It’s time to dig deeper.

Print by Madmanincognito

I snapped yesterday in class. And it wasn’t pretty.

It happened after I gave a presentation to my class about the people, artists and brands who inspired me. I created a slideshow, showed video clips and shared about why they were special, and the patterns that link through them and how the students would benefit by thinking and going deeper into researching their own likes and dislikes; while understanding the reason behind the way these artists work.

I gave this presentation in turn – after hearing the class share a 5 to 10 minute presentation about who and what they’re inspired by last week. I prompted the presentation from the students after a round of exasperated hand-wringing and questioning yielded no answer to the question “who inspires you”. None in particular it seems. All of it a hazy blur. Let me be clear – some of them knew vaguely what they like. They just don’t know names, faces, etc; or how to articulate what it is that they like about the works they see. And that’s the biggest problem – either they’re barely skimming the surface or they’re not communicating their thoughts well. Either or; it was a problem nonetheless.

So when I went deeper and showed them what it means to go digging around for information (I was talking about Maira Kalman who researched about Abraham Lincoln who collected these findings into a book), I saw yawns. Glazed eyes. I saw people heading out to the restroom. And that’s generally okay with me. Maybe they had really small bladders or maybe they didn’t get enough sleep the night before. Fine. Then I heard shouts of “Wikipedia” – suggesting that it’s the place that people should go to for information – instead of Miss Kalman’s round-about way of going into Lincoln’s garden and collecting leaves, and her writing that seemed to ramble off information. I held my tongue. But when I started to ask about the names of the people who I’ve talked about on screen, a big giant blank went over the class. Names were uttered. Wrong ones. I wanted the names of 5 people. Not 10, not 20. FIVE. My face changed. The insides of my chest burned.

I was angry.

Angry because they were arrogant. Because they were over confident of their (at this point – very limited) abilities. Because of their nonchalance. But mostly it was because I cared. A little too much, I’m afraid.

They got me that list in the end after lunch. And I brushed my anger aside.

When I got back, I realize that I’ve left a lot of things unsaid although deep down I was frustrated at the whole affair. I tend to hold my tongue when I get angry – because I don’t believe in hurting people’s feelings – and so that’s what I did. Because I knew that when words are spoken it’s hard to unspeak them (or for that matter, for the other person to un-hear them). So I held back. Mostly.

But then I got to thinking. I should have told them that if I had Wikipedia, I could look it up myself – what do I need them for? What would the world need of artists or designers then? What would they be? Just another alphabet puncher on Google or Wikipedia? What would they hope to learn if they were confident in their assumption that they knew it all already? Would there be a place in their hearts and mind for knowledge if it was instead already filled up with self-righteous smugness?

Would they recognize golden nuggets of information if it hit them squarely in the face? Would they embrace digging? Would they voluntarily go a-hunting, not knowing what they would find, but revel in the journey instead? The unearthing of information, of facts, of emotions and science, and to put them together again with beauty? With clarity? Or perhaps shaped and moulded by their own hope and desires?

One can only hope.

I can only hope.

[Print by Jonathan Moore of Madmanincognito]

14 Replies to “It’s time to dig deeper.”

  1. Jack Yin says:

    Our illustration class is furious as well seeing this D:<
    How dare they doze off during your lectures!

    I guess the immediate availability of information really takes its toll on us students… Definitely something I have been struggling to improve also.

    Anyway, we really miss your classes, quite sad when we heard you won't be teaching us this semester anymore : (

    1. amy says:

      It’s okay Jack! They’re generally lovely students, although they haven’t sat down and properly asked themselves what it is they want to gain out of all this. I don’t think any of them dozed off – they just switched off! So it’s still a process of discovery for both me and the students. Maybe the format could be better. I don’t know – I’m still learning! I don’t begrudge them though. I’ll do better.

      I heard that I’ll be doing workshops with you guys next semester? I’m very much looking forward to seeing how you all are getting on! 😉

  2. elizabeth says:

    Wow. I didn’t have the LUXURY of going to art school. I work a day job in an office and try my best to keep making art and learning on my own limited time. Lack of respect for history, research, other artists in the world, let alone their instructor – grrrr! If they know everything and have achieved the pinnacle of their personal art already, maybe they’d like to switch out as I would gladly take ones place in your class.

  3. I taught and intro to darkroom photography class to primarily seniors in college who were using the elective course as an easy extra 3 credits to graduate! When I started I wasn’t prepared for their lack of dedication and drive to learn like I have. It was a real eye opener and struggle for me but it taught me a lot about myself. I say in the moment do hold back because things can escalate quickly but at the same time go back over your frustrations and figure out how to apply it as a lesson later on. Don’t let go for good, they need to know those tough lessons. I think so often these students get here because too many other teachers let their ignorance and lack of drive slide because thats how the generations are going. Stand strong and show them how awesome they can be like you if they go the extra distance and pull their head out of wikipedia! Mind you I’m not expert on teaching but I’m passionate about showing people they can go further, deeper, stronger than they can even imagine! End speech 😛

    1. amy says:

      That’s great advice right there! Holding my tongue isn’t hard – I’ve just got to manage my expectations a little I suppose. There’s lots to be learnt about myself along the way too, so I’m soaking it up with each lesson I give. I don’t expect them to be like me (or anyone else!) I just want them to be the best that they can be, so thanks for reminding me to not give up!

  4. Sounds like a typical class of disengaged youth ………
    when mine are in that kind of a fug I will stop what Im doing and get them to research a topic and hand in a handwritten page on the topic to be handed in at the end of the session.

    Works a treat every time.
    I tend to care too much too especially if I want to run my lectures like a well oiled machine unfortunately like a machine some of the parts dont always work the way you expect them too.

    I can empathise with the students I was one of the worse disengaged students I know of my lecturers must have groaned when they saw my name in their group. They would laugh if they knew I was teaching now. I see my students as payback for my bad behaviour :))

    1. amy says:

      Thanks so much for the tip Helen! That’s the most interesting part about teaching as well – I know that it’s a process that sometimes make me want to curl my hands into fists! But at the end of the day, I can only do the best I can and hope for the best and just leave it at that. In my experience, the teachers who have had an effect on me might not have known that they did – 10 years later! That’s one of the joys of teaching I suppose. I need to learn to let go and just go with the flow!

  5. Davor p says:

    I can only imagine their glazing and bored eyes.

  6. Jamie Hogan says:

    This is more the norm than you think, so don’t take it personally. I’ve learned in 10 years as an adjunct teaching illustration that students now are indeed literally glazed over with all that streams before them. They only get excited about their own personal tumblr stream and don’t have much room left for sheer curiosity. It’s a maturity thing, too. The older you get, the more you know how much you have to learn. But, kids..know it all. It’s a natural force. Ignore the arrogance, and ask for presentations like you did. Teaching is an exchange, and not always an equal one. I always learn more from any class than my students do, because I’m open to it all.

    1. amy says:

      That’s how I feel too – that it’s a mutual exchange. I learn so much from them and the whole process as well, and sometimes it’s not just about the topic at hand. And in this process I discover just that little bit more about myself in the end. Your quote “Teaching is an exchange, and not always an equal one.” perfectly sums this up for me. Thanks Jamie!

  7. This has been an incredibly inspiring and motivating thing for me to have read this morning. I have been battling with my artistic self worth, looking inside myself, trying to find inspiration, and forgetting that the world is full of inspiring things, ranging from the work of accomplished artists, to the work of nature in my own back yard, and interpretation is the goal. Thank you for being a passionate reminder for me. (ps- this is not the first time a post of yours has turned my stale thinking 180 degrees.)

    1. amy says:

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts Cassie! We’ve been there at one point or another, so don’t beat yourself up about it! Allow yourself some time to just look at the works of others without putting pressure on yourself to “perform” so to speak. It’s amazing what can happen when you allow your heart and mind to rest and to recuperate.

  8. rebecca says:

    this is exactly my experience as well. I have been teaching since 2002 and the students attitude has changed dramatically in that time. there is no passion, no fire, no interest, no engagement. it is a really frustrating thing to be faced with. I have to just hope that there is one student amongst many who engages with the work – and that has to be enough for me to keep going. It is hard to explain this to people who don’t teach, this generation lacks drive, focus and motivation on many levels. I am hoping it will go full circle and they will come back to appreciate all the amazing and wonderful things there are in this world to inspire them.

  9. Student says:

    I’m sorry that we acted that way in the class. We understand that you’ve tried so hard trying to teach us so much about art and we are sorry for making you angry (and being somewhat ignorant at the same time). We have no one to blame but ourselves. We’ll try to be more engaged with the lectures from now on and take notes of what you have taught.

    About the wikipedia bit, we were joking about that (sorry for being ignorant). We never did mean any of it because we know better than to just scroll through wikipedia looking for information.

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