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Teaching Philosophy

John J. Rais

My most profound experiences in art have come from the point where, on a most
intimate level, I am transported out of a point of view to see in a different way. As a
student I have had these experiences in lectures and demonstrations, where the potency
of the change was fully realized sometime after, while training my gaze on art and
suddenly reaching a new level of understanding, a connective display that I could read.
From this I had understood visual art to be a language, unlike music, or the spoken
word. I approach sculpture education as a visual communication, where we the makers
and educators create our own symbols, text, and context for moving our viewers into a
new experience.
The “reading” of sculpture doesn’t unfold in a sequential manor like written text either. It
is felt, perceived, and analyzed where we negotiate our sensibilities with the physical.

To me, sculpture education poses several outlining questions to the student, for which
the answers are neither brief, linear, nor static.

What is the relationship between thinking and doing?

Many students are initially drawn to a system of making, nurturing a set of ideas or
mining their ideas through the use of materials or new technologies. Others apply their
art as an investigation of, and response to a nuance of the elements of culture. Some
rely heavily on the intuitive spirit of making. While I certainly have my own
methodological tendencies for making, I consider it my role to help students find their
own. Their individual answer to this question is strengthened through development of
their practice, which is both, tacit and intellectual. They will ultimately learn to mediate
the relationship between thinking and doing, which blooms out of this guided experience.

Experience leads a student to solidify her beliefs, writing a manual for her own ideation. I
believe the undergraduate experience is a transition from a survey of methods and
concepts to a refined vision of tastes and visual response. It is a mixture of new
practices and ideals performed like a piece of music. Learning art involves collaboration
with physical and intellectual practice held in some degree of balanced measure. It
encompasses the roots of our past, the understanding of methods, and the yearning to
say something unique. When designing curriculum, I choose a direction that maximizes
the possibilities for a diverse array of interpretations. I generally avoid dogmatic
teaching, focusing more on types of creative theologies the students bring as a response
to my guidance. I want them to question, even challenge what is taught, for out of that
intellectual curiosity comes a sense of ownership for their ideas.

Critique is the keystone that holds all of the elements of education together. I think of the
critique not as a form of judgment, but rather a discussion with informed individuals for
the purpose of improving ones art. It is the sounding board for ideas, and the preliminary
interface between the maker and the audience. Throughout every class I have taught; at
universities, community colleges and the dozens of workshops at art centers, critique
has been a time where a notable creative leap occurs in the student’s evolution.

At its core, my teaching style centers on the student as an individual professional, with
unique tastes and responses to the world. Sculpture is a distinct visual communication
that uses symbols, space and context. It is a progressive endeavor that, when taught
successfully, can transport the viewer out of himself or herself, and into a new
understanding of our world. Sculpture is a shared experience that traces the past and
speculation of the future into the world of now.