CREATING AN ACCESSIBLE AND INCLUSIVE CLASSROOM CULTURE
My experiences as a transgender person, as a sibling of a person with disabilities, and as a trained painter have instilled in me a deep investment in teaching art history in ways that are sensitive to students’ personal identities and experiences. To bring this investment alive in my discussion sections for Introduction to American Art at the University of California, Riverside, I distributed a list of art objects to be taught in lecture and asked students to come to our first meeting prepared to identify three that sparked their interest and explain why in a casual class conversation. This exercise created a collegial atmosphere that made students comfortable contributing to conversations and motivated them come to class prepared. I also asked students to choose an object outside of that list that represented their identity and describe it in writing with as much detail as possible over one full single-spaced page. Not only did this exercise help me gauge students’ writing skills, it also taught me that a majority of my students identified as Latinx, Asian-American, and/or LGBTQ+ and that a number of them were first-generation college students. I used this information to focus many of our meetings on material that spoke to histories of Latinx, Asian-American, and LGBTQ+ people in the US. I also researched and adopted pedagogical methods designed to specifically support first-gen students, such as introducing study strategies, organizing study groups, providing clear instructions and rubrics for each assignment, and encouraging multiple drafts of difficult assignments to give students the opportunity to see themselves grow throughout the semester.
DEDICATION TO DIVERSIFYING ART HISTORY PEDAGOGY
In addition to creating an accessible and diverse classroom culture, I am also committed to designing courses and discussion sections around materials that center people of color, poor people, people with diverse genders and sexualities, and people with disabilities. For example, I designed and taught Art and Queer History at San Francisco State University to addresses art objects that participate in LGBTQ+ history as it intersects with histories of race and disability. I am equally committed to teaching special topics courses and survey courses in art history, as I have found discussion sections for Introduction to American Art, Abstract Expressionism, Survey of Western Art: Renaissance to the Contemporary, Modernism and Modernity to be rich forums for discussing how issues of race, class, sex, gender, and ability appear (or do not appear) in canonical art history. My pedagogy has been shaped by teaching certification programs at the Maryland Institute College of Art and Stanford University. My experiences teaching art fundamentals and studio art courses at George Mason University, Towson University, and Frederick Community College have also made me especially skilled in activating the material qualities of objects with students.
GOALS AND METHODS
In addition to teaching in ways that activate students’ personal identities and respond to their learning needs, I also use a backwards course design model to craft my syllabi around student learning goals and objectives. I use this approach to ensure that students gain the analytical skills necessary to accomplish the following seven tasks: see what appears in works of art—not what you think you see; creatively describe what you see in works of art; identify the historical contexts in which works were produced and evaluate how those contexts contributed to their creation; investigate how works of art were received after they were created and use this information to appraise how they impacted the worlds around them; and, finally, argue for the specific significance of works of art based on their formal qualities as well as their relationships to historical and contemporary contexts.
Close-looking, describing, reading, and writing are the primary methods I use to build these skills. To break up lectures and encourage students to keep their attention trained on an object for longer than might be comfortable, I use exercises in close-looking throughout my class sessions. These often involve asking students to move around the room to view the work from different perspectives and sometimes even drawing what they see. After these periods of silent observation, I then ask students to describe what they see in the object without conflating description and analysis. This task—deceptively difficult for many—prepares students to both speak and write about art in ways that are clearly rooted in its visual and material qualities. By looking closely at Diego Velasquez’s Las Meninas with students in discussion sections for Survey of Western Art: Renaissance to the Contemporary, students’ focus shifted from the most visible figures to more subtly vexing qualities of the painting—such as the reflection of the couple in the mirror and the verso of a large canvas. After these exercises, I then ask students to refer to readings to make connections between works of art and their historical, political, or theoretical contexts. Using this approach while looking at Robert Rauschenberg’s Bed (1955) at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art with students in Art and Queer History, a number of students were able to link the tensions they noticed between the plastic quality of the paint and the softness of the sheets and quilt to questions about the presence of sexuality in art without figuration.
The observational and descriptive skills we practice in class introduce students to the steps required for completing their own research-based writing projects. After my unsuccessful attempts to teach students how to write research papers by demonstrating how to link works of art to historical research in lecture, I now break this project into more manageable and supported assignments. In the first of these assignments, students give detailed descriptions of two objects from the same period and location that are related to the course topic. The second is an annotated bibliography that I coach students through and that they will use to draft their third assignment, which is a summary of the historical context in which the objects they chose were made. I offer extensive written and in-person feedback on each of these assignments. To transform these assignments into their final research papers, I ask students to choose one of their original objects to be the focus of their paper and to revise their description into a “motivated description” that focuses primarily on the elements in the work that highlight its historical context. In a workshop focused on thesis statements, I then teach students to generate statements that argue for the historical significance that they have found in their object. I also workshop how to defend these arguments by linking their motivated descriptions to their summaries of historical contexts and using their second object description as a point of comparison. Breaking this paper assignment into these components helped my students in Abstract Expressionism compose strong, research-based analyses of abstract art objects made in the US after World War II.
ASSESSMENT TECHNIQUES AND COURSE EVALUATIONS
Reviewing each component of this paper is one technique I use to assess student learning and the effectiveness of my methods as the course progresses. I also use entrance and exit quizzes to note whether students have identified core materials and concepts from each class, whether the class structure I have designed supports student learning, and to seek new strategies when necessary. My methods have consistently earned positive student evaluations, which praise my enthusiasm for the course material, the inclusivity of the objects and texts I teach, and my ability to explain complex ideas simply. Students at San Francisco State University have also expressed appreciation for the comprehensive syllabus I provide that includes detailed information about what will be expected of them through the entire semester because it allows them to organize their study time around their work schedules and family obligations.
(Sample course evaluations available here)
I am currently developing a survey of American art after World War II that addresses works by artists like Isamu Noguchi, Norman Lewis, and Laura Aguilar through events in US social history—such as Japanese internment, the Civil Rights Movement, Women’s Liberation, Gay Liberation, and the contemporary Immigrant Rights Movement. I am also developing Transgender Art History, which will address transgender visuality and materiality in art history. My primary resources for this course will be my own dissertation research, as well as images and articles from the issue of the Journal of Visual Culture that I co-edited called “New Work in Transgender Art and Visual Culture Studies”. A second special topics course I am designing is Disability in Art: Before and into the Contemporary that asks how and to what end people with disabilities participate in Western art history. Works at the center of this course range from Francisco Goya’s Beggars Who Get about on Their Own in Bordeaux (1824–7) to portraits of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (1921-1945), performances by Frank Moore (1946-2013), and sculptures by Judith Scott (1943-2005).