Visual Arts Teacher
Tell us about Topics in Art History: Off the Wall, and its interdisciplinary approach.
Off the Wall, a team-taught course, was the result of my longterm collaboration with CA dance instructors Richard Colton and Amy Spencer. Richard, an avid consumer of the arts in all media, had engaged me in a decade-long dialogue, during which we educated each other about our respective disciplines. A few years ago we realized that we could do this in front of students and get paid for it. The result was a course that studies the collaborative process between visual and performing artists in the twentieth century, with special emphasis on Paris and New York.
How does the creative process permeate classes throughout CA’s curriculum?
Team-teaching Off the Wall forced me to consider how the creative process ran through all my colleagues’ work at CA, including work in the sciences and the humanities. It was impossible to ignore the work of Joyce, Freud, or, for that matter, Einstein as we studied Picasso and the Cubists. All three visionaries were breaking down traditional forms or methodologies in literature, psychology, and physics to find the underlying causes of what we experience in daily life, just as Picasso and Braque were doing with their paintings. This epiphany led to a new project in my architecture course in which students were asked to design spaces to facilitate creativity for faculty and staff clients, who were drawn from every department.
Have you developed or changed any courses at CA?
I was initially hired to teach sculpture and drawing, but after two years the film teaching position opened up, and I talked my way into that job. At first, it was the classic “keeping a page ahead of the students” situation, but over the following decade I created the foundation for today’s film program by introducing courses such as Screenwriting and Film History. During this time, my own interest shifted from hands-on filmmaking to writing for film, which led to the screenwriting course as well as my own aspirations as a screenwriter.
You’re teaching art history and architecture. Where did your own fascination with these topics come from?
I get bored very easily and constantly find myself going off on tangents to explore new interests. Art history was an interest I had developed as a painting major in college, while my obsession with architecture stemmed from my graduate work in sculpture at a university where all my friends were in the architecture program. Architecture, after all, is basically sculpture with plumbing. That said, there is a huge difference between building and architecture. My course tries to define what that difference is and, as a result, we invariably start talking about how people use buildings. This leads to ideas concerning space, place, and ritual—concepts elegantly explored in Gaston Bachelard’s classic series of essays, The Poetics of Space.
Over the years, what have you found is the best way to engage students?
You engage students by being engaged. If my students see that I am constantly trying to broaden my understanding of a topic or a problem, they tend to follow suit. They also see me make mistakes, and that gives them the confidence to make their own. Sometimes you have to get it “wrong” before you can get it “right,” and “wrong” is often more interesting and always more educational.
You left CA and came back. What drew you back?
I have taught at CA off and on for twenty-three years. The best thing I ever did was to leave my job—at the time I thought the move was for good—and move to Los Angeles to take a job as a director of project development for Samuel Goldwyn Films. I liked the challenge of trying to develop film projects in "The Industry" and loved living in LA, but realized after a few years that I missed teaching and was probably better at it than at what I was doing. I came out of this four-year hiatus as a much better screenwriting teacher and with yet another new course to teach, called Writers from LA.
What did you learn while you were away?
My time away from Concord gave me a healthy perspective on the school and allowed me to appreciate its unusual qualities, including the intensity of the students and the passion of the faculty for the learning process. CA is, bluntly put, a college for teenagers, and it has assembled an amazing faculty who are not only gifted teachers but also, in many cases, working artists, each engaged in very different but equally compelling work. My ongoing dialogue with fellow faculty, including those in the humanities and sciences, helps shape my courses and inspires my own work.
What is your own work like?
Currently, I am trying to complete a script based on a colleague’s first novel. Our modest goal is to get a rough first draft complete before the two-year anniversary of our initial collaboration. Once the script is in the mail, I have a series of small sculptures to complete. They wrap photos of building interiors and exteriors around simple geometric forms, which suggest different types of buildings, from bungalows to skyscrapers.
Please comment on what’s currently inspiring you as an artist.
I find myself increasingly drawn to the classical forms of the past. I love Remment Koolhaas’ buildings, but spend more time looking at baroque churches to which I would not have given a second glance a few years ago. Ditto with the latest paintings to emerge from the Chelsea galleries, which seem insubstantial compared to the neoclassical drawings of Ingres. Gus Van Sant’s films are the work of a brilliant mind, but will they hold up as well as Jean Renoir’s work over time? This sliding back into history seems unavoidable; in a few years I will probably disappear altogether.