Sunday, January 21, 2007

Pedagogy in Liberal Arts Colleges – Ronald’s Response pt.1

So not too long ago, Hann asked me about what an architectural pedagogy in liberal arts colleges are like, and I think ECT also pressed me further for an answer. So I shan’t procrastinate further. Except that, I’m not too sure how to describe it in a palatable manner. There are too many angles to take. So this initial post shall be a more general run-down of the Studio Art program. I’ll dwell into the architecture side of it in part 2.

(I know you’re all interested in the architecture side of things, but I need to explain this first before I go into the architecture. So bear with me)

It’s a slightly tricky question for me to answer because Wesleyan’s programme isn’t representative of most liberal arts colleges. And secondly, because a fair bit of my architectural growth took place during my 3rd year away on Columbia’s New York/Paris: Shape of Two Cities programme. (which itself, deserves another entry) To be fair to the question, and to be fair to Wesleyan, I will only focus on Wesleyan.

Most of you probably know that liberal arts education is broad based, meaning that one has to cover a broad range of subjects that fall loosely into three categories: i) the arts and humanities, ii) the social sciences, iii) and the natural sciences and mathematics. My courseload for modules related to my major only accounted for about 30-40% of all that I studied in college. So what I got to study outside art/architecture accounted for a large part of my education. So there are two parts to this equation, i) what I studied within my major, and ii) what I studied outside my major (Maybe I’ll dwell into that in yet another part.)

Wesleyan's Kevin Roche-designed Centerfor the Arts,
where much of life took place

I majored in Studio Art (Architecture concentration) from Wesleyan. [It was the closest thing to architecture that they had]. To loosely describe it, the studio art program at Wesleyan has up to 8 concentrations in all (Drawing, Painting, Sculpture, Printmaking, Architecture, Photography, Digital Media, Graphic Design & Typography) Each concentration has one professor/instructor. For each concentration, there are two studio sequences, an intro-level course and an upper-level course.

Every Studio Art major at Wesleyan must take Drawing I (which is charcoal, graphite, etc drawing involving figures, portraiture, line, solid, void, mass, shadow… you get the idea) to qualify for any other studio courses. Every student would have taken both the intro and upper-level modules for their choice concentration, plus other studio modules from other mediums. (If they concentrate in a 2D medium, they are obliged to take at least one studio in a 3D medium, i.e. architecture or sculpture)

Apart from the 4 required studio modules (not including Drawing I), each Studio Art major is required to take 4 other modules in either architectural history or art history, of which one module must be non-Western and one module must be pre-Renaissance. My non-Western was on Mughal (North India) art and architecture and my pre-Renaissance was on ancient Greek archaeology. The analytical skills (and lessons about life!) derived from architectural and art history is not to be underestimated.

Ronald's thesis-mates hard at work

The real rite of passage of the program that every Studio Art major must go through is a senior thesis, which is a requirement for graduation. In Studio Art terms, this is not a research essay, but rather a year-long project that culminates in a gallery installation in our Kevin Roche-designed gallery. Where architecture is concerned, this involves investigating a thesis question that culminates in an installation. (I shall deal with this in part 2)

So to sum up this part, the mainstays of the Studio Art program are: 1) the compulsory introductory drawing class, 2) 4 studios from any concentration, at least one must be upper-level, 3) art/architecture history requirement, and 4) thesis. So in pt. 2, I shall deal with how architecture sits (surprisingly comfortably) within everything.