Art Education and Teaching Philosophy

JJ Baker’s Teacher-Artist Philosophy:

The Importance of Making Mistakes

Education is a two way street. Knowledge should be transmitted back and forth between teacher and student, because each has a unique perspective and understanding. I use the classroom as a space for the transfer of skill and knowledge between teachers and students.

The classroom has enormous potential for generating aesthetic experiences, which I enjoy as a student and hope to create as a teacher. The classroom is not a static place where students sit and wait for knowledge to be given to them. Rather, it is a dynamic space where the students interact with each other and the teacher in order to discover the knowledge. An art classroom is the perfect place for such learning to occur. The lessons that I remember and still inspire me today happened in my previous art classes, where I was given a brush a told to paint, instead of being told what to paint and with what brushes..

My experience in becoming an art educator has stressed the importance of many things, most of all the importance of mistakes. As the great pedagogue Bob Ross would say, “There are no mistakes, only happy accidents.” The term mistake often carries with it negative connotations, and people often do not even try because they worry they will make a mistake. In reality it is one of the best things to happen. Without mistakes there would be no progress, no learning. Mistakes allow for the process and experience of knowledge to occur.

In my artistic practice I relish the mistakes I make. I either learn from my mistake and grow, or I push my mistake to the farthest extent until it is a purposeful blunder. I encourage the same in my classroom. Students should mess up and do the wrong thing, because by dealing with the mistake, they will eventually discover what works. Through this process, they will create the knowledge for themselves.

My Personal Aesthetics

Art and music have always gone hand in hand. From cave painters performing rituals with torchlight and chants to Kandisky trying to visually represent music, the two arts have been interrelated and distinguished merely by the senses. One stimulates the eyes and the other the ears. In my artistic practice, as well as most artists, I have to be listening to music to feel productive and channel extra inspiration. Of lately, one album that has been on rotation is John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, a quintessential jazz album whose energy and movement rouses me into action and creation.

For those of you unfamiliar with jazz, the genre defies basic rhythm and structure like rock music and instead focuses on complex beats and improvisation to create music that is simultaneously jazz while also breaking down the barriers of the genre. I was explaining to a friend of mine the other day that a typical rock beat is like a steady walk: left, right, left, right; one, two, three, four. Jazz, on the other hand, is some short of shuffle, and John Coltrane plays it quick: left, left, right and left, right, right; one and a two three four and a one. When listening to rock music I will nod my head to the beat, but with jazz my fingers bounce and my toes with tap along, attempting to follow the various rhythms of bass, drums, piano, and horns.

Coltrane’s music falls under the category of bebop, a type of jazz that developed in the 1940’s that was faster and more complex than anything previous. Bebop musicians play at breakneck speed. Saxophonists like Coltrane played a fury of notes one after the other, screeching across scales, while the piano would clatter along, with the pulse of a bass-line and the heartbeat of drums thumping in rhythmic chaos. The music exists on the verge of falling apart, yet plunges onward with life. Life, with all its energy and confusion, is what I hear when I listen to jazz. I cannot be still while playing A Love Supreme; some part of me will be dancing in agreement, whether I’m conscious of it or not. The lifelike pulse that I perceive in jazz is what I find so aesthetically pleasing. It is both immediate and honest while also acknowledging something deeper that exists beyond the music, something that happens from the fusion of instruments and my perceiving it.

The energy and immediacy are also apparent in similar art forms that arose at the same time as bebop. Abstract expressionism was beginning to flourish as the premier art form. Artists like de Kooning and Pollock were making work utilizing thick, emphatic brushstrokes and convoluted compositions. On a recent trip to the Chicago Art Institute, I stood in front of a Jackson Pollock drip painting and thought, “This is jazz.” Pollock was heavily influenced by jazz music, digging Benny Goodman and Gene Krupa, and this influence is apparent in his work. Writers later to be labeled “Beats” also worked at this time, using the quick tempo of bebop and lyrical stylings of scat to inform their work. Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg began to pour out volumes of work, written in a stream-of-consciousness style, much like the improvisational jazz that was developing at the same time.

All of these art forms involve similar characteristics that I try to incorporate into my practice as an artistic educator, including passion, improvisation, and the willingness to make mistakes. The liveliness and energy of these artists show their passion for their chosen medium. It is as if they are constantly wrestling with their work, but in the end overcome the challenge. The viewer can imagine sweat forming on the brows of the artists as they play, paint, and write. This dedication shows how committed they are to their craft, and inspires other to do the same. I hope to bring this same passion into the classroom and inspire students to share my love of art.

Jazz would be a lackluster genre if not for the emphasis on improvisation. All the jazz greats could play just about anything and with anyone at a moment’s notice. They were so skilled in their craft that the playing became second nature. The notes they played, though not previously imagined, flowed naturally out of their instruments, much like the paint from Pollock’s brush. Their use of improvisation kept the music fresh and the players ready for anything. The painting that I do requires similar improvisation, though not as quickly executed as jazz. Most often I do not know where my paintings will end up, but I know that step by step I will make it somewhere beautiful. Teaching in a classroom also demands improvisation. Anything can happen at anytime, and I need to be ready to make quick decisions at a moment’s notice. I need to develop my set of skills to where I can make the right decisions naturally and instinctively.

Though improvisation often creates a unique, imitable experience, it cannot be done without knowing a mistake will be made. There are recordings of some of the best musicians hitting a wrong note or playing at the wrong time. However, these mistakes are barely noticeable because the musician easily corrects the mistake and uses it to go in a different direction. They do not make a mistake and stop playing; instead the mistake becomes a turning point and an opportunity for new investigation. I know that in both teaching and art making I will make mistakes. But I also know that the mistakes will not ruin the experience and will often make way for new discoveries.

My love for jazz and all the features that come with it has developed slowly over time. I used to think jazz was a jumble of poorly trained drunks each carelessly soloing, much like I thought anybody could drop paint onto a canvas and create a piece of art as good as Pollock’s. Over time my sensibility, knowledge, and appreciation for the various forms of art developed. This year of school especially has taught me the importance discovering things on my own and letting students do the same in the classroom by allowing for moments of aporia. The path does not have to be clear and the destination can be a mystery. We can venture into the unknown with nothing but a general direction, but as long as we are willing to get a bit lost, we know that this journey will lead to growth.

I know that not everyone shares such sentiment for these aged forms of art as I do, but I hope others at least remain open to the possibility of learning through them. Though I am heavily influenced by art and music of this time, I can learn much more by knowing what others are influenced by and why. By sharing influences we can learn from each other and come to a better understanding of the world around us.

Lesson Plan Example: Sycamore Photography Class


Finding narrative within personal artwork.
–        What is the narrative of this image?

–        What elements are you utilizing to portray that narrative?

–        Could other narratives been seen in this photo?

–        What are some other ways of displaying a narrative in film photography?

–        How is your identity revealed through this image?

Students will:

–        Collaboratively uncover hidden narratives within their previous assignments.

–        Discover ways to convey narrative in film photography through dialogic inquiry.

–        Develop skills relating to the discussion and critique of artwork.

–        Expand their ability to interpret artwork in terms of narrative.

PROCEDURE/SEQUENCING: (performance tasks)
Introductions + Critique Guidelines

–        Can anyone tell me what a critique is?

Today we are going to discuss your photographs! Kind of like a critique, but we are here to help you in any we can. So, how about we go around the group and everyone can introduce him or herself and make up a guideline for critique. It is important that you think about what you want to get out of this experience. I’ll go first: I am Miss Drout and I think critique should be a learning experience, so I think for every constructive (note I say constructive and not negative because we are all constructing our knowledge together) thing you say about someone’s photograph, you should also say something you like or something that is working.

I am JJ and I think critique can be a place for artists to expand their artistic knowledge. Critiques give us a chance to discuss each others art in terms of what is and is not working. We can share what other peoples art makes us think of, which may generate more ideas for the artist themselves.

Now that we have our guidelines, why don’t we discuss your art?

Narrate your image:

–        Can anyone tell me what a narrative is?

Tell us what your photograph(s) is(are) about: You can choose one and narrate it, or choose multiple and discuss the story created through all of them. Are there characters in your story? Who are they? Are you in the narrative?

–        Other than the subject, what tools are you using to convey the narrative? How do techniques such as composition, exposure, or rhythm create a narrative?

–        I understand that you are working on a narrative image assignment now, what are some other ways you can display a narrative in photography?

ASSESSMENT: Teacher Procedures
Formative…. By asking introduction questions about planned activities (i.e. “What is a narrative”), instructors can assess the background knowledge students possess and approach discussion accordingly.

Instructors will observe the activity, paying close attention to who is active in discussion and whether or not those participating are making thoughtful comments or creating attentive insights.

Summative…. Dean, Abagail


Kelly, Caroline


Lucken, Adam


Navarro Verduzco,Francisco

Reynolds, Alexander

Schiell, Ryan

Taylor, Tiffany

Vanjohnson, Lexie

VOCABULARY: (not art-specific and/or art-specific)
–        Critique: a detailed analysis/assessment of something.

–        Narrative: story behind the work

–        Composition: structure, formation, organization, setup

–        Subject: the focus of the image.

–        Exposure: light per unit area; how much light are you letting in

–        Elements of Art: line, shape, pattern, texture, color, value

–        Principles of Design: rhythm, balance, space, variety, proportion, emphasis, unity

–        Postmodern Principle: appropriation, recontextualization, layering, text & image, hybridity, gazing, representing

PREPARATION: (lesson specific)
Materials for Teacher (Include amount)

–        Lesson plan, one per teacher, 2 total

Materials for each Student (include amount)

–        Photographs

–        Contact sheets

REVIEW & ANTICIPATION: (lesson specific) It is anticipated that students will be quiet when first split into groups, hopefully the “Introduction + Critique Guideline” activity will ease them into the discussion; also, hopefully at this point in the semester, students are well acquainted with each other and comfortable discussing their work together. We are not sure how much the students have discussed their work in previous projects, but hopefully we will be able to engage them in a critical, aesthetic dialogue.

Contextual Characteristics: Community, district, school (i.e. geographic location, population number, socio-economic profile, and race/ethnicity).
Sycamore High School is a four-year college preparatory high school in the north-east suburbs of Cincinnati, OH.

Classroom (i.e. physical features, availability of technology).
The classroom is equipped with counters with cabinets and stools for students to sit during class, a dark room and its necessary amenities, light tables, cubbies (for student belongings), and a smart board.

Students (i.e. age, gender, race/ethnicity, special needs, developmental levels, prior learning assumed, interests or what these students want to learn).
The student group is made up of varying high school ages, as this is an elective course. This selection from the 4th bell Introduction to Photography class has 11 students total (7 girls and 4 boys).


Depending on whether the students are experienced with critiques or not will change how much we have to introduce the idea of critiques. It seems like they at least know about critiques, so it should not be too hard to facilitate a discussion about their work.

Silence and Unexplored Spaces of Sublimity


Though silence often has negative connotations related to confusion, disinterest, and resistance, Katherine Schultz argues for the role of silence as a form of participation. Silence can function as a tool for reflection, meditation, respect, and strategy. When students encounter new or unknown situations, their usual response is silence as they try to comprehend the unfamiliar experience. In this instance, silence allows the students time to consider their relation to the new environment.

My activity is an exploration of silence in the context of an unexplored space that involves sublime elements. I will be taking the class to the area behind Crosley Tower, with the assumption that very few people have been there before. The space itself is subliminal because it is at the base of the immense Crosley Tower. I will ask that everyone is silent after we leave the classroom, and they can only talk during the activity which involves reading the 13 stanzas of 13 Ways of Looking at a Blackbird by Wallace Stevens and then providing a short response to the experience. After our trip to the space we will return to the classroom and discuss the activity.

I am hoping that this allows for a moment of quiet reflection to be enjoyed amongst the bustle of a college campus, while students are also able to develop the use of silence as an educational tool. The space and poem introduce elements of the sublime, which is an esoteric thing to try and capture. By pairing all of these elements together, a unique experience will be created that reexamines silence and unexplored spaces.

Sequence of events:

1: Pass out slips with the stanzas of the poem. One per person depending on how many people we have in the classroom.

2: Give instructions. Everyone should stay with the group so no one is lost and do not talk unless my instructions say otherwise.

  1. Lead the group to the space. Even if it is raining, the path is mostly covered.
  2. At the space, instruct students to read their stanzas of the poem in order from 1 to 13.
  3. Tell students to explore the space while remaining silent, until I call them back for the final part of the activity.
  4. After 5-10 minutes of exploration depending on time, regroup the students and ask each of them to give a one word or phrase response to their experience. Allow for silence as they think of responses.
  5. Lead students back to the classroom while they remain silent.
  6. Use remaining time for discussion of the activity.

Discussion Questions:

Had anyone been to that space or known about it? If not. what do they think about the space?

How did being in an unknown space affect the experience? Are there unknown spaces in the classroom?

Did anyone experience the sublime in the space?

How did the poetry relate to the experience?

What do they think about the rule that they could not talk? How did that shape the experience?

How do moments of silence like this function? Either forced or not?

How did it feel to break the silence? Did you want to?

What about the inclusion of the poem and response as an activity?

How can silence and spaces heighten or hurt a classroom experience?

Learning Experiences:

Students will experience silence as a tool for reflection, contemplation, and meditation.

Students will reevaluate the role of silence in both their lives and in the classroom.

Students will synthesize new experiences into short responses.

Students will reimagine the unknown not as something to fear but as an opportunity for growth.

Students will interact with sublime moments.


Silence – the moments that occur when we are not speaking. These moments has enormous potential for various uses.

Language – the way in which we communicate with others. In this activity, the boundaries of verbal language are explored

Unknown – something that is previously unexperienced

Sublime – a feeling of awe that comes from experiencing an overwhelming power, which usually stems from nature

The Personal Pedagogy of JJ Baker

JJ Baker - Art Educator

Photo of me introducing gesture drawing to a group of 6th and 7th graders.

Education is a two way street. Knowledge should be transmitted back and forth between teacher and student, because each has a unique perspective and understanding. The idea of teachers as transmitters and students as merely receptors is an outdated and homogenous approach to education. Students and teachers exist in a symbiotic relationship where both affect and learn from the other, and this relationship should be the focus of the classroom.

The teachers that I best remember are those who created such a relationship between themselves and their students. The best teachers are those who refer to themselves as teachers only in terms of their career. In actuality, they are friends and companions, while also being instructors and leaders. They are figures who I look up to and revere, who after many years I remember. Not for the facts or curriculum they taught me, but for a story or a joke they told. When I think of these people, I do not need to try and remember what they taught me, because the lessons learned have influenced my life in a way that has become engrained in me. The art educators I recall have all had their own practice of art, which directly fed to their success as a teacher. Though I am only at the genesis of my journey as an art educator, I do strive to keep art as the foremost aspect of my teaching philosophy. Art, just like education, is a two way street, with a reciprocal relationship between artist, art, and viewer, which is why art is necessary to teaching.

In the term “art educator,” it is clear that the term art comes first. I am an artist in my own right, preferring to work in 2-D media but open to all types of art. I have a passion for all things artistic, be it paintings, drawings, sculpture, photography, poetry, music, or film, and any good teacher must be passionate about their subject. The work that I do involves the process of collage, which can be used as a metaphor for learning in the classroom. My paintings are made up of various collaged layers, painted on top of each other using different techniques to create a cohesive, yet diverse, image. In a similar fashion, students should be given various skills, techniques, and knowledge to work with which promotes growth. Each layer of learning will build on top of the last one and gets the students closer to “a complete work of art” themselves.

Of course, being an educator is a necessary element of art education, and my educational philosophies are still developing. My teaching philosophy stems from pragmatic ideas where students learn through actively engaging with subjects along with fellow classmates to arrive at conclusions on their own. With this method, it is my job to navigate students through the necessary subjects and give them a foundation of necessary skills to work with. During my previous art education experience, it was the presentations on topics and ideas that I struggled with the most. The five or ten minutes that I spent talking about techniques and showing images of other artists’ work seemed to stretch on forever, but I know this part is necessary to engage the students in learning. Once the students began working was when I felt like the most learning occurred. Allowing the students to work while I assist and provide feedback is the most productive part of my art education. I want nothing more than to have eager students that I can give the freedom to work while also encouraging them and challenging them to do better. However, to think that I will always be working with eager students that want to be in art class is a pipe dream. I know I will encounter unresponsive and unwilling students who think that art is useless.

Knowing this, I must arm myself with the necessary tools and abilities to engage all students. This includes students who love art, who hate art, and who know nothing about art. This includes students who will become artists, scientists, engineers, doctors, and business. This includes student of all races and nationalities. I need to be prepared to teach all of these students in all contexts. That is why I will put forth the utmost effort in gathering the information I need in order to support all types of students. While doing this, I will also continue to improve my personal skills as an artist and increase my art advocacy skills, in order to spread the necessity of art far beyond the confines of my classroom. Just as I remember those who influenced me in my educational journey, I hope students of mine will remember me, not as their art teacher, but as a man who loved and shared art, school, and life lessons with passion, commitment, and friendship.

Interview with an Artist Educator

There exists a story of the Greek painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius wherein they hold a contest to determine the better painter. Zeuxis unveils his painting of grapes, which are rendered so realistically that the birds swoop down to eat them. However, when Zeuxis asks Parrhasius to remove the veil from his painting, Parrhasius reveals that the curtain is the painting. When asked about his views on aesthetic experience, Dr. Holland explained his personal parallel experience to the Greek story. At the Met, he experienced a painted curtain so realistic that he wished it was removed so he could see the painting behind it. Even though he is a PHD recipient, he cherishes moments where he is fooled.

We have all had the pleasure of learning from and working with Kris, so naturally I decided to speak with him on his own views of aesthetics and education. I am used to him channeling the words of aestheticians such as Plato, Heidegger, and Dewey, but rarely do I get to hear the uncensored words of Kris Holland speaking as Kris Holland. Knowing the importance of context, I began by asking Kris of his educational background. In high school he focused on physics and art, and from there attended Geneseo State University and got his BA in mixed media and painting. After that he pursued a MFA in Germany, though he ran out of money within a year, despite working as an actor to pay the bills. He eventually got his MFA from NYU, though he was more interested in the theory behind the art and focused on “Art and Art Professions” where he studied under Jacques Derrida. Finally he got his doctorate from IU, after moving there with his wife and working as a website designer. Much of Kris’s educational path seemed very spontaneous and circumstantial, which directly applies to how he views aesthetics.

Referring back to the painted illusion of the curtain, Kris’s idea of aesthetics are uncategorized moments, where it takes a second to process what has been perceived. This moment of uncertainty, what we may call aporia, should lead to a heightened awareness of ones presence in the moment and an active engagement in the experience. Kris does not hope that there should be one answer or one singular goal to aim for, but rather a path laid out with many options, twists, and turns that allow us to become aware of the path and learn from it. The importance is the experience of thinking and choosing in the moment, and ended up at a previously unknown destination. As I have picked up from his classes, he embraces the multiplicity of meaning and the ambiguity of paralogy. I would say that in a way, defining his view of aesthetics contradicts the idea itself because it involves experiences that cannot be adequately defined through language.

Kris’s thoughts on art and education are a bit less esoteric than his ideas of aesthetics, which emphasizes his physical embodiment in life. He said he really has a thing for figurative drawings and watercolors, and sketches when he has the chance. When asked about education, he talked about the nitty gritty of classroom management, which must be coupled with the theory that we are learning now. Though sometimes the things Kris says in class leave me cross-eyed and speechless, he is clearly grounded in the messiness of reality. For education, he emphasizes creating an experience for the students with no controlled outcome but structured within parameters that are appropriate for the age level. As much as he loves the ephemeral, performative, and immersive work of artists like Joseph Beuys and Olafur Elliadson, Kris did said that he loves a well rendered and technically proficient piece of art and that a toolbox of skills is still very important to teach.

To supplement the classroom, Kris has developed ways to create unique learning experiences. He has made a Habermas Machine, based on the writings of Jurgen Habermas, to employ in the classroom that allows students to experience different concepts. He also mentioned a Foucault game, where the players picked up cards with the writings of Michel Foucault and had to perform them. These both demonstrate an active engagement with concepts to, hopefully, create moments of aesthetic experience.

It is always a pleasure to interact with teachers outside of the boundaries of the classroom, and I learned much more about Kris through our interaction. He mentioned how he wished he knew his students better, but I remarked that there will always be somewhat of a separation between student and teacher. This separation, however, should not be discouraging, but should be celebrated because it is between the moments of certainty where we truly realize what it means to be.

Yes, No, Maybe:

The Validity of Rothko


Mark Rothko is usually the go to painter for someone to respond with, “I could do that” and “Why is that art?” Many are confused by his simple looking, colored paintings. Artists, art historians, critics, writers, students, teachers, and laypeople alike have debated the validity of Rothko’s paintings since Rothko’s earliest shows in the 1940s. The paintings appear to be basic shapes and colors, but are really a complex combination of technique, shades, and color theory. The work delves into such deep topics as human emotions, relationships, and the unconscious.

When confronted by a large Rothko painting in a museum, many viewers’ reactions are of disbelief that such a rudimentary painting is fit to hang among the works of Rembrandt, daVinci, Rubens, and Van Gogh, to name a few. However, to really appreciate this painting, the viewer must give it time. I have heard that the average person spends around 17 seconds looking at each piece of art in museums. For Rothko, take 5-10 minutes. Sit in front of the painting. Look at it until the colors shimmer and vibrate. Watch as the edges disappear and colored planes lift off the canvas. It will happen. Modern viewers, accustomed to the instant gratification of the 21st century, are too quick to write off Rothko’s work. The pseudo-geometric blocks of color may remind some of the screens everyone seems to be transfixed to these days, but without the expected movement and change, the viewers’ eyes and attentions do not linger.

To properly understand and appreciate Rothko, people should also be more informed about the context in which the work was made. Rothko began painting in the 1920’s but did not begin the color field paintings he is most famous for until the late 1940s. Rothko rose to prominence around the same time as the Abstract Expressionist movement, though he did not consider himself a part of it. Rothko’s argument was that his paintings represented human emotions, so they were not Abstractions. Rothko was always adamant about the meaning and handling of his work, routinely arguing his position. He is quoted as saying, “If you are only moved by color relationships, you are missing the point. I am interested in expressing the big emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom.”

Like with any painting, talking about the artwork in class and experiencing it in a museum are completely different things. However, the conversation concerning the validity of Rothko can happen in the classroom before the work is seen in person. The discussion can start by a student, who is familiar with the work, saying that they could paint it themselves. This discussion can include art there appears to be simple, yet is more complicated than it seems. The techniques Rothko used to make his paintings can be discussed, as well as color theory, and then students can attempt their own Rothko-esque paintings. Rothko can also be discussed in terms of art as a commutative device. His paintings communicate emotions, so the class can discuss how well his paintings serve that purpose.

Though the work of Rothko can be quickly dismissed as basic, irrelevant, and easily replicable, through prolonged discussion and reflection, the validity of Rothko can be proved. After students realize that his work is important in the annals of art history, they will be more open to modern and contemporary work that may not seem to be art. Therefore, students will be much more likely to say “Yes!” to all types of art.



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