My teaching philosophy is rooted in open mindedness, and in my own personal commitment to continuous learning. In the classroom, I am committed to facilitating students in the acquisition of skill and technique, and to guiding them through their intellectual and conceptual processes. Helping them specify what drives their creative pursuits will inform how they can employ different mediums to better express their ideas. This requires my sensitivity, reception, and ability to be supportive of each students’ unique perception of the world; and the patience to guide them through the practice of making, learning, and developing new ways to convey their thoughts.

Completing assignments and being productive in the studio are the most important components of what will determine the success of a student. At the beginning of a class, I assign rigorous exercises with explicit directions, setting a good pace and instilling a hearty work ethic amongst the class. As the class progresses, and students fall into a weekly rhythm of working, I gradually encourage them to loosen up, urging them to try different approaches to their assignments, through experimentation and risk taking. By the middle of the semester, they should be making plenty of mistakes in the studio. Students will often be concerned with the outcome of their work- and while the end products of their work are important, many times it is the process of doing, failing and learning from their mistakes that will be the most valuable lesson to them. Through disciplined practice, uncertainty and risk taking, they able to thoroughly explore the range of their materials and the intellectual concepts that motivates their work. 

Jordan Graves

Crystals on Fabric, 2017

Cotton, Procion Dye, Borax Crystals, Framed in Wood


A student accidentally grow crystals from a chemical that is commonly used as a mordant for fabric in the dyeing process. In her mis-mixed color solution, she discovered its crystallizing effect. As her final project she completed a suite of several 18” x 12” framed, bunches of dyed, unrinsed, fabric. The crumpled fabric stuffed into each frame had crystals sporadically growing on the nooks and folds of the cloth. It was through her willingness to not re-mix her dye solution, and to embrace her mistake that that she was able to discover and exploit the results she achieved. This is the epitome of how we can thrive from our artistic accidents.

Structured timelines and assignments, however, are not an exclusive solution to successful teaching or learning. Each student is unique, and some may learn better from more uninhibited assignments and fewer guidelines- or through a completely different pedagogical approach altogether. In this case my flexibility and openness as an instructor are important. Working with students to come up with successful resolutions to assignments, that fulfill the requirement of the rubric and better facilitate learning is the goal. It is this sensitivity to individualism that I believe distinguishes a professor as being effective, and this is what I strive towards as an educator.

Much of what is learned happens through activities inside the classroom, but it is important to understand that academic pursuits outside of the classroom are just as critical. Scholarly reading, multimedia tutorials, attending artist lectures, and going to see a variety of exhibitions on a regular basis, all bolster creative learning and help students make more informed choices in the studio. Many of these activities are built into the curriculum, but it is expected from students that they independently partake in similar endeavors not assigned in class to further enhance lessons on the syllabus. I do my best to make this easy for them by utilizing university online learning spaces (Blackboard, Canvas etc…) to post exhibitions dates, articles, artist opportunities, and any other outside information that might be relevant to the class.

To aid in the absorption and comprehension of information, writing is a fundamental tool which I use to help students coalesce knowledge they have acquired through learning activities, into their creative processes. Short summaries about assignments enable them to discern processes they are drawn to, or what they dislike about a particular technique. Written proposals for final projects promote clarity of thought and help flesh out conceptual ideas, and synopses of academic readings allow them to synthesize intellectual content. Requiring students to transcribe their thoughts directly encourages the development of an internal dialogue, and a personal vernacular about their art enabling them to communicate ideas more articulately through speech and their creative practice.

While a solid theoretical method towards teaching is essential, it is just as crucial to realize that an instructor's relationship with a student is first and foremost a human interaction; and that students often learn just as much- or more- from their peers as well as from the guidance of an instructor. The better able you are to connect with your students on a personal level, and to help them connect personally with each other, the easier it will be to facilitate learning and growth. Pairing students up to work in groups, asking students to assist other students, and engaging in laughter and conversation as a group can develop a positive and productive, creative chemistry.

It is my job as an educator to set up circumstances which are conducive to learning, to be transparent about what I expect from my students, and to be responsive to the uniqueness of each person in class. I bring my expertise, technical knowledge, and my own uniqueness as an artist and person to the classroom; and am eager to share my professional experiences with pupils through dialogue, conversation, or formal training. While students should feel empowered and excited about their art making, it is equally as important to encourage them to think critically about their creative practice, helping them to make better choices as artists.

Marissa Shell