The Teaching Portfolio of Ralph Murrell Larmann
If I had it all to do over again, how could I make it better? Even though my former students are working with top design firms and doing well in graduate school, I'm still not sure that I have the formula for what worked. It's sort of fuzzy because I don't remember the particulars, only the gist of the teaching I did. I wish I could recall the exact projects that were given or the comments that made the difference. Even examples of student work have slipped through my fingers. How do I prove that I was even a part of that success? I know it happened. I worked for a small regional university in a rural part of Arkansas. No student had found a job outside of the region or even applied to graduate school in the ten years before I came. After four years several students were on their way to grad school and several others were working in New York, Austin, etc. at top 100 design firms. Perhaps this was just luck. Being in the right place at the right time.
I see a need to connect the educational experience of the student to real world experiences. Many don't know what a graphic designer or an artist does. They have antiquated notions of the artist living in a garret, creating works which will never be sold, and waiting tables in a local restaurant to make ends meet. Waiting for that big break. The art world only works like this if you want it to. Now animation houses need artists who can draw the figure, web design firms want folks whose sense of design and playfulness can get a casual net user to stay or return to a site. In 1998, art was cited as one of the hottest career opportunities for the next ten years. The artist need only adapt their style, ideas, or images to a new market. There is a hunger for the new in this market in which changes occur daily or weekly. The student of art still deals with the same basic issues of form and content.
Students need to know where they may be going. In the process of creating their own projects they are creating their own image. Their work will be the face that they will bring to the market. If the face is one that doesn't carry enough character, like an actor, they will wait for roles that are few and far between. The works they do in the courses must reflect a depth of their character. I often have students working on projects that are similar to those jobs that my graphic design friends are encountering. The student is then working on an idea that they may encounter in their professional lives. This is true in my painting course as well. The chance that they will be asked to work with the figure in the context of a portrait or character illustration is high.
Funny thing about students is that they work hard, turn in assignments, and respond in class, but often they don't have the confidence that they know the material. Even if I do a great job of communicating the material, they won't feel that they know it well enough that they could do what a professional does. Students need to feel a sense of confidence in their ability before they can make that next step beyond the academic world. They need top have feedback from others (besides me) to know that they are really "getting it." In art, where there are few absolutes, this lack of confidence comes from the need to know the right answer. The ability to know how to get to a good answer, is usually more valuable than knowing what the right answer may be. I try to get students to enjoy the process of finding a good solution.