When graduating with a Master of Fine Arts degree in 2003, education was not part of my future career plans. However in 2006, the Academy of Art University graduate school director asked me to teach a Group Directed Study. Eleven years later can’t imagine not teaching. It has become an integral part of my identity and legacy helping to guide future artist generations.
Since my first day, courses I have taught include Composition for Abstract Art, Abstract & Interpretation, Critical Thinking, Directed Studies, and participated on review boards at the Academy of Art University. In addition, mentored students in creating cohesive bodies of work, professional writings, ESL guidance, speaking, critiques, portfolio review, tours of Bay Area artist studios, galleries, and museums. Students have been of all ages, backgrounds, and nationalities.
A teacher’s goal is to lead by example and this has shaped my academic philosophy. I work locally and globally as an artist, curator, advocate, writer, and lecturer. Exhibition highlights include exhibitions at the de Young Museum Artist-in-Residence, Harvard University, and Shanghai Oil Painting & Sculpture Institute Art Museum. Advocacy is very important and I serve on the Public Art Advisory Committee, Richmond Arts & Culture Commission, and mentor for Students Rising Above.
My teaching philosophy is to encourage classroom community, provide safe environments for free expression, foster confidence in communications publicly and privately, and for artists to create authentic and sustainable art practices. For example, I want students to feel comfortable speaking, ask questions, take creative risks, and critically evaluate strengths along with weaknesses. Each artist is unique in concept and comprehension style, deserving the best educational experience possible.
Bottom line: the main focus is the student. As a result, I tailor educational tools, class curriculum, and outcomes to fit diverse needs. Organizing activities such as writing, actively listening, and evaluating are important parts of daily practice. I encourage personal assessment techniques so students learn to work independently similar to a successful and professional artist. The objective is for artists to build a template that is flexible and adaptable as they transition from academia into the professional world.
As an educator, I advocate for students to become the best artists possible. The purpose is to guide an artist on how to refine and define style. Outcomes include developing a manifesto or personal set of rules for creation. Students then investigate concepts from inception to completion by questioning application methods to display. The mission is to encourage research on how to successfully support concepts.
During studio classes, I stream lectures so students can consciously or subconsciously gather the correct terminology used in the contemporary art world. This creates an environment where students can openly talk about their art utilizing current philosophies. A wonderful example is witnessing a student who refused to communicate at the beginning of class actively engaging by the end of the semester.
My perspective is to be honest; if a question can’t be answered, I say so. Then as a class exercise, we work together to find the correct information. This reinforces that it’s ok to not know all the answers. Students learn to share resources throughout the semester reinforcing that research clarifies an art practice.
Overall, students give back much more than I can hope to offer. The best moments are seeing students bravely jump into the art world with no fear. When students succeed, I feel so proud. My teaching philosophy is to provide the best environment possible to support artists. That is true success to me.
Jenny E. Balisle