How Teaching Evolves Over Time

From Yankee magazine, March-April 2012:

“In her 1999 book, Pip Pip: A Sideways Look at Time, the British author Jay Griffriths sketched out two ways of interpreting the past. There’s “artifact history,” she wrote, and “ritual history.”

Most of us are familiar with artifact history. New England brims with house museums filled with bed warmers and boot hooks and forgotten china patterns. They’re durable curiosities, encrusted with the special sort of patina that results from the glazed looks of countless half-interested tourists.

Ritual history, however, is far more perishable and elusive. It’s that continuation of an action performed by one’s grandparents and their grandparents. Ritual history tends to erode less noticeably—around the margins at first, like the banks of a river. Eventually the river shifts course and few remember how it once flowed. The next generation thinks that the river has always flowed that way.”

This is how I have come to view teaching art. As new technologies and approaches come into play, how art is taught changes and evolves. As it evolves, some of what was taught and how it was taught in the past falls quietly by the wayside, becoming invisible to newer practitioners and teachers. My guess is that art teachers from 50 years ago would be astounded (Appalled? Excited?) by what is taught and how it is taught to art classes today. As we would be if we were around 50 years from now.

The rituals of passing on knowledge from one generation to the next are never static. It’s something to think about the next time a new, young faculty member proposes curricular change in your department!

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About Jane Alden Stevens

Jane Alden Stevens is a photographer and educator who is Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts at the University of Cincinnati. An active artist, Stevens has exhibited and published her work extensively both in the US and abroad. She is the author of “Tears of Stone: World War I Remembered” (2004). In the course of her teaching career, Stevens taught courses in film, photography, and professional practices for fine artists. Her interest in teaching practices was deepened when she started teaching the "Graduate Teaching Workshop", a required graduate level course for fine artists and art historians that prepares them to teach the courses they will later be assigned. She was also involved in the Preparing Future Faculty program at the University of Cincinnati, which prepares masters and doctoral students across all programs for teaching at the university level. She has conducted pedagogy workshops for a variety of universities, as well as participated in academic practicum panels at educational conferences. The recipient of numerous teaching awards, Stevens was honored with the all-university Cohen Award for Excellence in University Teaching at the University of Cincinnati in 2002 and Professor of the Year honors in her college in 2011.

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