When I was an innocent freshman at MICA, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who cared enough to blow my little mind. We had a class called Fundamentals of 2-D Design, or something like that, which was supposed to be about concepts and methods of using space and color and form to express ourselves. In actuality it was a calculated mindfuck. We’d all been programmed by our public and private high schools how to use pencils and markers and oil paint (well, not my public high school, we made do with tempera paints) and the fundamentals of what art was supposed to look like. So, we applied that to the first assignment we were given.
Our teacher, a vibrant, boisterous woman named Mary, had us put our stuff up on the wall and present it, and we did, in halting sentences amid shuffling feet. Then, she stood up and started ripping parts of our designs up. Literally ripping sections off and moving them around. “How about doing this?”
I think the first student she did this to almost started crying. The second got mad. The third might actually have cried. And on and on. We had worked hard on this shit, and here she was, tearing bits and pieces off, moving things around, questioning us. I was shocked–and intrigued. Because she was right. Her suggestions were spot-on, of course. She was fearless. And she scared the shit out of all of us.
Next week, we got into the gouache. Gouache is a painting medium somewhere between tempera, watercolor and Satan’s ballsweat, deviously simple and devilish to control. It mixes quickly and dries out in seconds, so skill and patience is required to work with it. We had to color-match squares of specially-purchased colored paper, a package of which was expensive and irreplaceable. We had to cut out squares of the colored paper, glue them to bristol board, and then draw a square next to it the same size and shape. Then we had to mix gouache to match the size and color exactly. Points were given for accuracy of color, execution, and cleanliness. Doing this exercise perfectly was next to impossible because the fucking gouache was, well, gouache. It was like smearing poop around on the wall: it’s only ever going to look like poop. We all tried, lord above, did we try.
More assignments like this followed, and students began dropping out. Not because they weren’t doing the work, but because they didn’t get it. They argued with her, they reasoned with her, they spent hours after class trying to make her happy. And she tried to get them to open their minds. They didn’t understand.
The first lesson taught us: Nothing is precious. Everything is game, and be prepared to give it up for something better. The second lesson was that sloppy work wasn’t acceptable. We needed to strive for perfection. Further projects taught us that it wasn’t about what the finished products looked like, really; it was about how we approached the solutions and what we learned getting there. The dropouts had been conditioned to do the assignments but not to question the ideas or develop a concept or think about what any of it meant. They couldn’t process this, and gave up.
For those of us that got it, it was like a door had been kicked open, and we started thinking with our own brains. It led me to consider unconventional ways to solve problems that I still use to this day. None of the assignments we completed were portfolio pieces, but they made the few of us that understood better artists, designers, and communicators.
In the class I’m teaching, I’ve been reaching for that same kind of impact. I’m winging it this first semester because I’m not familiar with the syllabus or the organization of the department or the grading standards, but I’m getting the hang of running the class and offering input and guidance without solving problems for the students–I’ve got to know exactly what to say to get them to think of things differently without giving them the answers. I’ve got students who do not understand conceptual thinking: They just want me to tell them what to do instead of thinking for themselves. I’ve also got students who are killing it, coming up with brilliant, elegant concepts and layouts that make me smile to myself. I can’t take credit for that, as the hard work was done by someone else before me, but I can at least help them get ready for the real world.
Jen and I ventured out to the AT&T store today to have our individual plans combined into one family plan. Some back of the envelope math revealed that we’ve been paying too much individually when we could combine our bill and get a decent discount. The representative at the store suffered from an annoying speech impediment, so understanding what she was telling us was difficult at least. What we saw on the initial bill changes drastically when the phone company adds all of their taxes and fees and charges and double-secret fines, so our takeaway is that we might save some money, but we might not save a whole lot. It remains to be seen.
While we were there I pulled the trigger on a new 64GB iPhone 6. AT&T has three different ways to buy a phone: the standard subsidy model, the buy-it-outright model, and something they call AT&T Next, which is supposed to be geared towards a two-year upgrade plan, but seemed like bullshit to me. The rep couldn’t explain it well enough for me to understand, so I opted for the subsidy. Of course, they didn’t have a phone for me to take home, so I’ve got to wait until the middle of this week to have it delivered. In the meantime I’m going to have Amazon send me a case, because I’ve heard they’re very easy to drop on their own. Then my trusty, slow 4s will be unlocked and sold on Craigslist, where it looks like I can get anywhere from $125-175 for it. It pays to take care of your equipment.
I sat down with my UMBC advisor on Saturday and went over the synopsis of the class, which seems pretty cut and dry. I’m still a wee bit nervous but I think it’s going to be good. My one worry is the amount of time I’ll need to spend on the road, which is going to take me away from the office at a very busy time. We’ve been going nonstop since last summer, and it’s going to take a lot of work to keep on top of everything.
Meanwhile, I’ve got to brush up on some reading and find some bits of inspiration to offer the class. The heavy hitters will be
There are many more I want to add here; I need to spend some time going through our library and pick out some other heroes.
Peer Pressure got run up for the first time in two weeks on Saturday, and I took her downtown and back (a short trip). My intention has been to get out into the garage and get some work done on her, but it’s just been too goddamn cold.
I brewed a batch of Conundrum Session IPA last night, which went smooth and easy, up until the point I ran out of ice. I made up the rest of the water amount with our Brita pitcher and set it out on the back porch to cool down for an hour, which did the job pretty well. This batch has 3 oz. of hops, which means the bottom 2″ of the fermenter is nothing but sludge. Hopefully the yeast will kick in tonight and I’ll get a replacement for my current keg going.The Irish Stout hasn’t moved since I brewed it in November, so I’ll transfer that to the secondary this afternoon and clean up the pail. And I think I’ll buy a Hefeweizen kit this week and get that one started so that the kegs are full and fresh when the weather starts warming up.
About two weeks ago, I got a LinkedIn digest email with career-related job openings. On the top of the list was an opening for adjunct professors in UMBC’s design department, which caught my attention. So quickly, I put together an updated resume, made some updates to my portfolio, and sent it in.
Last Friday I found myself wandering a chilly campus looking for the Fine Arts building (all gray brick buildings from the 70’s look the same), and the ensuing interview went very well. Today I got an offer, and cleared it with my boss: this spring, I’ll be teaching a lecture class called Word and Image, where “Students apply their knowledge of typographic and visual forms to projects that encourage the introduction of word and image with visual hierarchies.” It’s going to make for an interesting schedule, as I’ll be getting up super-early to get into work and out by 2, then be on campus by 4. The nice thing is that UMBC lies almost directly between my train station and home, so it’s not a painful commute either way.
I have no idea what to expect, and this may very well kick my ass. But I have a lot of fun teaching, and I’m hoping it goes well.