August 20, 2021

Office Hours: Elissa Armstrong: Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts

Art & Education

Monument Avenue, Richmond, Virginia, 2020. Courtesy Art Review Honors class. Photo: Elissa Armstrong.

Xavier Oliva, Nehemiah Terry, and Zachary Thomas-Kuckerak, group tension woodshop project, 2019. Wood and screws, Space Research class. Photo: Elissa Armstrong.

Rashid Johnson, Monument, 2018. Installation view, Provocations: Rashid Johnson, Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University. Photo: Elissa Armstrong.

Kat Nash, 2021. Ceramic pitcher, tray, and cups with clay, glaze, and decals, Advanced Handbuilding class. Photo: Kat Nash.

Mia Donalson, coil and surface treatment project, 2020. Clay and underglaze, Introduction to Ceramics class. Photo: Elissa Armstrong.

Office Hours is a new questionnaire series that gathers insights on teaching from artists. In response to ten 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: Elissa Armstrong: Virginia Commonwealth University School of the Arts

How do you navigate generational or cultural differences between you and your students?
I have been interested in learning about Generation Z characteristics to benefit my teaching, and it has subsequently become a part of my research practice. To be effective in the classroom, I need to understand and identify this generation’s salient cohort characteristics, interests, and concerns, as well as their learning preferences. This helps me identify and structure approaches that best connect with, and work for, my students. Cultural differences are valued in my classroom and treated with respect. I acknowledge when I don’t know something and, following inclusive teaching practices, I educate myself when needed.

What changes would you like to see in art education?
Institutional inclusive teaching practice training and support for faculty to help them incorporate these important strategies into their studio classrooms. And the adoption of new approaches to the critique practice so that the critique is more student-centric, inclusive, responsive to a range of student learning styles, and disentangled from assessment and focused more on feedback.

My interest in seeing these vital changes in arts education has resulted in my current research. With my coauthor Mariah Doren from RISD, I have a book under contract with Intellect Press, an academic press in the UK affiliated with the University of Chicago Press: Do We Have To Call It Critique? Reimagining The Tradition: more inclusive, more fulfilling, and maybe a little more fun (working title). It’s a compilation of perspectives and critique methods reimagining and reinvigorating tired art school critique traditions. While assessment of student work is a cornerstone of any educational context, the uniformity with which art and design educators have approached this nearly universal process is dated—stuck in twentieth-century perspectives on value, quality, and uniqueness in art and design.

Many students and faculty speak openly about finding the critique experience unfulfilling, out of sync with desired learning outcomes, and, at times, a traumatic exercise of bias, power, and authority. This text addresses these gaps and concerns, examining the disconnect between assessment and critique and exploring how different kinds of work, and different kinds of assignments, benefit from different frames for discussion. It unpacks the traditional critique expectations, pointing out successes and challenges, as well as some of the associated unintended and unforeseen consequences. In pulling apart the components and roles of the critique, areas for improvement are identified, resources are shared, and the critique process is opened for reimagination. This is a timely publication, as students have become increasingly vocal about how art school education lacks inclusivity, and conversations about equity, inclusion, and student well-being are being foregrounded on many college campuses.

Read more of Elissa Armstrong'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.

Thank you!

An email with a confirmation link has been sent to the email address you entered. To complete your subscription, click this link.