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April 22, 2022

Office Hours: Patricia Johnson: Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)

Art & Education

RISD travel course to Pacific Northwest of Canada. Photo: Patricia Johnson.

Office Hours: Patricia Johnson: Rhode Island School of Design (RISD)
1. Why did you decide to go into teaching?
I taught on and off as an adjunct at schools in Canada and the United States for many years. I made the decision to apply for a tenure-track position at RISD because, frankly, it was a dream academic job. It also reflected my interest in expanding my creative practice into teaching and research, primarily on globalization, social entrepreneurship, strategic development, design methodology, material cultures, sustainability, and regional and international economic development.

2. What drew you to your school and what is your teaching philosophy?
My approach to teaching is strongly theoretical and context-based, with an emphasis on real- world local and international projects. Contemporary design practice is changing rapidly in response to new technologies, global marketing, environmental concerns, and the internationalization of commodity flows and production channels. Design practitioners and researchers need to address how these social, economic, and political shifts will affect the conditions of innovative thinking and production.

3. What theory and art history do you consider most essential for your students? What artist or artwork do you refer to most often?
Design and furniture history is key. I refer to a wide range of people, from eighteenth-century maker Michael Thonet—who is arguably the first to mass-manufacture furniture in the form of bentwood chairs—to Jasper Morrison—a contemporary British designer known for his ability to create pure and essential forms in all his design work.

4. How do you navigate generational or cultural differences between you and your students?
Over the past decade and a half, I have created platforms for large-scale international design and crafted development projects with partners like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), and the International Development Bank (IDB). The regional focus of this work has been in Africa, South America, Latin America, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Northwest of Canada, each of which provides on-the-ground research and applications that support my creative practice. I have a long collaborative relationship with Peter Mabeo in Botswana and Jocelyn Down of Liana Cane in Guyana; I have worked on a long-term product development project in Haiti and shorter-term projects in Mexico and with the Haida First Nations on Haida Gwaii in Canada. These activities are part of ongoing explorations that address exchanges between research and design and commerce and culture and emphasize the importance of human-centered, sustainable design practice. In other words, cultural difference is central to my practice and has informed how I navigate the same in the classroom.

Read more of Patricia Johnson's Office Hours on School Watch.

Office Hours is a 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.

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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