July 23, 2021

Office Hours: Glen Helfand: California College of the Arts (CCA)

Art & Education

Caroline Charuk, 2012. Interactive sculpture. Public Project, Physical Exhibitions course.

Courtesy interdisciplinary studio course, P.E., 2014–18.

The Nave, California College of the Arts, San Francisco. Photo: Nicholas Lea Bruno/CCA.

Ann Li, Ouroboros I (“'Bù yán' is my middle name, but as I lay my yellow head on the cutting board I am delirious against the silence"), 2020. Digital collage, self-portrait photograph, and Instagram performance, 12 x 12 inches. Photo: Ann Li.

Office Hours is a new questionnaire series that gathers insights from those who teach artists. In response to 10 prompts, educators reflect on the discourses and approaches that animate their teaching, share their visions for the future of art education, and offer advice for students navigating the field of contemporary art.

Office Hours: Glen Helfand: California College of the Arts (CCA)

1. Why did you decide to go into teaching?
My teaching narrative is surprisingly organic. I had been writing about art—criticism, interviews, and essays—and curating shows and had become very much a part of the Bay Area art community. I was asked, separately, by an artist who I had worked with and a curator who I had met socially to step in to teach as an adjunct. It seems strange to think about it now, but at the time, I hadn’t really considered teaching as an option. But the opportunity was really a godsend. I had been working alone as a writer, and the dialogue inherent in the classroom provided such meaningful input. And getting a regular paycheck and institutional affiliation was a terrific bonus. My first courses were a contemporary art survey and a professional practices course, both of which related to my professional experience. Engaging in dialogue and finding out about artists’ perspectives has been invaluable. The dynamic really worked—I remember when a guy in the first class I taught at California College of the Arts told me I was a natural. So, I kept at it. I feel so lucky to have been able to work in this field.

2. What drew you to your school and what is your teaching philosophy?
CCA is very much a part of my community, and what I appreciate about it is the school’s interdisciplinarity. There are many different creative programs that allow for the cross-pollination of ideas and practices. I find it most exciting when students from different departments are able to work together and share resources. On the graduate level, I’ve worked with students in fine arts, curatorial, design, visual studies, and critical studies. There is an interdisciplinary studio program for undergrads where I had students working in even more media. There, I did a class that involved the interdisciplinary realm of fitness, which was edifying and a whole lot of fun!

The focus on one-on-one studio visits is also something that I appreciate. In graduate fine arts, this is called “Independent Studio Critique.” There’s an intimacy to these studio visits, and an investment in projects over time that can be particularly satisfying. The school’s philosophy strikes a healthy balance between artistic integrity and the reality of professional practices. CCA students reflect that, and it has been super exciting to see students blossom in the real world.

My teaching philosophy builds on this and includes opportunities for students to tie their classroom experience to professional situations or to communicate with people outside the educational context. I present myself as an interested party, viewing their work from the critical standpoint I would take if I was writing about it. My perspective as a professor is to value what each artist has to say about their own work and raise pertinent, productive questions.

Read more of Glen Helfand’s Office Hours on School Watch.

School Watch presents critical perspectives on art and academia. Featured profiles, surveys, and dialogues consider education in fine art, curating, and critical theory, as well as the ideas and conditions that influence practice.

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