My name is Steven M. Brentnall and I want to be an art educator because teachers have always been some of the most important people in my life, and I want to return the favor.
The art education theory of social/cultural constructivism most aligns with my teaching philosophy as it seems to respect the unique contributions of each student the most. Music played a huge role in my early life when I needed it and that sense of collaboration, camaraderie, connection, and contribution inherent in the group/band dynamic seems to carry over and align most with this pedagogical practice. While I believe in the transformative power of art, I also think it should be just as much about Play as it is about Progress: that the two need not be mutually exclusive, and creating art in ways that are interdependent upon one another are powerful and even necessary in a generation where teamwork could become null and void, because of the divisiveness of internet and social media. Instead of working against this reliance on digital spaces, I believe it's a chance not just for great personal development but also harmony when guided with trust, respect, and an open mind. Further integration into school curriculum has potential to make intense and forward thinking works that reflect more fully a changing demographic. Art to me represents individual expression and community engagement combined. That creativity and experimentation are equally important to activism and contribution and too positively benefit individuals mental health when personal experiences are expressed in a collective.
My Art Teaching Philosophy
The job of trying to convert students into artists is a huge and taxing endeavor. While I revere art very highly, it doesn’t bother me if someone else doesn’t believe in it. My concern is that students behave like artists, and treat the art classroom with as much dedication and intensity as they would other curricula. That students understand it’s a discipline that is necessary not just to program completion but when they leave the school system they understand its function in society. Treating students as artists, requiring them to assume the form (almost as if acting or cosplay so that it takes on a transformative effect in their lives) can be helpful for them in actualizing the role of the artist in the world. To begin the semester the student will do research on an artist- classic or contemporary- assume the identity of that artist for context and create art that is a hybrid of that chosen artist and their own style. In this way, the student starts off the semester with synthesis in mind- which is the highest level of Bloom’s Taxonomy- since it’s an artist of their choosing the interest values/ pays homage/follows art history but also motivations and connections to themselves and their own lived experiences- thus providing competence (this concept is adapted from the “Art Coach / Art team player” contract from Chapter 5 of Differentiated Instruction in Art by Heather L.R. Fountain (PP.96)). Students may also become better adept at defining context when they are able to step into the shoes of someone who was responsible for the creation of the artwork and even potentially the whys and hows they utilized in their time. The duality of the historical and the contemporary, and building critical skills through context and art production is of great significance to me in what I hope to elicit in students as their instructor.
For much of my life, I considered the art, music, photography, or writing I did as merely an alternative to the rest of the world- that it was just for me and didn’t really need validation from anyone outside of my small punk community or circle of interests. This presented a few problems as somehow I started to question if I really was an artist because I wasn’t using oil and canvas to express these things and I wasn’t being displayed in museums or magazines. I never want students to feel this impractically about their own lives and that’s why I align so much with differentiating through product. I believe students can effectively express a theme using any medium they choose- that it is the idea that matters the most. Spiraling curriculum would be most ideal for me as I would love to have small concentrated populations of students that I’m able to see in a longitudinal manner. But when thinking more practically I realize that scaffolding units in the program is much more functional and widely applicable for the art of teaching. And in many ways accessibility, comfort, and equity are more important than making a ton of fine artists who know how to follow all the rules, and scaffolding appears to serve this purpose more clearly.
I believe it’s necessary to poll or survey the students to see where they stand in terms of artistic exposure and practice- I believe clear directives are necessary for a program as open-ended as Art. I want to be sure I’m not assuming their experience or their lack of experience so that expectations are clear for both student and instructor. I will give students a choice of media to explore but I personally believe that concentrating on a specific skill is more beneficial to lifelong learning and that communication and conversation in the classroom with students working in other mediums should be encouraged. I believe this method will help students develop the ability to talk about their artwork effectively but also start students on a path of actually being able to teach their application to one another. I believe this is also necessary in crafting life-long learners as students have a better chance of gaining a more intimate knowledge of their chosen art practice when they are not only practicing it but in dialogue about it. I believe this approach allows for students to have a diversity of media choice and exposure but also to think seriously about developing a particular craft in depth.
I believe grading has multiple effects on students’ lives. Not only that it satisfies the powers that be - that we as instructors can teach effectively enough to prove proficiency amongst our student body- but that the rush of dopamine that occurs in the minds of the students when they do not just satisfy what we are asking of them but also that they had a hand in the grading process along the way. I want to always offer students the chance (and choice) to re-do any of the work they submit. I believe the role of the teacher in the 21st is to be in partnership with their students, to mentor, to coach, to facilitate learning in a way that’s less of a set of steps and directions but more advisory - like we’re on a quest with one another; interdependent. To assist students in achieving a vision- even if they aren’t artists but that they can assume the identity of an artist for the time we’re together. Visual culture and cultural literacy inform so much of the arsenal that contemporary students come into the classroom with, that to teach from a set of “pure principles and standards” is not only antiquated but arguably useless when confronting the dire topics of the day through art creation.
I believe a major thing that can help me in my growth as an art educator is to remain conscious of the fact that I’m not done learning, that I continually have something to prove- that being a teacher is not an end in and of itself. That I have the skills, knowledge, and proficiency to instruct and guide others into a quality education but that I am also a part of the times in which we’re living- meaning I am subject to change. From what I’ve learned from other teachers in the field is that it’s beneficial even necessary to attend committees and conventions about teaching. From what I believe, staying active in my community, making art outside of an institutional setting, and participating in local politics is beneficial and necessary for me to stay grounded, and I think the marriage of these modes of activity will be sustaining both professionally and personally.