Monday, September 05, 2011

MFA/PhD blogs - studio and non-studio

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My interest in studio-based grad studies started when I was in undergrad, becoming more mythologized in a residency a few months after graduation. With lopsided, lengthy legwork (and alliteration), I was able to compose a more realistic idea of what grad school might be like, and whether or not I wanted to apply. Why grad school? Thesis or non-thesis program? What is the thesis-writing experience like? What do PhDs go through? What is a TA experience like? What kind of reading should I have done beforehand? What is it like to design and teach your own course? Most of these questions could be asked and answered very generally in email to previous grad students, while syllabus examples (for both grad students and TA'd courses) could sometimes be found online. But the majority of information I was able to find was often not about studio-based programs, nor even art-history based, but in writing, philosophy, design, etc. Now that I'm entering my second year in a studio-based MFA program, I'm still asking all the questions I just listed; I'm still in need of comparable experiences beyond the obvious and general. As a notebook/unposted journaler, I'm also interested in finding out whether other studio-based MFAs use/need blogs in order to compose, capture, and externalize their educational processes and experiences.

There are several reasons (easy to guess) behind the apparent fact that there are almost zero blogs out there from professional studio-based artists/teachers/students/writers, while there are MANY from almost any other field. This summer I started following several blogs from non-studio-based MFAs and PhDs and what is most surprising, inspiring, and reassuring is that the majority of them blog because either they directly use the blog space to work through and capture their thesis/dissertation/teaching experience processes, and/or they (often) directly state that it is the only space in which they can speak/write about issues and ideas they're really interested in, often within a community of bloggers who contribute to discussions not possible in the professional/teaching day-to-day.

In the next week I'll be attending general TA workshops and meetings for 2nd Years, and I'll soon be assisting painting professors in a two-part course (rather than co-teaching a course with another grad student, as I did last year), so I have a lot of questions about teaching experiences for studio-based grad students. Yesterday, while trying to find alternative copies of 'The Affect Theory Reader' (after a library recall), I found a blog from a doctoral student who is studying composition and rhetoric in the States. The first post I read started with the following:

"I’m thinking a lot about teaching lately, about how my teacherly self is implicated in opposition against my researchy self. This quarter, my students have made me confront some realities about schooling (about the teaching/learning of reading and writing, specifically) that I have remained willfully ignorant of. As a result, I have had to take a different kind of stance in the classroom. My students have described their literacy development as a process of losing control, in which the activities and texts they take joy in are gradually pushed aside in favor of texts and activities (with the concomitant immersion in a more sophisticated way of talking/knowing) they don’t find pleasure in. The activities of literacy, once a pasttime, a mediator of connection with family and friends, become a skills-based sorting tool. In my classroom, despite my good intentions, it became apparent to me that my students and I were not on the same team. We didn’t even speak the same language. So, rather than continue to reproduce a system of disempowerment, I’m trying to help my students feel more in control of what they’re learning. To do this, I have to get out of their way. Which means, in some ways, that I’ve had to get out of my own way. I’ve had to disregard what I think might be the easiest, coolest, or most expedient way to teach material and, instead, find ways to make resources and knowledge available to students so that they may come to a more complex or nuanced idea of, say, genre, on their own. And for them to feel in control, I think it might be that I feel some measurable loss of control."

"Elspeth Probyn and Sara Ahmed offer some ways to think through this process. Ahmed’s “Happiness Objects,” and Probyn’s “Writing Shame” (Affect Theory Reader, Siegworth & Gregg, eds) together work toward a fuller picture of the stuff that happens when we do writing work. In these essays, the body becomes the focal point. We do work, even intellectual work, with our bodies. Our bodies are conductors of affect, I think. As such, they determine may pass through us and what gets stuck, stalled out. I’m feeling a little tentative in the way I’m trying to think about this, so let’s turn to the texts."

It's quite amazing to be let in on someone's teaching experiences in such a transparent, structured way, and for now I'm content to follow those blogs which relate - even if indirectly - to my own experiences. It's even more amazing if I find research which relates to my own.

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