hard to tell what it was supposed to be.

I was trying to get the students to understand that just because one student doesn't like the artist's choice doesn't mean that the choice was incorrect. And just because he didn't want to change his work, doesn't mean that she shouldn't offer her thoughts. I finished explaining this, I didn't appear to get any glimmers of understanding and then the artist presenting his work said, "I'm right anyway."

So, lesson lost. Momentum 1, Rachel 0. But I tried. Maybe someone was listening.

Friday, February 17, 2012

More photos from my show

I finally got into the gallery with a camera and a tripod today. Unfortunately my computer isn't quite ready to accept RAW images. I have downloaded the software but need to restart and try to download the images again sans iPhoto. I suspect the lure of the Rib Shack will prevent me from finishing very soon. In the meantime, enjoy some pictures.

a slightly closer view of the wall installation

closer still

ah! too close

low fire ceramic and mulberry paper (inside center circle)

long piece with dry water lily sprigs

a group of friends

more water lily sprigs (and weird color in the photo)

side view

other side

this piece almost got caught on a lady's hat during the opening.

I brought some clay students into the gallery this week to visit the show. Before I could explain gallery etiquette, one student was standing at my wall, past the tape line on the floor that says "do no cross." He was petting the blue guy in the left of the picture above. Later he walked into a pedestal. (deep breath)

Saturday, February 11, 2012

From the Ground Up

Tonight was the opening reception for From the Ground Up at Larson Gallery. The shows looks great, there is a lot of variety in the work. It's mostly fired clay, but firing range, technique surface and color all vary. There are even a few works in synthetic (polymer) clay and there are several pieces on the wall.

I made most of the pieces in this grouping during the past summer with the idea of grouping them together for this show. I'm happy with how they came together, though the installation went a little differently than I expected. Each of the medium to large pieces in this installation could probably be shown individually, but I think they are much stronger as a group. I had a lot of comments about the piece during the reception this evening. Most people who spoke to me seemed to like the piece and I know it made an impact. One of the most interesting comparisons was to the underwater scenes in "The Life Aquatic." (I tried to find examples but I'll have to rewatch the movie, I guess.) A student with a fear of camel spiders saw scorpions in the work, others saw sea creatures or sexual references.

I had other work there too but it was overshadowed.

At least one person liked this piece but the pedestal pieces were hardly discussed--at least around me. 

One person did tell me that the gallery director had done a good job installing my work. I laughed; I hadn't considered having someone else install my work. 

The show, like I said, was good and it was also nice to chat with a bunch of other ceramic artists from the region. The NCECA conference is coming up at the end of March in Seattle so we all had lots to talk about besides the show.

*sorry the photos aren't great, I still haven't figured out my camera so I took these quickly between running errands and grading. 

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Installation: From the Ground Up

Today I installed most of my wall piece at Larson Gallery.

I brought extra so I was able to edit.

I was unable to spread out the finished work in a large enough space (not in the grass) at home, so this was the first time these pieces were laid out together completely done.

I was very appreciative of Mike's help. He said he'd come watch but I put him to work.

Want to see the finished installation? You'll have to come to the opening Saturday from 3-5:30 pm in Larson Gallery.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Teach Like A Champion

Over the winter break I read the book, Teach Like a Champion, by Doug Lemov. The book is mostly aimed at teachers of elementary or upper elementary aged kids and is more broadly designed for K-12 teachers, but it had some elements that seemed applicable or adaptable to college level teaching. I originally learned about the book because it was referred to in an free kindle "book" about how our perceptions or conventional wisdom don't line up with what is really happening. This book, The Myth of the Garage, was similar to several other titles I've read, such as The Tipping Point (or pretty much anything by Malcolm Gladwell), in that it revealed that research-based information isn't always what we expect it to be. The book is comprised of different articles. The article from which the book's title is derived referred to the belief that people make amazing inventions or discoveries or turn into awesome bands in their garage (or when they are unemployed with no equipment, just hanging out). But the truth is the heros of those amazing stories of success have generally benefited from experience and jobs in their field before they make their discovery or invention or big break. They may have operated out of the garage or been unemployed just at the moment they have the breakthrough, but that breakthrough is based on years of work and practice.

I have digressed. The specific article that directed me to Teach Like a Champion discussed how successful teachers aren't divinely inspired but practice a relatively standard set of techniques that any ol' person can learn. Lemov's book, in turn, set its intention to identify and explain 49 of these techniques. The idea is that teachers don't fall on a continuum from good to bad where the bad are irrevocably bad, but that the best teachers have the most complete bag of tricks. Or something like that.

The point of all this explanation is that I read the book and I found several tricks, techniques or ideas (whatever you want to call them) to be useful. So I've been trying to incorporate them into my teaching this quarter. I would love to say that the results are unequivocally clear and my students are learning better than ever before, but my results are impacted by far too many factors to be sure. For what it is worth, the class in which I am consciously adding these techniques seems to be engaged and keeping pace with the material.

Do It Now

The technique that I have been most actively employing might even be the one I read about in the first place. Lemov explained that many of the successful teachers used "Do it now" assignments at the start of class. These instructors had short assignments on the board when the students walked in or during transition times. My adaptation is that I post several review questions on the document camera immediately when I walk into class. Usually I arrive 5 or 10 minutes early. It takes me a few minutes to get my papers organized, return assignments, open up my PowerPoint on the computer or answer questions from students.

During this time, instead of waiting or chatting or studying on their own, those students who come in early can start reviewing key information from the previous class. I have put up questions every morning when we have been in the classroom except for the first and second day of class. On the second day of class I put up a short article about art from Smithsonian magazine for them to read before class.  Sometimes I specifically ask the students to write their answers down in their notes. Twice the "do now" questions have turned into a pop quiz once class officially started. Usually I ask the students to give their answers out-loud once class has started. Several times I have had volunteers (or students I pick) draw their answers on the board.

This past Friday, I had the students change the composition of a simple drawing I had on the document camera. The directions were on the screen for 10 minutes before class. As I said, this was a review and the students had seen exactly these directions several days earlier. I sent 9 students up to the board to illustrate various principles of design using the same elements I used in my drawing. We then discussed the compositions as a class. This particular activity took longer than usual, about 10 or 15 minutes once class had officially started, because it was a review for the entire section. Usually the review of the "do now" questions takes only a couple minutes.

copies of my example drawing (left) and two student compositions illustrating linear rhythm (center) and scale (right)
I've felt pretty confident about this new technique because it seems to make such good use of otherwise not particularly useful time. First, students who arrive early are asked to interact with the class material before they are able to interact with me (because I am answering individual questions or logging into the computer). They are also seeing the information again, rather than just hearing it. If they arrive early, they are able to spend the extra minutes looking in their notes or discussing the answers with classmates, thus reinforcing that they can find the information and giving them a few moments to prepare a confident answer (before the class-time pressure is on).

As class begins, students don't have to wait for equipment or for me to write or ask a question. Those students who come in late are not as much of a distraction because I do not have to stop for them and I don't have to repeat myself or explain what we are doing. They can look up at the board and see exactly what we are reviewing. I also don't feel that I am hurting those students who come late. Yes, of course, it is their fault they are late, but by walking in two minutes late, they miss review of information they should have already heard. I don't make class announcements until after the review questions, so anyone walking in so late as to miss an announcement or the directions for the day's main activity has probably done more than stop at the bathroom between classes or hit traffic on the way in.

Classroom Arrangement

Another of the book's suggestions I may not have had much control over last quarter anyway. In the fall, I taught in a classroom that had an odd arrangement for the desks. They were grouped in pods of 4-6 desks (most days). The desks were arranged facing one another so that only some of the students were looking towards the front of the room or the screen. This arrangement was good when the students did group work but, ultimately, I think it was disruptive. When I lectured, the students weren't automatically facing me or the images I was showing. Students seated on my side of their groups had to turn their bodies away from the group to see me. This didn't always happen. In one memorable instance, I had to stop class twice to ask students to stop talking amongst themselves. I think the desk pods contributed to a less structured, orderly classroom.

Over break, while reading this book, I was flabbergasted to read the section on classroom arrangement. Of course it makes a difference, why hadn't I considered it before? I may not have had much control over the seating arrangement last quarter but I never bothered to find out. This quarter, when I walked into the new classroom to discover the desks arranged in a gigantic circle at the edge of the room with a quarter of the desks facing backwards, several under the raised screen and about 5 stacked in the corner, I knew I would need to make serious changes. Though my inquiries set off a strange domino of e-mails and room changes, the upshot was that my classroom now has rows of four and five desks on either side of the classroom with an aisle in the middle. Occasionally we move desks to sit in groups, but most days this set up works well, allowing me to reach all the students quickly and to have their attention (most of the time). I think I even learned their names faster with this arrangement. About half of our days are spent in lecture mode. On the other days we still spend half our time looking forward. The only thing this set-up doesn't do well is put students in even numbered groups for discussion. When I do ask them to divide into groups we usually have a few people move and students need to turn around or lean across a a row of desks. I guess I'm still working on this.

Everybody Answers

Though I may use a few more of the techniques in the book, their use hasn't been particularly conscious. Before reading the book I already used some of the techniques. The book gave them a name, but didn't change how I do them. The one other technique I have consciously tried to use is really a combination of techniques for holding each student accountable for answering (rather than giving an "I don't know" and letting someone else be involved instead). I haven't done a perfect job of implementing this tactic. Some of the ways in which the author advocated using this technique seem a little condescending for adult students. In the book a student is called on to give an answer to an arithmetic question (or something similar), if the student doesn't answer, the teacher moves on to another student but then comes back to the first student after the correct answer has been given by someone else. The first student is then asked to give the answer. He might just be repeating the first student's answer. This technique is meant to hold all students accountable for paying attention and eventually giving the correct answer. It is meant to give the students the feeling that they can do it. I find it to be a tricky technique to comfortably use in my class.

The book also talks about having the teacher cold-call students, meaning to call students who haven't volunteered. This is an issue in my classes because I pepper the students with a lot of questions throughout my lectures and I have a tendency to allow people to shout out their answer. The problem is that this technique often results in an active class size of only 5 or 10 students. By this I mean that only 5 or 10 students volunteer answers and it becomes a smaller conversation. This is something I have been working on this quarter. I ask the students who normally answer to stay quiet and let someone else have a chance.  This seems obvious, but I think it is important to do this in such a way that students don't think you are annoyed with them. The risk with this technique is also that students won't volunteer so I'll have to call on them.

One particular day this quarter we were doing a lot of review and I made a real effort to involve more students in the discussion. At one point I called on a student who didn't have the answer. I adjusted the question and waited but he still didn't know, so I moved on to someone else. After a classmate eventually gave the correct answer, I asked the first student to repeat the answer. He did, and thus, according to Doug Lemov was involved in the class discussion and was able to learn that he could give the correct answer, but the process didn't feel quite natural. I felt like I was picking on him for not knowing in the first place. For this reason I haven't exactly used the technique again. I have come back to the first student again with a modified question, but not the exact same one. Perhaps I should just do exactly what I did the first day so that particular student won't feel singled out.

As always, the classes are works in progress.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Upcoming Clay Events in Yakima & Washington

I have some exciting local and state clay news to share. There are several clay related events coming up in the next months in Washington State and right here in Yakima.

Washington Events

This year the NCECA (National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts) will be hosting its annual national conference in Bellevue (Seattle), WA. Several art venues in Central Washington are also gearing up related exhibitions for the event.

Let me tell you how excited I was to see this workshop advertised in Seattle just before the conference: Two Day Raku Workshop with Robert Piepenburg, Gail Piepenburg and David Roberts (click the link but you need to scroll down to the event). Unfortunately the workshop is March 26 and 27, the first days of the Spring quarter. So sad. So I'm hoping people I know will go in my stead and tell me all about it.

Yakima Events

In February Larson Gallery on the Yakima Valley Community College campus hosts "From the Ground Up," an exhibition of ceramic art by regional artists working in organic and synthetic clay media. The exhibition will feature functinoal and sculptural ceramic made using a variety of techniques and firing processes.

"From the Ground Up" opens Saturday, February 11, 2012 from 3pm -5:30pm in Larson Gallery on YVCC's campus (corner of Nob Hill Boulevard and 16th Ave in Yakima.

This exhibition has a number of adjunct events including a slide lecture and panel discussion by 6 of the exhibiting artists. The slide lecture and panel discussion will be held Saturday, March 10 at 1pm in Larson Gallery. I will be showing slides and discussing my work. I will be joined by Renee Adams, Carolyn Nelson, Gregory Pierce, and Stephen Robison.

Later that afternoon, YVCC clay is partnering with Larson Gallery for a live demonstration by two of the exhibiting artists. Eunsil Kim will be demonstrating her throwing techniques and Mike Hiler (one of my perpetual independent study students) will be demonstrating his unique hand-building methods. Both demonstrations will take place in Palmer Hall (the round building) room 107.

Plans are underway for a raku firing hosted by clay classes at YVCC. The raku firing is normal part of YVCC's clay program, but in honor of the special clay-centered events this season, we will be inviting members of the public to observe this exciting firing process.
Update: The Raku Firing took place March 3:

Larson Gallery is also planning a bus tour to see the Push Play, the NCECA Invitational Exhibition at the Bellevue Arts Museum and other clay exhibitions associated with the NCECA conference. The bus tour will leave Yakima for Seattle/Bellevue on Saturday morning, March 31 and will return that night. Contact Larson Gallery at (509) 574-4875 or e-mail for more information and to reserve tickets.

Central Washington Events

Gallery One in Ellensburg will host several clay exhibitions in their gallery in March and April. An artists' reception will kick off the exhibitions March 2 from 5-7pm. The exhibition in the main gallery will be the Airstream Ceramic Exhibit. Kittitas County Ceramic Artists will be featured on the Mezzanine and the CWU Ceramic Students Show will be in the Eveleth Green Gallery.

Heritage University will host a visiting artist lecture by clay artist, Wanxin Zhang on March 20, 2012. The Slide lecture will be held from 1:30pm to 2:30pm in Smith Family Hall in the Arts & Sciences Center on Heritage University's campus in Toppenish.