I believe the teachers’ role is as a guide, an instigator, a devils advocate as well as instructor. A teacher should provoke the student to constant re-examination of their work, guide the student to objectivity and clarity in conceptualization and decision making in their work and to learning how one may apply this approach during the creative process and in terms of ones developmental direction.
Teaching is about opening and offering paths to the student.A student should be exposed to different ways of thinking about what they do and what others do. Conceptual development should be stressed in the advanced as well as the less technically advanced student. Conceptual or at least intentional conscious decision making leads to a more effective education as an artist or craftsperson.
It is important that the intuitive student, one who works best on an intuitive level, be given the tools of objective self criticism but be allowed to pursue intuitive directions in the light of constructive criticism of finished work. The development of conscious aesthetic choice will develop well in this way.
Where clarity of intent and individual vision is mature and developed in the student the teacher’s role is in service to this vision and intent and to furthering it by criticism, observation and sharing experiences. Where the student is not mature enough to have come to this position the teacher’s role is to perceive the strong points and interests the student has and to nurture them and prod them into growth, offering numerous choices in service to the students intent but attempting not to influence decision making by one’s own preferences
Working in metal is influenced by the cultural context of the medium, that is jewelry making and vessel making. The student should be exposed to thinking about roles, context, tradition and function. A critical approach to this is necessary for conscious decision making in the medium.
Working in metal requires a certain amount of mastery to allow free aesthetic choice to exist. The teacher must provide this technical information when required in as clear and precise a manner as possible using demonstrations and patient individual assistance to teach a specific procedure so mastery is achieved with a minimum of wasted time and effort. It is my belief that it may be of value to first teach people easily learned and controlled techniques in a metals education so that they may easily exercise their aesthetic decision making without being hampered by a lack of technique. Then with time the more difficult techniques and skills are learned as needed and as the ‘easy’ (less skill dependant) techniques are mastered then the more ‘difficult’ (skill dependant) techniques are learned in order to fill a need for greater control possibilities. Basic core techniques are in my experience best taught in the knowledge of Process rather than by procedure (traditional methods) in order to free the student from the intellectual and aesthetic constraints of tradition.
Process and Procedure
There is a fundamental difference between Process and procedure. Process is what really goes on; what actually happens when one affects the metal. Process can be described in scientific terms or paraphrased to create an easily understood mental model of what is occurring which then allows the user to control and guide the process and procedures used.
A procedure is a way of effecting a process; it is a recipe, a technique. There may be dozens of procedures to obtain a similar end effect but there will be only one process or series of processes occurring. If one thinks and knows only recipes and procedures then one can be stopped by a technical problem. If on the other hand one goes to the Process one can then solve any technical problem relatively easily. By going to the process one discovers unlimited procedural options. Some will not be appropriate for one reason or another and it is one’s job to make the appropriate decision on technical choice. One then thinks up as many possible technical answers as one can, no matter how bad or inappropriate they are. By attempting to always determine the process new and different solutions to problems can be found and at some point or another some or all of the apparently ridiculous answers may prove to be the correct solution under a different set of conditions.
I believe that goldsmithing skills should all be taught by the use of process rather than by procedure. An example may be cutting/separating where instead of a jewelers saw by itself an entire range of possibilities of ‘separating sheet material’ is presented. Ideas are derived from the class itself. All solutions are examined even if impractical or strange. In this way an understanding of process is built up. Whenever possible all techniques should be discussed in this manner. I think that in this way people are not trapped by technique or problems with lack of skill. It seems that even people with limited skill levels when taught this way are able to begin to solve their technical problems well and far more rapidly than before. Efficient choice of technique requires a wide knowledge of possibilities and a some understanding of the underlying chemistry, physics and metallurgy that causes the material to behave in specific ways.
It is important that the student beginning a course in Metal understand the plasticity of the material and it’s Process oriented control; that is as plastic sheet, block and wire; as solidifiable fluid (casting) and as a rigid and deformable construction material. By teaching this process oriented approach to metal a greater freedom and faster grasp of controlling factors in forming and construction is realized.
In developing a comprehensive understanding of the nature of the medium in this way technique is more likely to be used in the service of aesthetic choice rather than as an end in itself, which has at times been a problem in North American Art Schools.
For the beginning student school is a time when intellectual development and technical exposure and practice combine to allow the development of thematic or expressive qualities in their work. For the advanced student it is a time to reevaluate one’s work; to learn self-criticism and objectivity and to further technique in the service of artistic vision. Education is about learning a questioning attitude, how to make decisions and the development of self confidence in ones decisions and choices in work and life.