Tuesday, 20 March 2012

Teaching Philosphy - A Start

‘to get students past technical crap, to a creative space (where I believe most of them want to be)’

 It seems a bizarre and very basic philosophy? Is this really what’s underpinned not only my teaching, but my ideas on course development and curriculum development for the past ten years? Animation is a bizarre mix of the technical and the artistic – the technical covering basic craft aspects (art skills, drawing, concept development, writing and performance), as well as a tsunami of digital and media skills (2D software, CGI software, sound, post-production, emerging technologies (new  software, hardware and media).  The artistic covers some of the aspects already covered by craft, but in a different, deeper and more immersive way – concept development, creative thinking and ideas generation (including world creation and the more swamping immersive aspects of writing, painting and drawing).

In our 4 year ab initio course, we notionally simplify our course concept to claim that Stage 1 and Stage 2 concentrate on the development of ‘skills’ (be they artistic or technical), whilst Stage 3 and Stage 4 concentrate more on the development of ‘authorship’. The early stages tend towards a more Behaviourist teaching style and course delivery, whilst the latter stages present  far more Constructivist potentials and challenges. Perhaps the differences between the early and latter stages could be framed as the difference between ‘Makers’ and ‘Creators’? Some students struggle with the ‘maker’ role, whilst others never gather the multidisciplinary aspects of their practice together enough to become accomplished ‘creators’. In the world and industry of animation (and in the broader world of media), there are fulfilling lifelong career opportunities for both ‘makers’ and ‘creators’.

‘to get students past technical crap, to a creative space…’ let’s examine my philosophy again… Whilst technical problem solving and corner-cutting always forms part of any animation or media project (in college or in the big wide world), the technical tends to become just one problem in a pantheon of problems. I call this ‘inflicting yourself on the software, inflicting yourself on the tools’.  But beyond the technical, what is this ‘creative space’, this place where our students begin to become authors, world-creators, film-makers?

The ‘creative space’ is where authors have the confidence to move beyond concepts such as ‘ideas are cheap’ into a realm where they are the creative, they live and breathe concepts and ideas. The authors have the skills to work independently or to supervise teams of creative people, using diverse craft and technical techniques to create something from scratch, something wholly original, something wholly their own. Authors have the ability to discover and create even within this process of creation, changing concepts and ideas up to the very moment of completion. And, in the end, the best projects are never quite finished, they are merely abandoned.

A word of caution – the creative space is not an entirely comfortable place. Because creative work and the self become synonymous, problems, doubt and failure become hotwired into the author’s self, in a very raw and difficult way. Authors tend not to view any past accomplishments, but only the challenges of today and of the future. As I frequently tell my students ‘creativity is a life sentence, inescapable’. Indeed, when creative cease to do their own work, it strikes into their beings, like the removal of their limbs.

‘to get students past technical crap, to a creative space (where I believe most of them want to be)’
I had hoped to move beyond this philosophy, even in this first preliminary examination, but I haven’t. This is very much a first iteration, which can now be examined and questioned from now on, even if it is ultimately reaffirmed.

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