An interview with Sara Pedigo and Leslie Robison, Assistant Professors of Art at Flagler College
Cover: Tiny Small 153 Sara Pedigo 2011 www.sarapedigo.com
An interview with Sara Pedigo and Leslie Robison, Assistant Professors of Art at Flagler College Interview by Denise Liberi, graduate student of Art Education Boston University College of Fine Arts PS 630, December 2012
Leslie Robison www.leslierobisonart. blogspot.com
TABLE OF CONTENTS :
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hen prompted to think of a teacher that served as a role model for following a career in art education, I immediately thought of two of my college art professors that had great influence on me during my undergraduate studies of Fine Art at Flagler College. Both women are not only incredible teachers in their own right, but also practicing visual artists whom I respect entirely. They are the embodiment of what I strive to be as an artist-teacher. I had the privilege to interview both Sara and Leslie together in person to discuss many of the topics presented to me in the course Child Growth and Development. The informal discussion was conducted in Saraâ€™s studio and lasted a little over two hours. The result is an audio recording of the discussion, alongside a written transcript of their answers to the twenty questions I posed to them. The interview includes their insights about leadership, culture, and growth and development, as well as a discussion of their role as an artist-teacher. I feel privileged to have had both women as teachers, and to continue learning from them even into my graduate studies.
Sara Pedigo is an extraordinary young painter. She continues to produce, show, and sell her work while simultaneously serving as a professor who defines much of the spirit of the Flagler Art Department. It is from her that I first inherited my love for painting. Her enthusiasm about teaching art encouraged me to further develop my interest in education. Her passion is contagious and I donâ€™t know where I would be without her guidance.
Leslie Robison is unlike anyone I have ever known. She is an incredibly smart, conceptual thinker who has pushed me to break through many set limitations. She is a jack-of-all-trades, working in a variety of media from drawing and painting to video and performance art. As my professor during the end of my BFA studies, her guidance was essential in the development of my own meaningful body of work. She brings humor and a sense of rebellion to a rather conservative college. As a teacher, she is always available to provide her students with thoughtful discussion and a fresh perspective.
* Note: Each of the twenty questions within this transcript are divided and marked by the hour, minute, and second of their location within the provided audio recording. This is done to provide accessibility to the questions and answers of interest within the extensive two-hour long audio recording
PART I: LEADERSHIP
was so obvious to me that art is such a powerful tool in enhancing both of these developments, especially within small children. So my question to you is…
Did a sense of self and an appreciation of how one is similar to certain individuals develop within you at an early age? Can you credit art with any part of that development?
00:00:00 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Leslie and Sara, I just wanted to thank you for being a part of this interview. As always, it is great to see you and catch up, and it is really exciting for me to continue learning you both even into my graduate studies.
I’d totally forgotten about this until last night when I was thinking about it, but in fifth grade I actually was the art teacher’s helper. I can’t even remember her name, but I would come in and help with the first grade students. So for me, having art classes definitely pushed my development into my own self.
These questions are setup within the framework of the topics that have been presented to me this semester in the course Child Growth and Development. I’d like to start with a discussion of leadership, continue onto the topic of culture, and next onto growth and development in art. Lastly, I’d like to ask you a few questions about your role as an artist-teacher. As part of this class, I read much of a book written by psychologist and education expert Howard Gardener called Leading Minds: An Anatomy of Leadership. The book provided me with a lot of insight into how leaders, particularly teachers, become effective and successful. Gardner asserts that there are two factors in early development that are crucial in the growth of a future leader, one being the development sense of self and another being an appreciation of how one is similar to certain individuals. As I was reading this, it
When I was thinking about a sense of self in relationship to art, I hadn’t actually thought back on this very significantly, but I realized that a lot of my sense of self worth came from taking art classes. In elementary school and even into high school, I really struggled with language. I was dyslexic and constantly doing really mediocre or poorly in a lot of other classes. In art classes I always seemed to thrive.
In thinking about how one is similar to certain individuals in development, I realized a lot of that stuff from having siblings. I have a younger sister and I was always trying to help make sure that she had her needs met growing up. That made me very aware and sensitive to other people’s needs. L //
For me, actually, I think a lot of people don’t remember very early in their childhood and I have a lot of pretty vibrant memories from when I was really young. My father is an academic, and until I was about three or four years old, we lived in a small town in Nebraska. We lived in a duplex and I remember drawing being one of the things that I did back then and the feeling that it was important.
I have one memory of interacting with the college student that lived below us when I was around two years old. I’d wandered away from home and it was just a way for this woman to entertain me until my mom came. You know, she called upstairs, “Your little kid has wandered down here.” I remember sitting on her porch with her and us looking at the ants. She was an art student and she showed me the different segments of the ant’s bodies, the legs and the antennas, and she drew it. I remember copying her. Then I went upstairs when my mom came and got me and went back to my drawing paper. I had pretty much been into mark-making, just making marks all over pages. Someone had showed me that I could represent something from the world, that I could do it just like her. I went from my memory and drew those segments, the legs and the antennas. In a way, art was probably my first experience of copying someone and feeling like “I can do this too” and that made me have an affinity with this person. Then throughout my childhood I remember getting positive feedback from my parents for whatever I was drawing, whether it was representational or not. Especially when it was representational, people would say “You’re so young! How can you do this? That’s really amazing!” So in a way, it did build this sense of self. This is something that is different about me. Obviously because of their reactions, not everybody can do this. It stemmed out of me feeling like I was similar to this woman, that I could be like her. I think that question is really relevant to my development as an artist.
00:05:44 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
The book also makes attempts to pinpoint the early markers of leadership by researching the lives of leaders through history and it proposes a generalization that to me was both surprising and personally revealing. That generalization is that future leaders have often lost a parent at an early age. It states:
It may be that children with surviving parents take their social cues from the behavior and attitudes of their mothers and fathers, while those who have early been deprived of a parent are stimulated (or feel pressured) to formulate their own precepts and practices in the social and moral domains. Their precocious dependence on themselves may place them in a favorable position for directing the behaviors of others (Gardner, 2011, p. 30.) I lost my father at an early age and through this course, I’ve definitely come to see how that loss has defined who I am both as a person and as a teacher. Sara, I hope this is not too personal, but I find this generalization to be overwhelmingly fascinating and from knowing you personally, I am aware that you too lost a parent at an early age. I am wondering…
How do you feel that the loss of your mother at an early age has influenced you as a person, and more specifically, as a teacher?
I don’t think it’s too personal, so I will answer that to the best of my abilities. My mom didn’t actually die until I was twenty-four, but she was diagnosed with brain cancer for the first time when I was in first grade, so around six years old. She has several bouts with brain cancer throughout my childhood and I think that it made me have to grow up and take responsibility a lot sooner than a lot of other people. I can remember that from when I was in 5th grade on, she couldn’t work anymore and had to stay home, couldn’t drive a car. Somehow I had to really make sure my sister’s needs were met. Even though I have an older brother, I ended up being the mediator and everyone always thinks that I’m the oldest for that reason. It did force me to start to make my own choices about things. This summer actually, I was on a road trip with both of my siblings and we had this long conversation somewhere in South Dakota
about how we all find it really weird that other people talk to their parents all the time and ask them questions about what they are supposed to do next. That just seems really foreign to all of us. I lost my father two years after my mom. We had a strange relationship and I had stopped asking him for advice by the time I turned twenty, so I spent a lot of time having to make decisions for myself. I had to trust that if I screwed something up, I’d be able to figure it out. I think maybe that’s part of what losing a parent does . It makes you more independent and it also makes you more flexible in a way. You realize that things will either work themselves out or that you have to take action to have something work out. I also think in a weird way, especially for being a teacher, it has made me more compassionate than I might be. I am very sensitive to people hitting a rough spot. I try to be very aware that outside of the classroom, people may have other larger things going on that sometimes can affect how productive they are. It’s funny, when I was thinking about this question that you posed, I thought “Well of course it makes me a better leader” and then I thought “Well, are my siblings really in leadership positions?” I don’t know if they are, but there is something about my personality. From that loss, I stepped up and took over a new role. When my dad passed away, I got a Your Family Member Has Died: For Dummies book and started reading about trying to figure out all the legal stuff. So I think it has transformed me in that way, and maybe I wouldn’t step up to the bat as much if I hadn’t experienced that. D //
I would attest to the same thing. My dad died when I was eighteen and I was an only child. I had just become an adult, not even graduated from high school. It was all the sudden, “you own a house” and “you have to be a landlord.” In many ways my mom helped me with that, but in many ways it was awkward because she was his ex-wife and didn’t want to get involved. So I very much had to step up really quickly as and eighteen year old and that set the stage for making decisions through the rest of my life.
It makes sense to me. You both are much more driven and selfpossessed than I was at either of your ages, even when I turned thirty. I had to have kids to have that sense of responsibility. When I see college students who seem rather complacent or not very proactive about their college career, I tend to give them some slack thinking “Okay, their mom or dad is paying for college” and still somehow their life is still their parent’s responsibility. When that life gets taken away you realize “Oh, I’m in the driver’s seat!”
I realized this past year, since it will be six years since my mom died, that I’ve missed her. There is something about her ghost, not in a haunt-y way, more the lack of her, that does make me strive to do things. If I actually had her approval, maybe I would be a lot more complacent. I applied for a promotion this year, put together this big three ring binder, and the day I turned it in I was thought “My mom would be proud of that.” It’s this weird nagging voice. Maybe she would care or not and maybe she would be proud or not, but it is funny having that echo of someone in the background. I think it has pushed me, seeking that approval that I can’t get. Maybe its not a bad thing. Everyone has their things that drive them.
I feel like I’ve had a lot of positive things as well as negative things come out of losing a parent. I think that’s a really interesting discussion.
0:14:03 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Gardner seems to regard a leader as a storyteller- a person who possesses a promising story, who embodies that story, and clearly articulates it to others in a way that opposes the dominant discourse. I can’t help but think of the historical leaders in the art world (Michelangelo, Matisse, Van Gogh, Picasso, …) who mastered visual symbol systems in order to effect a large shift in discourse.
Sometimes I feel as if the potential of images to inflict large-scale change has faded through time. I went to Spain a couple of years ago and just walking through the cathedrals I felt like the ability of a gothic cathedral to communicate a visual message to an illiterate audience seems much more powerful than perhaps the voice of a painting created in our contemporary world. As college professors, this question seems particularly relevant to you.
What is the potential for contemporary artists, working within a world overrun by images, to use visual language as a means to communicate with a broad audience in a way that creates a shift in dominant discourse?
I have a cynical response to that. It’s this: I think that visual images have lots of visual power now, but it’s spread out over this diverse and complex world we live in. I actually think that it’s based in advertising. That’s where images play the biggest role, which is sad for me as a painter - making things that maybe are not going to change the world. I do think that for better or for worse, the imagery that advertisers use in branding is incredibly pervasive and defines how young people developing see themselves. A lot of times it’s not for the best. Young females developing will have body image issues because of the pervasiveness and the total ability of contemporary visual advertising to sell a message that is not a reality. In the same vein, but with a fine art twist, I was also thinking about the Shepard Fairey works for the 2008 Obama campaign and how influential they were in helping to reinforce or create that message of hope, which is again related to branding. It knighted a lot of young voters to feel reinvigorated about politics in a positive way and take part in a process that a lot of people have apathy about. This is the other note that I made in response to this: maybe its not going to impact the world in such a big way, but I think that
contemporary art has, at least for me on a personal level, has had the ability to change my life - going and looking at works, contemporary and historical. Walking through a gothic cathedral, if I was an illiterate person on the ledges, you’d better believe I’d believe in God. I’d believe in God a lot more being inside that space than I would inside a white-box cubicle that a lot of churches are architecturally designed after now. I’ve had really revelatory moments that haven’t affected me in one specific way, but t have definitely enriched my life and made it so much more worthwhile, but that’s hard to measure. L //
I’m in complete agreement with you. I see art as a grassroots effort, maybe an elite grassroots effort, to enrich people’s lives and create a new discourse that is not about day-to-day survival. It’s about empathy or becoming overwhelmed with beauty. I’ve also had those moments in front of a bunch of different kinds of work. A person has to make the choice to go into a gallery or museum to see a lot of art, but it’s almost like minds can be won over one by one. That is something. I do think art as a whole does fight against those media images. It gives people a different way of conceiving of themselves and their place in the world than the media images do. It seems like you have to make the step to go into the gallery or the museum. Another way that contemporary art does fight that is through going out into the world and working in the same way as media does or being community based and affecting positive change. In the class that I started teaching, that I will be teaching again this spring, we go work with people at the old folk’s home or youth in prison. It’s like we are trying to convince them through art about their own self worth and then reveal that to a larger audience. I think that has the potential to move a small community, but there are definitely artists out there that are effecting whole cities and populations through that kind of work. In a way, I think art’s ability to effect change through a painting, like Picasso doing Guernica, is not possible anymore. Art’s strategy has shifted.
But it’s always shifted.
old could, but that experience had a lot to do with where I am now.
The idea of an image having the ability to communicate to a large audience is definitely Post-Enlightenment. Before that, art was only for a very select few. It has become more democratized and in that way it has become more diffused. So it’s harder to pinpoint one image doing many things, but many experiences are spreading through many people. As a museum educator, the earlier you can get people going into museums, it builds a trust with that organization. I didn’t go to an art museum until I was in college, which is really sad.
Just knowing it’s there, that’s the power. It’s not grasping it. I can’t believe you saw that as a six year old. That’s amazing. You just wanted more gelato, right?
Yes, more gelato less walking.
I feel like the connection between the institution of the museum and the institution of the school, especially with young kids in the community, has such a strong potential for so much. A lot of the times this is just ignored, which is why I am so drawn to it.
I’m a product of that. My parents sent me to Saturday workshops at the museum and if we ever went to a foreign city, going to a museum was always a part of it.
I’m so envious of that. I didn’t even get it. It’s like I knew they existed, but because I hadn’t experienced it, it wasn’t real to me. I remember the first time I saw real paintings, as opposed to the Van Gogh print hanging above my grandparent’s fireplace, I was like “What? Everyone can see the all the time for free? Why haven’t I been here my whole life?” It just blew my mind.
0:23:55 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
What have been the obstacles that you have faced as an art professor within the confines of a rather conservative private college? How do you, as a teacher, feel that you influence your students to create a shift in dominant discourse?
L // D //
When I was growing up, my Italian grandfather took me to Italy when I was six and then again when I was twelve. Even looking back on it now, I vividly remember being six years old and seeing the Sistine Chapel. I was not really able to comprehend it, but understood that I could not comprehend it in some sort of way. I still have my little journal from when I went and it says “I’m going to be an artist and I saw my first naked man today, Michelangelo’s David. It was really funny.” I think I absorbed it as much as a six year
Leslie, I feel like you in particular, are a bit rebellious in the sense of pushing the limits of what is considered “acceptable” within the confines of the college as a teaching institution. Your class, Drawing 3, which was almost primarily based on the development of concept, really pushed me to release the pressures of given limitations. So, this question is directed at you….
It’s funny, I feel like that’s a really hard question because I don’t know if I’ve figured it out. In some ways, the things that I’m asking my students to do in those classes is just to realize the box they’ve defined themselves within and then to push out of that. I want them to question, “Whose rules are these?” For example “You can’t use black in a painting.” Where did you get that from? What teacher told you that and why did that rule stick? Why does that become your rule? Maybe you need to make a black on black painting and work through it. Part of that is realizing what rules I’ve thought
Leslie, myself, and Sara.
existed and then realizing that I’d created that definition for myself, that it’s not really a rule - rejecting ideas that you think are there. How I approach teaching at this institution is the same way. When I first came in I was teaching art appreciation and there were certain relevant contemporary art pieces that I couldn’t show. Even if I was just talking about the Rape of the Daughters of Leucippus, I was thinking “Oh my god, what are they going to go tell somebody?” My conception of how conservative this place was was very small and I had to keep testing myself. It’s a matter of courage sometimes and then what you find out is that people are ultimately accepting . The only think to be afraid of is yourself and the smallness of your own mind. By pushing a little bit at a time with projects and with how public they are, I definitely think our department has contributed to an enlarged campus mind. I think I have had a role in that by doing things like having the class put work in Kenan Hall. Yours was one that I got a phone call about. But then we found a strategy right? It was like problem solving. D //
I’d never felt that feeling before. I’ve definitely always been a people pleaser, maybe described as a brownnoser. It felt exhilarating to make people go to the wrong floor. It wasn’t even bad at all.
Me too. Being a good student, I always followed the rules. I knew what was expected from me and performed. In my own artwork and in teaching, now I try to be a little bit of a prankster and challenge what we are accepting. Why do we have to define these things? I think it’s just as much for me as for my students. I do think, as far as art education, it’s really important to push those boundaries. I want students to know where they are and try to define the place by testing it.
What was the piece?
I guess I should explain that a little bit further. At the bottom level of Kenan Hall, I was given the picture frame that was right across from the elevator. I just printed out in official Flagler writing “Floor 2” but it was floor one. It was funny, the way that appeased them was for me to type in little tiny letters “This is actually Floor 1.”
Well, we came up with that. I never heard back from them. I think once we put that there they couldn’t fight against it. Then they were forced to interact with that art.
“This is not a pipe.” (laughing)
You could be standing in front of it and look out the window and see obviously that you were on the first floor. I hope I didn’t mess anybody up on their first day of class.
I’m sad that it’s gone now.
In a bigger role right now, I think the school’s gone through a lot of changes. It has tried to grow up a little bit and not be so boxed in. A lot of the changes are occurring, at least from the academic side of things, from people pushing those edges. There’s a freedom of expression statement being crafted currently. The creation of a faulty senate, which happened while you were here, empowered faculty to be able to take those risks and not be worried about getting reigned in or isolated. It gave everyone a community to test those boundaries. You know you have your peers supporting that activity because of the senate and the freedom of expression statement that is being crafted.
0:30:22 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
One more question about leadership: in becoming a leader, it is important that children identify themselves with a role model with
whom they can both imitate and challenge. Much like you, Leslie, were talking about imitating your neighbor downstairs.
I was really freaked out about taking art in high school. I thought everyone was going to be so good. I had always drawn, for instance, the cereal box characters. My dad convinced me to take an art class in tenth grade and Ms. Esposito was my art teacher. She was just so cool, everything about her. Now I realize not all kids in the high school art class really wanted to take art, but I did. I dove in and did really well. It was one of those classes that made me realize that if I work hard I can do really well. It helped me bring up my grades in other classes because I started applying myself to those classes more too.
Was there anyone who served as a great role model for you growing up?
I was never a daddy’s little girl, but I would have to say in a lot of ways my dad. The older I get, the more I realize how much of my conception of how I should interact with people and how I should conceive of myself comes from him. He was an academic, so also who I should be as a teacher. Also, culturally, the things he was interested in. I’d have to say that as a little kid, I didn’t realize that at all. I liked going and doing things with my dad, but I was never a tomboy imitating my dad and was never a cherished daddy’s little girl. I was just one of three kids that both of my parents took an interest in.
She was just so awesome. She convinced me to take AP Art and told me I should go to college. She told me I could easily major in art education. I feel like one of the reasons why I even ended up going to college is because of her. I started out as an art education major and my Drawing 1 was with Ms. O’Neil who was an art professor at Flagler at the time, and then I was like “Oh no, Ms. O’Neil has an even cooler job than Ms. Esposito because everyone really wants to be in the college art classes!” That may be debatable at this point. I know a little bit more now. Without her, I just don’t know. She came to my senior show at Flagler to see my paintings.
It’s funny, when looking at this question, I just know that there has got to be someone that after this interview I’ll go, “Oh of course! This person was so informative in my life!” Along the way, a bunch of people from art teachers to English teachers, teachers in general have been really important. Also different artists that I’ve met and friends of my parents were important. I’d say as a constant reminder of respecting myself, treating others well, and taking my thoughts seriously; it just goes back to my dad all the time. S //
For me, in thinking about a role model, especially for where I am now, it was my high school art teacher, Ms. Esposito. I took art classes in elementary school. My family moved from South Carolina to Florida at the very end of seventh grade. I had a week left in school. They plopped me in some classes; I walked around and didn’t do anything for a week then had summer vacation. The school where I was either didn’t have art or I didn’t realize it, so I didn’t have any art in eighth grade or ninth grade.
She was the quintessential cool lady. She would talk about painting and her paintbrushes at home. I never considered before interacting with her that you could just be an artist or teach art and make a living. I don’t think I had any idea of what I wanted to be before that. The second I met her and spent time with her I just knew “Okay, that’s what I want to be. I want to be an art teacher.” I’m just so thankful for her as a teacher. D //
Are you still in contact with her?
I haven’t talked with her in a long time. I lost contact with her. I think of her all the time and I might owe her a letter or a painting. She always wore really big wooden jewelry. If I see a giant wood elephant necklace I think “That’s Ms. Esposito.” I just really loved her.
That’s why I’m here with you guys too. We got to pick any teacher for this assignment and my high school art teacher was not particularly influential like Ms. Esposito. She was really into ceramics, but through the whole process I had not seen anything that she’d ever done and I don’t feel like she was ever super connected to what I was doing. I always knew that I wanted to do art. When I came to Flagler, my first major was education because I had always been drawn to that as well. Then I took your Drawing 1 class, Sara, and also my best friend had just gone to art school. From watching her do her homework, as opposed to the homework that I got to do, I was like “Yeah, okay that’s what I need to be doing.”
That’s pretty widely known. When we have a student that’s so self-driven and probably does more reading than we assign and does their homework seriously, word does get around. That’s the thing, before I even saw your face, I’d heard your name, which I can pronounce now. It’s “Lie-beer-ee.” It is a pleasure to be a teacher when you get to interact with people who take this thing as seriously as we do.
I’ve experienced the same thing with students that I’ve had too, although obviously not at the college level. When people are interested in the same thing it seems to work out really well.
It doesn’t really matter what level. My thirteen-year-old niece is pretty serious about making art. I just will hang out and talk with her about her ideas and look at the watercolors she’s been making. That same sense of community is there regardless. When someone really loves something, that bond is just present.
That’s who! For the last question, not only my dad but my dad’s aunt. She lived in California so I only met her twice, but both times they presented me to her as the artist. I think she hung out with some important California painters or something. Having someone that you know that is really into what you’re into, it’s a pleasure that goes both ways. Now I understand how my great-aunt felt when she was talking to me. It occurred to me when you were talking about your niece. When she died, I inherited her whole box of oil paints and they’re still good. Those things are from 1960 and I’m still using them.
Both of you have been influential as teachers, and that’s why I asked you to come here today. L //
That’s really nice.
Yeah, that means a lot. I can remember your last self-portrait from that class. You were fighting that self-portrait but it was so good. It’s funny, because I can’t say that I can pinpoint a drawing for most people by the time they’ve run through. I can picture it crisply.
I had never done a self-portrait. It was a definite battle.
It was just so great. You’re just so great. I’ve wanted to say before we get further along too that you are so prepared for this interview. It’s going to turn into a gush-fest so I’m sorry, but you’re just such a prepared, responsible, inquisitive, intelligent, hardworking person that it’s just really nice to get to be around you. I really feel like from a very early time, that if all students were like you, then teaching wouldn’t really even be a practice. You teach yourself and I feel like I’ve learned so much from having you in classes. I’ve learned just as much as I could ever possibly given you, so thank you. It’s nice to be able to have this talk and be able to tell you that.
were these connections to flowers and a connection to something else that I kind of just had to stand back and go, “Okay, I guess that works for the assignment.” I realized it was because of my very myopic view of Western culture that I didn’t know those associations, but that certainly didn’t make them less relevant for her. I still don’t feel like I handled that situation well and I don’t know what the solution is for it for it.
PART II: CULTURE
0:41:25 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Next, I want to talk a little bit about the topic of culture. Within the many readings this course, the influence of culture on teaching and learning stood out to me as something that I had previously not given enough attention to. In high school, I went to a school that was really based in academics. You had to test to get into it and it was very particular, very limited as far as cultural diversity. It was referred to as the “Pine View bubble.” Coming to Flagler didn’t seem to be that much of a difference because there really isn’t that much cultural diversity here. It really took me reading and responding to readings in this class to even realize that that may be something that I’ve been lacking. So, my question is...
Has there ever been a time when cultural differences have become apparent when teaching a student from a different cultural background?
I had two thoughts. One is really obvious that I ran into this year. I had a student from China and we were working on a semiotics project in Design. We were discussing her choices and she was selecting images in relation to words that I couldn’t see the connection between. It’s because they were based on cultural connections to an object. This was not the case, but the most obvious is if you haven’t heard before that in other cultures, red is a typical color for a wedding dress as opposed to white. There
One of my friends is an art therapist who works with inner city kids in New York. It is like second nature to her because she has been doing it for a long time. When I talk to her about her experiences, I realize that I am living in this weird bubble and I don’t have the experiences to be able to respond appropriately sometimes to different interactions. L //
It is weird, because here were are pretty isolated. I’d have to say that when I was a graduate student at the University of Florida, people’s differences were something that was openly discussed. So when it came to their art making, we could talk about how those differences played into or were irrelevant to whatever they made. Sometimes they were important and that’s what the work was about and sometimes they weren’t. I didn’t have to assume that they were never going to address who they are and how they’re different or that they always were going to; that was just a given. I think that there is something to practicing that as a teacher, being exposed to people’s different experiences and backgrounds constantly makes that easy to deal with. Whereas here, I’ve heard students some negative language because they just don’t know better in reference to homosexuality especially, but other things too. They are so unaware of how hurtful their words can be. Then I think I tend to be over protective. When I know that I have a student that comes from another cultural group or a minority, then I become over protective of that person. In my mind at least, I’m assuming too many of their decisions are based on their difference because I’m always aware of their difference. Of course, they’re just experiencing the world as a person. We all come
face-to-face with how we are similar and how we are different. Within this isolation here, it becomes problematic about how relevant you should make it. D //
I feel like I’ve come under the same assumptions. I’ve taught a lot of inner city kids in Jacksonville and made a lot of assumptions, maybe not negative, about them just because I didn’t know about their life at home. That had to do with me not being exposed to a lot of differences growing up. I find, to a fault, I’m being too aware of those things. In the example I was using, if it had been someone else I may have challenged some of those choices a little bit more, but because I was unfamiliar with those relationships, I stepped back in a way. Sometimes I find myself overthinking things and not having the same kind of curiosity-driven conversation that I might have because I don’t want to appear foolish or insensitive. The more you’re aware of that stuff and self-reflective the better. When I was in graduate school too, it was so much more of a diverse population. It was very different than Flagler.
It’s almost like we didn’t have to feel like we were the only person responsible for acknowledging people’s differences. Where in the classroom here, I feel like I’m the one that’s going to have to call someone out if they say some crappy thing. I’m the one who going to make that leap if someone is making some sort of identitybased work and no one’s willing to say anything. I am afraid of making it foolishly. In thinking about cultural differences, there seems to be something about popular culture and shared experiences that can be difficult to navigate sometimes. I’m so aware of this now because I’m thirty-one this year and I’ve been teaching for five years. I felt like five years ago I got more of what students’ backgrounds were and I’ve started to hit a threshold where I don’t have the commonality.
Students start talking about things and I’m like, “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know those cartoon characters.” I even think about you having young boys now, Leslie. In the tail end you’re going to catch some of that stuff. L //
Maybe when I’m sixty my boys will let me know what’s going on.
Yeah, you’ll be hip to what college age students were watching in elementary school when they reference everything. I do think it is weird realizing that there is this shared set of assumptions within age groups that don’t necessarily cross over. I just haven’t watched any of the Twilight movies, so when someone makes a reference to that, I just don’t know what they’re referencing. I know a large population in the US does know what they’re referencing
You can’t be aware of everything.
Yeah, and that’s a weird thing to run into. I feel like I’ve become hyper-aware of that gap this year and feel really sad about it. I feel disconnected.
0:51:08 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
This question has pretty much been answered within this discussion, but I would like to bring up the fact that Leslie, during my time at Flagler you invited me to an open forum for students, teachers, and administrators that put forth the topic of diversity. I vividly remember realizing then that it was something that often didn’t think about or enter my conscious mind. I remember being asked questions and thinking “Well, I’ve never even thought about that once before.” The question that I pose is…
sour chicken. That’s as far as she would go into Asian food.
How important is cultural diversity with regards to teaching and learning? What are the disadvantages of being part of an institution that has low cultural diversity within the student body?
I think we’ve touched on that a lot, but maybe you could talk about what changes can be made. What I thought was lovely about that meeting was that over and over again the art department became this beacon within this culturally homogenous place. That it’s through art that people can express how they feel different or can be exposed just by looking at art. People who don’t fit into the straight and narrow are more tempted to be a part of what we do here. That’s definitely a way to combat it. Sara and I both talked about our graduate school teaching experiences and even if a student were to chose a very narrow path where they didn’t mix with anyone but who they went to high school with from their own hometown, there’s still ways that the city and the campus acts upon them. You’re aware of how small your little place in the world is because there are all these other clubs, fraternities and sororities, restaurants, and people speaking languages. Even if you chose not to broaden your understanding of cultures outside of your own, they are constantly thrown in your path.
PART III: GROWTH & DEVELOPMENT
0:54:47 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Just thinking about the fact that when we’ve taken students on the New York trip, many of them have told us that they’d never eaten Asian food. Right! There was one woman that had never had sweet and
We’ll go onto the topic of growth and development. One of the main focuses of this course has been on the stages of growth and development, especially in regard to developmental psychology, in art within K-12 students, whom you don’t teach. As a result, I have come up with a few questions which take into consideration the topic of stages of child development that I feel would pertain to you as college professors. My first question is…
What, specifically, draws you to teaching college students? Have you ever taught, or considered teaching students at any other developmental level, for example in elementary, middle, or high school?
Whereas here, someone could possibly find that narrow path and not necessarily be jostled out of it. S //
Through teaching, you can work on trying to expose students. Again getting back to the third question, one little step – through small, cumulated experiences, you become more aware.
I already told my story. I thought my college art teacher’s job was infinitely cooler. It was something about the idea of constantly wanting to be in a space where everyone wanted to be there and
The collaborative work of Leslie Robison and Laura Mongiovi. www.leslierobisonart.blogspot.com
was working on things. I know that wasn’t the case in high school. This isn’t teaching in any kind of formal way, but I have spent a lot of time with my niece from age ten to thirteen and she has a younger sister who makes these cool little sculptures. I try to have serious conversations with them about what they’re doing. I just think they’re really smart and creative and could gush about them a lot. I could do that. It just happened to be that I fell into this place. The draw is having that experience with students and being able to share that. Even with my niece, just having a conversation about what she wants to do and how she’s accomplishing that in talking about the ways she could try different things. She has a little hair roller that she rolls across the green Sculpey to make it look more textured like grass. She’s just really smart about things. L //
I don’t know that I’m going to say anything different from you, but I did have that experience when Laura and my classes worked with fourth graders and middle school students. I was interesting to see the difference. When we would go to the fourth grade art class, we just got to be really encouraging and show interest and that was a really good rule to have. It was really freeing from what I feel like I’m responsible for doing at this level, whereas, it was disappointing to work with the middle schoolers. They were supposed to be the most talented artists from the arts magnet school in our town. Really, they were just trying to impress each other and some of the young college women. There were a couple of them that were trying to do it through how invested they were in their art, but more of them were doing it through wise cracks. That was upsetting to me. I know that’s a developmental, social thing, but I just thought “Well, maybe I could go back to teaching kids. That would be a vacation.” That middle school thing is probably really hard to navigate. I was asked recently in an interview what drew me to teaching elementary, middle, and high school children and what was the difference. It seemed to me that my immediate response was that with young elementary students, if you’re stoked about it, they’re
stoked about it. It’s more about being encouraging. In middle school, they hit this stage and its really challenging to get them involved. I think this is in one of my questions later and I’ll go into it a little bit further, but I feel like that’s one of my favorite ages to teach particularly because of that reason. It seems to be a challenge and it’s incredibly fascinating to me. In my thinking about going back to school and getting my masters, I was debating whether to immediately pursue my MFA and teach college, or to pursue my masters in Art Education. In thinking about that, I realized that a college professor seems a lot more valued than an elementary art teacher. I might be seen as someone who’s doing arts and crafts with small children. “Oh, that’s cool. That’s fun.” At a higher level, you seem to be valued a little bit differently. S //
Even within the institution of the college, at least with our peers sometimes, we’re still the people who are having fun and expressing our feelings. I think that’s that a real shame about art teachers not being valued and in general arts not being valued. They’re so important.
1:01:14 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
We were just talking about this a bit. A well-documented drop in interest in art occurs during middle school, a time that is appropriately referred to the “crisis period.” In this stage of adolescent turmoil, many students end the process of artistic development due to frustration with creating “good” art. A lot of the time, they are very self-conscious in front of their peers. Because of a handful of supportive adults, I had a very different experience with art during middle school. My “success” in art provided me with a great sense of confidence and self worth. I also found it to be an outlet for my teenage angst, although I would not describe myself as particularly angst-y at any point in my life.
I’ll continue to talk about middle school and why I’m drawn to that. At first when I started working with middle schoolers, I was super frustrated. I didn’t understand how I could get to them. I remember the first class I taught middle schoolers in was a three-hour camp. I had taught elementary school up to that point. I had this whole thing set up and was so excited about it. No one said one word. I would literally pose a question to the class and there would be no response, just crickets. I went home that night thinking “What am I going to do tomorrow?” I felt incredibly embarrassed and that no one cared or wanted to be involved. After a while, I started to learn what worked. Especially with middle schoolers, having visual journals or ways that they could create art without showing it to everyone else, setting it up as a private experience. I also found that they really got a lot out of learning how to draw things from life realistically because at that level, that’s what they value. S //
No, it’s good. I’m wondering, “What do middle schoolers want?” I want to know because I haven’t had the experience.
The thing I’ve had most success with is still lifes of things that they’re interested in. They’re learning to draw things from life and finding value from drawing something that looks “good.” Instead of drawing a still life of a fruit, it’s something that they’re interested in like a still life of an action figure. That’s one of my favorite ages to teach. The question that goes along with this, you’ve already touched on, and that is…
Do you remember art as being important to you as a teenager? Did you identify yourself as an artist then, or did that realization come later?
I feel like I’ve answered this and also haven’t in a way. I didn’t have art for a couple of years in classes, but I still was always copying things. I would always copy characters and especially figures from
books or off of my cereal boxes. I would constantly try to mimic stuff. Also I was totally an artsy kid and none of my friends were. During eighth grade I carried around this walnut all year, which seems like a performance piece. It was a half walnut that I had found and thought it was really beautiful and cool. I shellacked it in clear nail polish. I turned it into this weird ritual. Everyday I would carry this thing around and I would draw on my converse. I was definitely putting out artsy feelers, but I didn’t attach it to anything then. Now looking back I can. I was painting my nails blue, which now is cool. L //
For me, because I did start drawing and getting positive feedback for what I could do at a really early age, being an artist was so engrained in me that I didn’t even conceive of myself that way. Being an artist was so much of a part of who I was. Looking back, I can think about the earliest books that informed me. They were all art books. What were my earliest experiences? They were all art. What did I do when I was alone? I was making art. It was just so much a part of what I was doing that by the time I got to that stage of self-expression. I played with the idea of becoming a dancer by taking dance lessons. I don’t think I was ever that good, but I thought it was something that was different from my friends. Body image was always really important and I was super skinny, so instead of just being the awkward, tall girl with bad posture, I could be a dancer. How I survived some of that awful stuff was by always having art that I could turn to and friends who were always drawn to some sort of self-expression or who had some artistic talent. That was something that I could do with them and it was always something that I had on my own. Definitely by eighth grade or ninth grade, getting recognition from my teachers was a way to not feel invisible or at the same time over-exposed. It’s really horrible. There’s a way that I had that to hold onto even though I was trying out these other characters that I could be. It was a strength to be recognized and feel like it was something that defined me, even if I
internalized it to the point where I didn’t always see it. D //
I can relate to you in the fact that in middle school I started exploring all kinds of arts and very quickly found out I was not a dancer or a clarinet player. Just the fact that my parents were supportive helped a lot. They always went to my dance recitals when I was really chubby and awkward and were really supportive. That sounds a lot like where you’re coming from. My parents were way more supportive of my brother as a football player and a baseball player or cyclist, whatever sport he was playing because they’re just sporty people. They went to all my art shows. I always got a new sketchpad for birthdays. My dad just brought home Nicolaides’ The Natural Way to Draw when I was in the sixth grade and gave it to me. I was like “What is a gesture drawing?”
That’s so funny because now I’m buying my niece Drawing from the Right Side of the Brain and the workbook. “You can do it!”
That’s incredibly supportive and what she needs.
I remember my best friend Carrie, who is a stay at home mom now, but she got her masters in accounting so she’s very left brained and not very creative. There were so many times in middle school where she’d be like “Why are you so weird? Why do you keep doing this stuff?” I would spend all my time with her, but simultaneously be collecting things or making something else or doing something weird with pipe cleaners. Definitely no one was giving me dance lessons or I would have jumped at that but I would have probably been terrible at it. It’s just funny to think, at the time I’d be like “I don’t know, I just thought It’d be cool.” Looking back, oh my gosh I was just such an art kid. Someone needed to throw me a bone and give me a book. Now I think that’s why my nieces are into art. Anytime they show
up and they like a supply I’m like, “You should take it!” It’s funny. I think that art person is going to be there regardless of how much encouragement you get. It’s like a personality trait or something. L //
Yeah, I think you’re right.
1:11:16 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Sara, this question is directed at you since I had you more than once as a professor, notably at the very beginning of my undergraduate studies in art (in Design 1) and at the virtual end of my studies (in BA Portfolio). Whereas, Leslie, I had you pretty much all at the end. I feel like in having you as a professor in both of these classes across such a broad span of time, I was able to witness a difference in your approach to teaching at various levels. In Design 1, with beginning college students, you seemed to be a bit more (dare I say) strict, straightforward, and expectant. I felt as though you very effectively intimidated me a bit into producing quality work. This is what I needed coming in. Whereas in BA Portfolio, teaching much more developed artists, I felt as though your approach as a teacher was to be completely open and nurturing. At that time this was also very effective in allowing me to create meaningful work. Not that there is necessarily such a staunch polarity that exists, but I am wondering how much this perceived difference is due to my development as a student and how much is due to your development as a teacher. So with that said, I will ask you…
How much do you consider the aesthetic and artistic level of a group of students when approaching a class? How does this affect the manner in which you teach your students?
This is a question that when I read it, I was like “Yes!” It just made me super pumped. It’s probably because we had a faculty meeting just the other day and we were talking about the difference in approach and expectations for students at lower level 100 and 200 classes versus 300 and 400 level classes. It’s something that has grown intuitively through teaching. Some of it has to do with students being more sophisticated and able to take on more, so you can step back. I do think that lower level or beginning level students will respond well to structure. Even if they are pushing against it, you really have to give them something to push against to work stuff out.
I think I really needed that. Coming in, I remember thinking the assignmentsthat you gave to us in Drawing 1 and Design 1 were really a lot to think about. It was a bit overwhelming even within the given perameters. Then when you get further along, you can look back. I remember doing those compositions based off of photographs we took and I remember spending the whole entire week trying to figure it out. It was a really hard problem to solve. As a higher level student, I’d be like “Oh, I could do that really quickly.”
I think that’s fun to see. I do try with the changes we’ve made in lower level classes like Design 1 to make it so it’s open-ended. You can’t just check off a box, but you have to think about things. It’s still very clear. That’s like a contradiction. It’s jumbo shrimp. It’s very regimented but there is still a lot of room. It’s like you’re getting thrown into the deep end, but you’ve got swimmies on. It just made me excited that you saw that change. That’s what I think is so exciting about teaching across the curriculum is that you can watch someone develop and go “That’s been there the whole time” as you watch them develop into amazing artists. I just finished teaching BA Portfolio this fall and I feel a little bit nervous that I should have been a bad cop a little bit more.
I am purposefully a lot more straightforward and say it can only be this or that. Even in Drawing 1, the first ten or eleven weeks in class there is a right way and a wrong way. Then by the time we go outside I’m like, “Yeah, you can kind of fudge that actually because you just have to make the drawing make the most sense.” It’s just barely cluing in that it’s not a formula to follow. The point is, I consider it a lot. Lower division classes I think of as teacher-directed and teacher-driven. The students have to do the work, but you are pushing them the whole time, showing them where they need to be. Upper level classes are more teacher-guided and student-driven, so you can set up some parameters and try to be helpful. It’s really about where that student is going with things. Especially in encouraging critical thinking the higher you get, you have to let things open up and be more complex to let someone swim around. We’ve even discussed trying to encourage that more in lower level classes too, which is something I really struggle with honestly. I get scared. I know I can get some good results if I do A, B, and C for the most part. I think a lot about it and it makes me happy that I got to have you on both ends of the spectrum so you don’t think I’m a terrible person. It doesn’t translate over the camera, but I remember I had one student only in Drawing II and I never had them again. They were describing my teaching style to me one day and they showed me by putting their hand towards my face in an aggressive way. I thought “Gosh, I swear I try not to be that.”
1:18:16 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Although most research in developmental psychology has been traditionally focused on children, there is no evidence that artistic development reaches a plateau at the onset of adulthood. With that said, I feel it appropriate to ask you both…
Sara Pedigo in her studio. www.sarapedigo.com
Through experience and reflection, what has been your most significant development as a professor?
I have an answer that’s really broad. That is it’s a continual process of development and if a student leaves college, I’d like them to learn that it doesn’t stop there. It’s a lifelong process. Teaching is inherently dynamic. It forces you to think on your toes, be responsive and reflexive to if something’s working or not, just like you were talking about with your middle schoolers. I didn’t realize that before I started teaching. I thought you figured stuff out and then did it. That would be really boring. I would agree with that - just that fact that teaching is a learning process. Actually things that I’ve been taught I’ve learned better through teaching. You learn how to teach by teaching and not being lazy about it. Depending how busy I am with classes during a semester, maybe there’s been one of my classes that I’ve just rested on my laurels. It’s like, “I’ve taught this a bunch of times. I can make my way through it. I’ll just do what I did last semester.” Normally that’s not the case. Normally in order for it to be a challenging and dynamic experience, it has to be new for me. I set up circumstances not only for my students to learn, but for me to learn from the process. Even when you’re doing the same exact assignment with a different group, their response is always different. You have to figure out that they’re all coming up with this instead of that. It’s just always changing.
1:20:45 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Leslie, I know you have two boys in public elementary school, so my question to you is …
What is your assessment of the art programs that are offered to your sons at their school?
Because I actually went and did that collaboration with the art teacher at their particular school, I feel like I have been able to see what she does. I think she’s an incredibly busy woman. She knows the name of every one of 800 students at that school and I don’t know how she does that. She manages levels of discipline from Kindergarten through 5th grade and has to act differently with each grade level. I see what she does as being really significant. I see the impact it has on my kids. I think it could be a bigger impact if they went more often. They both are in grades now that they are going once a week, whereas the first couple of years they were getting a better rotation of music, art and P.E. I remember being exposed to art more in elementary school.
Even that level is good. In Jacksonville, I lot of the schools that I’ve taught in, have double classes, so two elementary classes at the same time. I’ve taught in classes that have been two classes of 5th graders and they come in every two weeks.
How do you even do anything?
When there’s 40 kids, it’s more crowd control than anything. So your kids seem to be on the good side of the spectrum.
Having worked with those kids and seeing how important that class was for them, I just wish every kid could be exposed to art everyday. Nothing against homeroom teachers doing creative projects, but I’ve gone in as a mother to help with the gingerbread houses and stuff and it’s a step-by-step process. The kids can express
themselves a little differently within those steps. When you have to paste three circles together to make a snowman, there isn’t much expression. Whereas what I see this woman doing in their art class is a little bit more. She gives them new materials to work with for each project and she’ll expose them to an artist so they’ll learn something about culture. They have some kind of ability to make some choices within that. They learn color theory and lots of relevant stuff, but that’s really different than any creative things they do in their classrooms. The papers that bring home, I have to weed through and decide what I am keeping. Over the years its gotten less and less and less. I used to keep any visual project. I tend to get rid of a lot of stuff now. The folder that they bring home at the end of the year from their art class goes right into the box that I’m keeping their stuff in.
When did your interest in teaching develop?
Maybe it developed from the mentorship from my high school teacher. I also realized when I was in college, and I’m a late bloomer here, that I seemed to be the person that people would go to if their project wasn’t going well. I was sort of always around. People who I didn’t know well would come find me and say “So and so said you would help me cut this and glue it together.” I would always stop what I was doing and go, “Well what kind of glue are you using? We need to go to the store.” I really like helping other people problem solve. That told me that I wanted to be a teacher. I got just as much satisfaction out of helping someone complete their project than I did making my own.
For me it probably occurred to me a little more and a little more over the years. I was always a good student when I was pretty young until about the fourth grade. Maybe people didn’t realize I was as intelligent as I am. By that I don’t mean, “Hey I’m a genius!” They put me into some remedial stuff and it was just because I was right brained and flighty enough. I was in my own little world wandering around, kind of like my one son.
He’s really smart.
Yeah, both my kids are smart but in really different ways. The one, the only problems that teachers have ever had with him is that sometimes he doesn’t finish his work and they catch him staring out the window or he comes up with different things in his mind and he loses track. I can totally relate to being the daydreamer. It’s more of a brain organization creating those connections to be able to hold that attention. It’s not an ADHD issue it’s a creative mind issue.
PART IV: ARTIST - TEACHER
1:24:18 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Now I want to talk to you a bit about being an artist-teacher. This is the term that attracted me to this masters program - an equal value given to being an artist and being a teacher. These questions are specifically interesting for me to ask you now that I’ve just graduated from BFA where producing a lot of work was the primary thing that I was doing before going into teaching full time. I find it really hard to be able to do both at the same time. My first question is…
And the right brain not being aware of time. Once you slip over there, it’s hard to get back. (laughing) Yeah. I started finding teachers that I really respected from about 5th grade on, throughout middle school and high school. I definitely had some bad teachers too where I would think, “Why am I in this classroom?” We’ve all had those teachers. Mostly, I’ve seen teachers as very intelligent and kind people that I needed to respect because of what they were doing for me. My father was a teacher. It didn’t seem like a decision that I made. At some point I just knew that I wanted to keep having intelligent conversations with people and the people who I wanted to hang out with were either students or teachers.
As full time professors, how do you find the time to create your own art?
I realized too that by being in college art classes, I really developed the confidence that I didn’t have before. I don’t know if I would say I had low self-esteem, but I was definitely not self-assured. I was really shy. I just felt like a totally different person by the time I finished undergrad. I just felt so much more confident in myself. It’s like I wanted to figure out a way not to leave school. I love school! I always want to be in school. Being a teacher, you get to be in school all the time and I think it’s nice. I have a really hard time functioning on year systems. What 2009? No, it’s 2008-2009 or 20092010. It’s like I’m always operating on the academic calendar, not the January to January calendar. I think I’m a little bit addicted to school too. As soon as a graduated, I was looking around and decided I immediately wanted to go back to school. I got right back into it.
1:29:44 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
Let me go first because Sara’s prolific and always working. I have to say I still am not happy with my life as an artist while I’m a educator. It’s a thing that mostly happens in the summertime, which makes me have these long periods in between where my thoughts can’t stretch all the way around the academic year. Every year I make progress in that. It used to be that even during winter break I couldn’t make work. Then my next step beyond summers was winter break. Now, I make it about four or five weeks into a semester before it all goes caput. I’ve decided that I use that time when I’m not creating to do lots of reading, because it’s easy to fit a chapter in here or there, or look for different art opportunities that I want to be a part of. It’s like I can make the work in the summer and then try and promote it through the rest of the year. That’s not totally satisfying. I feel much more vivid and a part of things when I’m actively creating. You can live off of that high of creating for several weeks afterwards, but I never make it all the way through the semester feeling balanced. Whereas, Sara, there’s probably only a couple weeks during the semester where you are not balanced I think.
What? I wrote down my answer to that question is “It’s HARD.” I just think it’s really hard. The first couple years I was teaching, I wasn’t able to make work during the school year. I would get in the first week or two and then it would fall apart. I’m a pretty bad person to be around if I’m not making work. I just get really restless and really anxious and really unhappy. I get bitter and grouchy. I don’t know what it is, but making work really makes me a lot more of a pleasurable person to be around. It fulfills me. There’s nothing like a deadline to help you have to make work. I’ve been in a position where I’ve been fortunate enough to have some
We Could Do Everything Again Sara Pedigo 2009 -2010 www.sarapedigo.com
deadlines that have happened during the school year or have been right after a semester. I just have to do it. I have to get in there and work.
graduate school, in a very similar way of you just finishing your BFA, I had built up to a point. You can still make that same kind of work, but there’s something about those waves that happen when you are making work. I started teaching right when I didn’t know what I was doing. The only way to solve that is to spend a lot of time in the studio. For some reason I wouldn’t follow those threads. I would start something and it would peter out. I think I’d begun seven bodies of work in two years and never went anywhere with any of it because I just didn’t have the time to do it. I think it’s okay. I was so stressed out about it then, but looking back at it now it’s okay. I just needed that time in my life. I think there’s a feeling that everything has to happen right now and I don’t think that’s true.
I don’t have children. If I had children… I don’t know how you get anything done, Leslie, it’s crazy. L //
It does add more challenge.
You are always feeding them healthy food. Denise is always making fun of me for eating junk food. I’m really bad about it. One thing that’s actually helped me a lot in finding time to create my own work is having a supportive partner. Marc is incredible in terms of saying, “You need to paint tonight. You need to go paint. Go paint for an hour.” I’ll be like “Eh, I’m tired.” And he says, “I don’t care. Go paint. You said you needed to paint tonight. Go paint.” A lot of times I’ll end up working because he is pushing me to do that. I think he’s pushing me to do that because he knows I need to do it to be a happy person in our relationship. I definitely have been in other relationships with people who didn’t do that and I think it really helps me. So, it’s HARD. Having deadlines is good and having supportive people is good.
When you’re talking about leaving those threads, for me I see it as a luxury to have a certain mind space that can stay open to the work. Maybe why I’m having a little more success now is that my work has shifted what it’s about. Now my work is about being an educator, wife, artist, and mother and trying to juggle all of that stuff. If my work is just about what I’m living through, then when I get frustrated with something, I can go to these little time cards I started making and punch the time on the time card. I can scribble or do some sewing on it and it’s just one little piece and I’ll figure out how it fits into the overall narrative later. It’s one piece of time that happened in the middle of two weeks where I did nothing. Creating ways where you can pick the work back up has been important. Not that the work is on a closed little shelf, or that you have to go read some more books to continue with it.
Sometimes I go in my studio, which is just a spare 10 x 10 bedroom in my house, and just turn the light on and leave it on in there for an hour or two. Maybe I’ll walk in. I won’t have done anything. It’s actually been like that the last couple of nights. The studio light’s just on. It’s like I’m anticipating being able to move into that space. It’s a weird ritual or dance with me. I think it is hard to balance it. Just leaving the possibility is helpful, like you punching the time card or me leaving the light on.
I think deadlines are really good. The times that I have had deadlines during the school year, it’s helped. I’ve never had a show like you had last month, Sara. Or was it October? I don’t know how you made that deadline. Of course you did a lot of it beforehand, but you still had stuff to finish. I have a deadline in the middle of January for FloArts in Palatka. I’m having a show and that space is really big. It’s scary. I don’t have enough work. I also have to switch out work at Plum Gallery on January 1st. Whew. That’s scary. I don’t know, but deadlines will make you work. That’s helpful. Also, leaving things unraveled. When I first started teaching
I had a professor tell me before graduating to just make a space, even if you don’t have the luxury of the studio. If you’re too tired to do anything, just go in there and sharpen pencils for a few minutes. You’re contributing to the life of that space. I’ve always tried to do that. If nothing else, I’ll just go reorganize things.
How has being involved in the art making process of your students influenced your own art making?
S // D //
Do you have a space in your house that’s specifically for art making?
Kind of. It’s not big enough. It’s enough to store my stuff in. I have to unpack things to work and then pack it back up. It’s been a little difficult. I always have that hope that it’s going to change someday.
We have a spare bedroom in our house that has become the “make stuff” room. It’s not just my “make stuff” room, but also Matt’s “make stuff” room and I feel like having that space is sometimes intimidating. I usually don’t make stuff in there. I usually make stuff on the dining room table more effectively than feeling like I have to go in there and produce something.
My dining room table is definitely covered in paint. My couch is slowly getting dots of paint on the fabric. If I haven’t painted in a while, I can’t walk in and do stuff. Being in a confortable space make sense. If you’re not working in there all the time, then going to your table seems like a safer place.
That room becomes important for putting work up and looking at it, storing stuff, and making a mess when you need to. A lot of my work, especially my little drawings and sewing pieces have happened on my bed. Three pillows propping me up in front of the TV, it’s like I’m completely relaxed and doing that little drawing is part of that.
1:39:46 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
It’s been amazing. You’ve kind of touched on this Leslie, but I feel like I understand things related to making art so much better now after teaching it then before I started teaching. From drawing concepts to color mixing, also in thinking about content, I’ve learned so much. It’s made me be a lot riskier in the work that I make. Although my work is not risky; they’re G rated, happy-time paintings. It’s allowed me to take a lot of risks that I don’t think I would’ve. I’m telling students “Just go for it!” then I’m coming home and being careful. I’m like, “I need to just go for it and trust myself!” Even just the process of constantly trying to read to make sure I’m on top of things for classes has forced me to do more research. I was talking to one of my friends who’s a painter and she just doesn’t care about a lot of types of work, which I think can happen really easily when you’re making your own work. I realized that I’m constantly having to care deeply about work that I might not have taken the time with because its not related to things I’m addressing in my own work. I feel thankful that teaching has forced me to be that way, because I think it’s a lot nicer than getting boxed into one little place.
It’s funny. We had a conversation about that. It never even occurred to me, but it’s really obvious that it’s teaching that forces us to do that, to be open to those things.
1:42:28 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . How does your personal art portray you’re reflection of “self”?
Leslie Robison www.leslierobisonart.blogspot.com
I already answered this earlier when I was talking about turning my work into being about my struggles of making work and my questioning of it.
My work is personal and selfish in a way because a lot of it is just working from family photographs. I’ve been making work from this set of photographs for six years now. I started right around the time my mom got sick and died. It started out as a way for me to spend time with my mom. My dad died subsequently, and I actually think I’ve come to terms with our relationship a lot more by spending time looking at photographs of him. So in that way, it’s been a good way for me to become okay with myself and my past experiences. I’ve tried to turn something that some people would consider a dark point into something nice. I’m personally a positive person. I don’t want to be a jaded, negative person. I really like the idea of making work that other people can connect to and feel positive about. I’m really interested in making work that is accessible to a wide range of people. In making my work, I’m hoping to share something positive with the world, even if it’s based in sentiment. I don’t really have any beef with sentimentality. I mean, I think it can be abused in a way through advertising. In the larger world, I think sentiment is a nice concept. I just hope that they connect to people’s lives so it’s like sharing humanity.
1:45:30 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . How do you think your personal fears, desires, hopes, and failures affect your students?
I’d have to say that I hope, or rather, I fear that my own concerns or tastes translate. I try to consciously avoid letting my own tastes dictate how the students work or ultimately create successful
communications. I see it in other teacher-student relationships, so why wouldn’t it happen in mine? Somehow, I don’t know if I’m completely accepting of that yet. As a student I have been influenced in way by my professor’s work without ever seeing their work. There’s something to do with how we teach that has to do with our own concerns. Frankly, when I think about fears and hopes and failures, I think about the kind of traps that we set for ourselves. I’m hoping that having gone through similar things – self-doubt, fear, failure - just makes me empathetic in seeing them struggle. S //
I feel the same way in terms of being constantly freaked out that my own personal hang-ups or things that I like are the only things that are getting communicated to students, that I might be privileging certain information. I’m especially aware of that when I go to museums right after school gets out and I’ve just been in a slew of grading. I’ll walk around the museum and start grading this work I’m looking at and then I realize, “Oh my gosh, I don’t mean to do that. Did I just give Goya a ‘C’ for that painting?” What does that mean? Am I overly harsh? Am I not being supportive enough? Do I just hate this type of work? I’m standing in front of it in this institution of power. Am I telling a student “That’s not good” when it could be something very equivalent to this? I freak out about that sometimes. I also think that in the same way, you’re going to teach best what you’re most passionate about. I’m always freaked out that I’m creating this cluster of figurative realists or something. Then I think, “Man, I get so excited about drawing or painting the figure.” I can’t help that enthusiasm. If I tried to temper everything evenly, I wouldn’t be as good at teaching in those areas. It’s a catch twentytwo sometimes. Trying to be aware that you’re worried that you might be privileging certain kinds of information makes you grade more thoughtfully to try to avoid those traps. I think there are many right answers, but I don’t think all the answers are equally good, you know?
When I was in graduate school, and I was given a class in which I had to fill a certain time with assignments, I didn’t always see the logic of things and it seemed like you’d just come up with a really cool idea and throw it at them. In a way it might still look like that’s what I’m doing. In graduate school, a guy overseeing the graduate teaching assistants started questioning us. We all had to bring in an assignment and share it. He would ask a simple question like, “Why did you give us this assignment?” Our response was “Um.. so.. uh…” He’d say, “What are the course objectives? How does this assignment relate to the course objectives? How do the grading objectives relate?” For me, that was one of the most informative experiences about learning to teach. That’s so basic.
1:50:10 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Generally, in all of my classes with both of you, I felt that the art “problems” that you posed to us as students were relevant, varied, and usually exploratory in nature. At the time, I may have felt sometimes that the assignments you gave us oftentimes seemed out of left field, but looking back I can begin to understand how you were setting us up for discovery.
How do you effectively develop, assess, and revise the art “problems” at your pose to students within your classes?
Sometime I’ll write an assignment and I can’t figure out what my actual goals for it were until I do it once. It’s like I have a hunch and I know there’s something missing in the class. I do think a lot of my teaching can be intuitive. I’ll see something missing and I can’t put my finger on it, then I’ll do the assignment and go, “Aha! That is what I was trying to get at.” Then I’ll craft it the next time to be closer to those goals. When I’m first making it, it seems like I’m trying to follow a hunch. I see something missing and I don’t know how to do it. Or I’ll craft three assignments and then realize that they’re all getting at the same question because I really had it on my mind and none of them were answering it. It’s a process. You get the hunch, but then you play it out before you do it. In developing 2D Concepts and Materials, formerly Design I, we’ve had so many conversations where we do toss these ideas off of each other. It is usually based on what’s missing that we want them to learn and how we get at that. It’s not just some kind of whacky idea.
We do, we invent these things and we’ve had so many conversations about that. It’s just like art making. You intuitively feel your way into it, but then you have to critique it afterwards. S //
I would say that when I was following those hunches, especially with 2D Materials and Concepts, I would think about what they needed to do and then would rapidly be doing the assignment. Before class on Monday or until two in the morning, I’m staying up to see if it’s a feasible assignment. It’s really helpful to be able to bounce ideas off of other people. I’ve come up with my best assignments that way. When I was in graduate school, everyone got thrown a class. Circumstantially, or maybe because I wasn’t paying very much attention, I felt like there wasn’t a lot of guidance from our senior faculty members. The graduate students and I, me being one within my peers, would sit around in circles and go, “What did you do for this?” We would have drawn out brainstorming sessions and most of it was probably just us regurgitating our undergraduate experience. “In my Drawing 1 class we’d do this. In my Drawing 1 class we’d do that. Okay, good notes.” It seems like when you are a student, it’s all just there. I had a student go, “Can I have the website where you’re getting these
assignments from so I can try to figure it out better?” There is no master website where these are coming from. These have been handcrafted specially for you. I ordered a book on rubrics to try to help me assess more effectively and I don’t know how effective it was. Just reading a whole book on rubrics helped me think more systematically about laying out course objectives and grading standards. When I as in school, the things being graded weren’t so transparent. It’s helped me figure out what exactly it is that I’m asking for. D //
Especially in art. I’ve seen a comic where the kid gets an “F” and he says “I thought art was subjective!”
Some things are easier to grade. I’ve come up with some analogies. You can’t grade the effectiveness of an argument in a term paper sentence by sentence. Each sentence works together to make paragraphs. You can’t infinitely break art down into small, little categories. It’s more complex than that. You have to see how things work together. It’s hard to convince someone that it’s not subjective. Maybe it is that I’m privileging certain types of information. Who knows?
1:57:26 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
Within my relatively short career as an art educator, I have found that the importance of the arts in education is oftentimes misunderstood, underestimated, or ignored. You touched on this a little bit before.
What is your assessment of the prevailing conceptions of the arts in education at the college level? Do you feel like more emphasis is placed on the importance of science and math?
Well, definitely. There are assessments that happen school wide, especially now that there is a new general education set of standards. Everything has to be assessed by the same criteria. We’re finding that criteria made to fit across subjects doesn’t work for us because it doesn’t allow for the kind of critical thinking that happens in art classes. We’re having a hard time with our selfassessments fitting in with the rest of the school. We know, based on books that the dean has handed out about what constitutes good teaching, it’s all turning towards the kind of teaching that we automatically do in the art department - making things be more student directed and self-exploratory, critiquing arguments, collaborative learning, learning through experience. That is engrained in what we do. For us, it’s not anything new. It’s just what we do. We should be a model for the rest of the school, but I still think that people in other disciplines have a weird misconception about what we do. How would you characterize it, Sara?
I would say it’s a prevailing misconception. I don’t know where it comes from, but there is an idea among some that we’re not engaging in critical thinking and that it’s all about emotions and subjectivity and that there aren’t tangible objective skills attached to things. There’s material and experiential knowledge that’s attached to what we do in classes along with critical thinking. It’s really tricky. That’s one of the things that’s difficult and why there is more importance set on science and math. Here in our environment, they’re working on an environmental science major, but there is not a math major. It is a liberal arts school. There is a perception that there aren’t jobs related to the arts and its more difficult to make a living in the arts than if you are a businessperson with an accounting degree. There aren’t very many artist jobs, but there are jobs related to the arts. They just don’t have the title “artist.” In that way, there’s a privileging because of the number of jobs. The equivalent may be with music. There’s difficulty in the fact that it’s hard to quantify and assess in terms of written language. So much of that is based in the left
hemisphere of the brain while so much of making art and creative activities I would argue is a different language. They don’t compete. Written language is dominant a lot of the times, so art turns out to be the loser. I still think that if you ask people, they will say “we need the arts.” They just don’t realize the seriousness of it all.. L //
Some of what hits people when they see a successful work of art that they feel speaks to them is that artists translate the rightbrained experienced into visuals that in a way can be quantified by the left brain. It’s almost like showing the left-brain who the right brain is, creating connections between the two halves of ourselves. That’s what’s impactful to people. It’s not the particular imagery, but how the imagery is integrated into a system that cannot be verbalized. Sometimes it’s so sophisticated that it seems simplistic. I’ve taught in a learning community, a freshman-only class that pairs two classes together. There’s supposed to be shared content that makes connections across both classes. My Drawing 1 class was paired with a U.S. history class. I had a lot of conversations with the history teacher, who was incredibly nice and inquisitive, but would readily admit that he didn’t know what I was talking about. I was re-explaining the basic fundamentals of making a drawing and about misconceptions. When things work well, they work so well that you’re not aware of everything that goes into it. It’s like eating a really delicious meal. If you’ve got the same ingredients, it might not taste as good. It’s so seamless that you’re not aware of what goes into it.
I think that’s pretty incredible that you’re having those classes that connect students. I feel like within this art building, it’s very enclosed and you don’t get to know anyone outside of it. That’s really great that you’re doing that.
It’s a good thing overall. It’s challenging too. I think its true. If there were more people talking to each other, then it wouldn’t seem like
we were doing voodoo in the art building. If more students were taking other classes, they would be communicating that too.
2:06:09 . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . D //
The last question is…
Are there any other insights you would like to reveal to a developing artist-teacher like me?
That you can do it and that you’re going to be really successful. That I have complete faith that you will be an amazing teacher. I already know you’re an amazing artist. That’s my only other insight.
I think also that you are an incredibly honest person. That ability will be a guiding force in what it takes.
Thank you for spending your entire day in your office with me after you just finished all your grading for the semester.
It’s been really nice, actually. I feel very privileged.
Thanks for inviting us.
References Gardner, H., & Laskin, E. (1995). Leading minds: An anatomy of leadership. New York, NY: BasicBooks. Pedigo, S. (2009 - 2010). We could do everything again [Painting]. Retrieved December 15, 2012, from
Pedigo, S. (2011). Tiny small 153 [Painting]. Retrieved December 15, 2012, from http://sarapedigo.com/ www.sarapedigo.com/tiny-smalls.html#52
Published on Dec 15, 2012