[iDC] a transient curriculum

Adam D Trowbridge atrowbridge at saic.edu
Mon Sep 19 17:28:38 UTC 2011

Hi everyone,

Caroline Buck asked us to lead a discussion related to our upcoming
presentation at Mobility Shifts, as part of Tiffany Holmes’s "Free
iPads!?: Scalable Digital Pedagogies for Undergraduate Education"
panel (Fri, Oct 14

Currently we are working towards a meaningful integration of new
media, and design within the first year experience in the Department
of Contemporary Practices at the School of the Art Institute of
Chicago. We are engaged in the development of "foundation" level
research and studio course materials and are considering the critical
theory and cultural circumstances informing our thinking.

Before we discuss a contemporary curriculum for art and design in the
first year of college, traditionally and now perhaps questionably
called “foundations,” we should plan for the day when our curriculum
becomes less relevant. In designing the Vorkurs, the Bauhaus
preliminary course introduced in 1919, Johannes Itten could not have
imagined that he was designing a curriculum for 2011, and yet much of
foundations art and design education is still based on his approach
(or more dated approaches). He had already been pushed out of the
Bauhaus by the time Gropius made clear that the school was concerned
about the “dominant spirit of our epoch”.1 Itten’s writing makes clear
that his teaching was radical and responded to the contemporary  art
and design worlds, in which he participated.2 Foundations programs
have adopted, rather randomly, Bauhaus curriculum components since the
end of the Berlin Bauhaus in 1933 while seemingly ignoring that the
conditions that lead to their development had shifted, and continue to
change, radically.

We propose abandoning the results of Itten’s process and instead
considering the process itself. He was responding to the events of the
First World War and the resulting “scientific-technical”
civilization.3 In contrast to his resulting pedagogical approach, we
can no longer responsibly imagine an art and design approach that is
ordered, singular or universal. We instead begin by constructing
limited, contemporary scenarios. We are only jumping ahead twenty-four
years after the Bauhaus, to the Situationist International’s
“Preliminary Problems in Constructing a Situation”. Yet we are light
years closer to our contemporary issue of creating an open system of
examples rather than principles and laws:

“That's why the Situationists don't confront the world with: ‘Here's
your ideal organization, on your knees!’ They simply show by fighting
for themselves and with the clearest awareness of this fight, why
people really fight each other and why they must acquire an awareness
of the battle.”4

Which battles can we prepare students for? Which situations can we
construct within the structure of a formal institution? How can we
better refrain from indoctrinating students into our own art and
design worlds and instead support them in formation of their own?

1. The use of simulation and scenario

Our projects are often based on assuming a background the student does
not have and inviting them to enter into an experiment seemingly
already in progress. Rather than reducing students to a blank slate or
helping them find some imagined, internal core, we invite them to
engage with materials and concepts without preconceived outcomes. We
encourage collaboration, solidarity and alliances as approaches to
working outside a singular practice. We encounter students’ aesthetic
senses as events already occurring. We cannot hope to counter eighteen
years of commercial media. Instead we focus on media literacy and
helping them to develop an ability to selectively engage and process
media. Our scenarios are interlinked. Each result moves into the next
project. There is no final product but there is always an invitation
to practice, to take risks and fail.

2. Coming to terms with perpetually shifting “foundations” and
teaching a contemporary approach to learning

We cannot presume that any specific skills are a foundation for
inventing art and design, much less the traditional studio skills
related to painting, sculpture and life drawing. In the last few
decades, art has refocused on daily life yet also expanded further
into science and technology. In the collapse of civilization, space
has become available for broad experimentation, but the situation is
unstable. Art, design and community were intertwined before art was
cut out and placed in a white cube. The return of art to social life
and food, but as a “practice,” is a symptom of how far into the
collapse we are. At the same time, design, art and technology
intersections have moved far beyond the pairing of artists and
engineers in "9 Evening: Theatre & Engineering" (despite its recent
resurrection as AOL’s “Seven on Seven”). Art and design students must
make sense of materials, substances, systems, knowledge, process,
generation, and simulation. Code is art practice is design is research
is community.

The unstable present must be addressed but we question whether
“change” should be so readily embraced. Deleuze noted that in our
contemporary societies of control “perpetual training” would tend to
replace formal education.5 While this has been discussed on this list,
in the form of DIY approaches, we note that approaching constantly
changing contemporary art and design worlds should not lead to
constant mobilization, as described by The Invisible Committee:

“Mobility brings about a fusion of the two contradictory poles of
work: here we participate in our own exploitation, and all
participation is exploited. Ideally, you are yourself a little
business, your own boss, your own product. Whether one is working or
not, it’s a question of generating contacts, abilities, networking, in
short: ‘human capital.’ The planetary injunction to mobilize at the
slightest pretext – cancer, ‘terrorism,’ an earthquake, the homeless –
sums up the reigning powers’ determination to maintain the reign of
work beyond its physical disappearance.”6

In this contemporary space of art and design, we focus on teaching
students to research critically, to live critically, to notice things
and to immerse themselves in heterogeneous scenarios discussed above.
In our eleven years (combined) teaching, we have not yet reused the
same material from a previous year. It is no longer possible to
occasionally update curricula, things must be continually and
radically changed. This reflects our own approach to design and art in
a similar way that the Bauhaus instructors’ focus on architecture,
order and spiritual exploration was reflected in the Vorkurs. We
presume that our approach will also change and that it will someday
become less relevant. Until then, though, we remain committed to
providing students with a transient set of scenarios encouraging them
to invent the future and construct their own, shared worlds. It is the
most up-to-date approach to art and design we can imagine.

While we are open to discussing anything related to this post, we are
specifically interested in situations and skills that you think are
relevant, and perhaps unique, to 21st century art, design, new media
and social engagement. We also have a longstanding interest in the
place of critique in the art and design (and any other) curriculum.
Finally, we are interested in discussing parallel and alternative
approaches, including how existing institutions can build bridges (or
dig tunnels) to organizations like The Public School.



Subject: Our use of "a transient curriculum" as the title came after
we rejected multiple versions and was not inspired by Roy Ascott's
essay from 1994, found in Telematic Embrace (p 317) —at least not
consciously. However, we take having stumbled upon the same phrase as
Ascott as a good omen. Ascott ends the chapter "We cannot turn (yet
again!) to the industrialized materiality of the Bauhaus. Klee,
Schlemmer, and Gropius, for all their ingenuity and charm, cannot
sustain us any more. The twentieth century is passing. New practices
are forming, new values have to be forged."

1. Banham, Reyner. Theory and Design in th e First Machine Age, pp 278 - 9
 Available: http://books.google.com/books?id=ewPCi4SZC6cC&dq

2. “In 1915-16 I worked on pictorial compositions of geometric
abstract forms and mounted natural materials. Hölzel sent me my first
students to enable me to make a living. At first, my own work was
strongly reflected in my teaching, but through the students’ many
questions, problems of art education came into focus for me...We
worked on geometric and rhythmic forms, problems of proportion and
expressive pictorial composition. Assignments with textures and
subjective forms were something new. Besides the study of polar
contrasts, exercises for the relaxation and concentration of the
students brought amazing successes. I recognized creative automatism
as one of the most important factors in art. I myself worked on
geometric-abstract pictures which were based on careful pictorial
constructions” Itten, Johannes. Design and Form: The Basic Course at
the Bauhaus. Trans. John Maass. p 8

3. Ibid, p. 11

4. Vaneigem, Raoul. The Revolution of Everyday Life. Chapter 24.
Available: http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/216

5. Deleuze, Gilles "Postscript on the Societies of Control". October
59, Winter 1992, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, pp. 3-7.
Available: http://www.n5m.org/n5m2/media/texts/deleuze.htm

6. The Coming Insurrection, The Invisible Committee
Available: http://tarnac9.wordpress.com/texts/the-coming-insurrection/

Adam Trowbridge, Adjunct Associate Professor
Department of Contemporary Practices
School of the Art Institute of Chicago
37 S. Wabash, Chicago, IL 60603
atrowbridge at saic.edu
312.945.8769 Office

Jessica Westbrook
Assistant Professor, Director of Technology Initiatives
The Department of Contemporary Practices
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago
37 S Wabash Avenue, Room 316
Chicago, IL 60603

email: jwestbrook1 at saic.edu
cell: 423.645.9502
irc: #saicwwwired
skype/chat: teleSEED


SAIC will present on October 14, 2011 at Mobility Shifts,
International Future of Learning, The New School, NYC.

Channel TWo

Plausible Artworlds | Basekamp

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