Life is weird right now. The past week or two feels like the opening 10 minutes of some movies I’ve seen. Those movies were not fun movies.
I guess I shouldn’t assume that you know everything about me since I don’t know how you found this blog, but I’m an art professor at a small university in South Carolina. I teach 3D Design and Sculpture classes in our program. We have a small sculpture studio and I get to teach students how to create sculptures out of steel, wood, plaster, and many other fun materials. I love my job. When I say I “get” to teach, I really mean it that way. I “GET” to teach. I love sharing my love of three-dimensional art and processes, but I also love getting to interact with my students in the studio. I love teaching. I love my students.
A few weeks ago, we started hearing about the developing spread of the Coronavirus. Two weeks ago, we started getting some intense sounding emails indicating we all should be considering ways we could teach online if the virus became a pandemic. About 4 days after that we were told we were ending face-to-face instruction and moving to online/remote learning for at least two weeks. This week we were mandated by the governor to remain in an online class environment for the remainder of the semester. The campus is closed. As the kids are fond of saying, “that escalated quickly”.
This led directly to a full week of me trying to figure out how to teach sculpture studio classes online with no sculpture studio and no face-to-face meetings. Essentially I had to redevelop my entire semester of classes, five classes in all, with new content, new ways of instructing students, new ways of delivering content, new ways of providing feedback and critique, and learning the software that would allow me to do all of that. It was also the week before registration for the fall semester, and my advisees needed to meet, virtually of course, which meant trying to juggle advising for all my advisees. Whew. That was a week for sure.
Stacked on top of those professional responsibilities, I also had to deal with processing all this new and strange information about a pandemic, and what it means for my family. Beyond my art family at school, I also have a wife, two kids, and two dogs here at home. The stores were suddenly out of toilet paper, and then they were out of milk and bread. Now they seem to be out of just about everything. I was also bombarded with messages from the outside world telling me to stay home. I was asked to practice this new thing called “social distancing” to slow the spread of the virus.
Those are some grim paragraphs. I did not enjoy typing them. Let’s have a key change.
I’m so freakin’ blessed. Or lucky, whatever you choose to believe. Even in stressful times, I (and we) have so much more available to us than most other humans on the planet. When I got sent home from school, I still had a job, and I was even provided with much support for how to do that job remotely. I mean, have any of us even paused for a moment to thank God for the internet lately? Working from home simply did not exist several years ago. At least not without frequent trips to the post office. We are all so lucky to have smart phones, laptops, tablets, and ways for those to connect us to other people.
Last week I gathered myself and clicked some buttons and provided my students with assignments to help ease them into the new online environment. I asked each student to take a photograph of something that they found beautiful, and to send that to me along with a brief explanation. In the midst of a very turbulent few days for them, my students came back with the most inspiring and beautiful images and words. I was given a glimpse into their view of unsettling events and how creative people adapt and deal with those events. My students are remarkable.
Teaching the Sculpture III class online
While I really hate that I don’t get to walk into the studio on Monday morning and shout “Woooooooooo!” at the top of my lungs, I’m grateful that I was able to do that for half a semester. I’m grateful for my freshman students looking at me like I was a madman the first few times I did it. I’m grateful for the high fives I was given by all my classes. I’m grateful for the relationships I was able to develop before the change. I’m also grateful that I’ll be able to return to the studio with my people in August, and we’ll all have a greater appreciation for our time together.
Sculpture friends from last semester's Artrageous event
That’s the state of things here at the end of week one of intentional self-isolation. If you’re reading this, I’d love to establish communication with you during this time. Reach out to me by email or Instagram.