Monday, May 28, 2012

sculpture is the new black

Ask any of my Sculpture students what their most important class is and they’ll tell you it’s Sculpture.  Ask any of my 3D Design students what their most important class is and they’ll tell you it’s 3D Design.

I’m not saying they really believe this is true, I’m just saying I’ve trained them to answer this way.  It’s sort of a running joke I have with them.  I start early in 3D Design telling them that flat things are boring.  This is a not-so-veiled reference to Drawing, Painting, Photography, Printmaking & Graphic Design.  Most students come in as freshmen knowing they can draw or photograph or paint or design on a computer and they know this is what they’ll use to pursue a career.  Sculpture is bulky, it can be expensive and you need a different set of tools and equipment to do it.  This makes it almost nonexistent in the public school system and rare even in well funded private schools.  The lack of experience at the K-12 level keeps most incoming freshmen from thinking they’ll want to do anything but survive the required Sculpture course with a passing grade.  Very few students expect to love it and so by pitting Sculpture in a mock battle against all the other areas, I’ve found a goofy way to get students excited about it. 

With that in mind, I start early preparing my students to do more than just survive the required classes.  I explain that one of the reasons people avoid 3D work is that it’s harder.  You may be skilled in designing in two dimensions but when you throw that third dimension in, things get very difficult.  The design has to function and hold up from 360 degrees instead of just 180 (or 20).  You also have to learn other skills in order to create three dimensional work.  You have to be able to do some basic wood working, welding or easy chemical mixing and you have to know how to do those things properly and safely.  So I make sure my students know that 3D Design and Sculpture are more advanced levels of artistry.  And yes, I realize how elitist that sounds.

The fun thing is that in the advanced sculpture classes you can actually see the students start to come to the realization that making sculpture, in fact, requires a mastery of all those 2D areas.  One of my advanced classes recently completed a public sculpture project and between brainstorming ideas and installing the finished sculptures they had to:

 - Use graphic design skills to digitally render a sketch of their sculpture and manipulate it into a photograph of the installation site.

- Use graphic design software skills to create PowerPoint or Adobe slide shows for their proposals

- Use drawing skills to develop their ideas and render their sculptures from several views

- Use painting skills to add color to the surface of their sculptures

- Use photography skills to document the entire process and to create portfolios of their work

And at that point, the charade is up and my students realize that I haven’t been telling them that the 2D classes were not important, but rather I’ve been telling them that the 2D classes are crucial as those skills help make them better sculptors.  I want them to see that the 2D classes are not always an end.  Sometimes they are the means to an end.

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