Thoughts on Teaching

My career as an educator began as a part-time teacher of 2nd grade art. A few years later I found myself teaching at Lillstreet Art Center, Gallery 37 ,and After School Matters, all of which are community-oriented programs addressing diverse populations within the city of Chicago. Higher education experience came a bit later as I briefly served as a part-time instructor at the College of DuPage, in Chicago’s western suburbs. Teaching at that time was one of a number of activities I cobbled together to create something like a basic income that allowed me to make and exhibit artwork. I had no formal training in teaching, having never taught a course in graduate school or received any official certification of any kind.

I had the tremendous good fortune a bit later to be invited to teach, along with my wife, Shannon Goff, as an adjunct instructor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. For three years we learned innumerable things there. Among the many perks of the place were the ability to pass in and out of the attached museum freely and to work closely with colleagues including Matthew Groves, Helen Maria Nugent, Delores Fortuna, Xavier Toubes, and Katherine Ross.

We loved being at SAIC, but felt agitated about the precariousness of our adjunct appointments. We made a clean break from the city of Chicago, gaining experience at a range of institutions including the Meadows School of the Arts and the Rhode Island School of Design. Over the years the two of us have taught at 9 different programs of higher education ranging from public to private, large to small, overlooked to overrated.

Our lives and our careers changed more abruptly in 2011 with the birth of our first child and our acceptance of two positions at Penn State University’s School of Visual Arts in 2011. While Shannon’s position was a tenure-track appointment from the start mine was not. Encouraged by then Director Graeme Sullivan, I created a number of new courses that explored interests of mine and gaps in the curriculum.

From 2011 to 2018 I was able to teach 13 different courses, 6 of which were courses I originated, having not previously existed in SoVA’s curriculum. Many were one-off special topics courses, but others have become fixed in the department’s curriculum. I really enjoy introducing new classes as well as teaching in a range of techniques and processes and studio areas. However, it has become clear that the majority of what I do falls under the heading of Digital Fabrication and 3D Printing, as the chart below illustrates:

I’m incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to explore all of these areas and also to have been able to develop curriculum around art/tech/craft hybrid interests. Prior to my arrival at Penn State I had primarily considered myself a teacher of Ceramics and Sculpture - but my role here has obviously shifted toward something quite different, which has been as surprising as it has been invigorating.

One thing that became apparent over the past several years was that a substantial number of students enrolled in the Digital Fabrication and 3D Printing courses come from areas outside of the School of Visual Arts. At first it seemed our near neighbors in Architecture would be likely to have an interest in these courses, and they have. However, the 3D Printing class in particular has attracted a considerable following from students in Engineering and Material Science areas, as illustrated below:

These students have been enjoyable to work with. While they often have not previously taken art courses and may not have much awareness of contemporary art, they do often bring a problem solving mentality and a technical savvy that allows for more nuanced conversations and interactions around technology. In a perfect situation, I’d like to teach courses that were roughly 1/3rd art students, 1/3rd Design students, and 1/3 Engineering students. This would allow a really interesting cross-pollination and would go a long way toward keeping students from all three disciplines engaged and challenges and prepared for collaborative work that stretches easy definitions. The experience of trying to use our courses as a bridge between these areas has caused me to reconsider my own education and influences and in particular to reflect a lot more on my mother’s work at Bell Laboratories and in the nascent computer industry in the 1960’s, before she departed the workforce to raise children.

At the same time that we saw this interest in Digital Fabrication courses developing from students of Engineering and Material Science I was getting more involved with faculty in those areas, particularly in developing designs for the custom D.I.Y. clay printer I have used to create much of the work featured on this site. I was fortunate to be a part of a few grant initiatives around 3D printing, in particular a grant around the idea of mobile makerspaces which was funded by the National Science Foundation and on which I was a Co-Lead Investigator. The influx of material and technical support from STEM disciplines has pushed our development of clay printing forward tremendously and allowed us to purchase a significant amount of equipment and materials.
On occasion I would feel overwhelmed by how fragmented my work at the University might feel and I often felt as if I had been taking on far too broad a range of activities. As is often the case, small collaborations became the impetus for potentially larger collaborations and some different pathways became clear as did the reality that not all paths can be followed simultaneously.

So, after a period of taking on new things, making new connections, developing new tools and new processes, I found myself contracting a bit in the last year or so. Giving thought to what the priorities should be from the perspective of making art, conducting research, and teaching in a classroom. This is ongoing work.

One recent development has allowed me to take more of an aerial view of the situation, and to move forward with more confidence. When a colleague recently retired the School of Visual Arts suddenly had a tenure-track opening for a position that overlapped with the work, research, and teaching I had been involved in for the past several years. I was offered the position and accepted it - Associate Professor of Studio Art/Ceramics/Digital Design. A title that is aptly confusing and inviting.

It is surprising to realize it has been 12 years since Shannon and I were first hired as adjuncts at the Art Institute of Chicago. I always feel as if I am just getting started, but the circumstances of a new position emphasize the feeling. I’m hopeful that I might have a long career of teaching and that my work and research might maintain relevance throughout. I’m hopeful that where I’m at now is the End of the Beginning.

Materialize: words about the exhibition.

I was recently asked to be the juror of and featured artist in an exhibition titled Materialize, currently on view at the Robert & Elaine Stein Galleries on the campus of Wright State University, Dayton, Ohio. The exhibition presents objects and installations utilizing a spectrum of digital fabrication tools in their making. The jury process has not only introduced me to the work of a number of compelling artists but also (thankfully) provided a moment of reflection from which this brief text emerged. It is intended as a snapshot of an emerging field, quickly coming into focus. I hope to soon post Images of the exhibition and highlight a few of the individuals participating in it.

Click on the image below to open the text as a PDF. 

Materialize runs through December 7th.  The exhibition will also be traveling to Purdue University Galleries (Fountain Gallery, Lafayette) from January 13 through February 21, 2015.

Media-n: 3D Printing Panel and Roundtable Discussion

Back in March of 2014 I was fortunate to have been selected to participate in a 3D Printing Panel organized by Tom Burtonwood and Rachel Clarke. The event was part of the College Art Association's New Media Caucus and took place during the 2014 CAA Conference in Chicago. 

An article detailing the event has just published in the journal Media-N. It is a good primer on the technology of 3D printing, some of it's current and future challenges, and a bit of insight into how artists will engage this technology.

Check out the article here, or the pdf version here

It was a great pleasure to meet all the other panelists, whose talks are summarized here:

Morehshin Allahyari

Jason J. Ferguson

Taylor Hokanson

Sophie Kahn

Tom Lauerman

Luis Navarro

Jamie Obermeier

Barbara Rauch

Kristin Stransky

David Van Ness


Open Source Shout Out (& my first D.I.Y. 3D printer)

From May until August, 2014, I made, unmade, and remade my first home-built 3D printer. It's based on the open-source RepRap project, derived specifically from the popular "Prusa i3" plan. Ultimately though, I redesigned nearly all the parts, even if much of my redesigning was subtle (rounding a blocky shape for example). The whole experience has been tremendously rewarding, despite the almost absurd amount of time committed. 

I suspect I'll build more. And I will post my design files someplace for others to re-use them or iterate them further if they choose. I had hoped one printer would be enough to satisfy my curiosity, but the project mostly ignited a desire to build many variations: a printer for clay objects, a printer for large objects, a printer for detailed objects, and on and on. 

Maybe more exciting than building the thing though, was becoming more familiar with the wonderfully deep resources and enthusiasm to be found within the expanding constellation which is the Open Source Hardware community. There is much more I could write on that subject, but maybe I'll just mention that I thoroughly enjoyed trying to comprehend the remarkable work of open source pioneers like Adrian Bowyer, Massimo Banzi, Casey Reas & Ben Fry, Limor Fried, Marcin Jakubowski, and many more. Within the specific context of 3D printers I've been fascinated by the huge range of designs proposed, built, iterated, and shared by people like Richard Horne, Nicholas SewardJonathan KeepJoseph Prusa, and Alessandro Ranellucci. I know none of these people personally, but I am inspired by the remarkable things they have created. I'm even more affected by their commitment to Open Source as an ethos, exemplified by this excerpt from the Open Source Hardware Manifesto:

Open source is like playing with cards on the table. The game is clear, transparent.
The open source key benefit is not that the project is free.
The key advantage of open source is you can see the design, the process, the code and probably you (or someone for you) can modify it:
You can see how it works. You can take it apart. You can fix it. You can improve it.
Most people do none of these things, but all benefit from this transparency.

Similarly, I enjoyed reading about the conceptual and philosophical underpinnings of the RepRap project as outlined by Adrian Bowyer's essay "Wealth Without Money", as it is loaded with insights along these lines:

The self-copying rapid-prototyping machine will allow people to manufacture for themselves many of the things they want, including the machine that does the manufacturing. It is the first technology that we can have that will simultaneously make people more wealthy whilst reducing the need for industrial production.

Closer to home, many many thanks to Sidney Church and David St. John of Penn State School of Visual Arts and Engineering respectively. Both Sidney and David helped me feel capable of building a complicated machine despite a deep lack of experience with electronics, micro-controllers, etc. 

At present, I'm attempting to apply all of these ideas to a new course I'm teaching titled: "D.I.Y. Digital Fabrication". The goal of the course is to empower artists, designers, and craftspeople to construct custom, low-cost, open-source Digital Fabrication tools which can perform at a very high level despite being home-made and composed of generic bits and pieces. At the same time, it is my hope that our group will consider all the moral, economic, and cultural implications of these technologies while considering how a D.I.Y. approach fits within the larger picture. Oh, and likely we'll make some Art too, because it is an Art class of course.

It is a fascinating time to be getting involved in this technology as it shifts from institutions and corporations to individuals. Is this the 3rd Industrial Revolution? Maybe so. A lot of hype? Perhaps. At any rate, it all reminds me of the feeling of turning on a personal computer in the 1980's. Confronting a pretty basic and awkward technology with astonishing, revolutionary potential.

Thank You Note to Anonymous Bloggers

For the last five or six years I've been collaborating with Fabio J. Fernández on a series of of objects titled Sculptures in Love with Architecture. Our project began as a simple work exchange. I think I made an object based on one of Fabio's drawings to trade with him, or vice-versa. Somehow that project has grown in to a body of work that includes more than two hundred objects and as many drawings. 

The objects in the series are very small in size but I'd argue they are large in scale. Their proportions relate to the architectural sources that have inspired them. They are model-like even if they aren't models. Models are plans for larger structures. Despite being able to fit in the palm of your hand, these objects are unabashedly full size.

As an artist you get used to trying to compete for attention, make a splash, stake a claim to a space. So when you scale your work way, way down you also prepare yourself to have that work ignored. To my surprise this body of work has not been ignored. 

Perhaps as a function of their size, or their simple and specific geometry, they have become internet-friendly. As a result of the images of these small objects pinging around in the ether, Fabio and I have been introduced to a number of interesting art & design enthusiasts and collectors from really far flung places. It means a lot to us, and has helped motivate us to keep this project moving forward during times when its hard to carve out the time and space required to communicate and collaborate. 

So, in no particular order, thank you to Sight UnseenbooooooomArthound, of paper and things, unruly, and various other tumblrs assembled by people I've never met. In many cases these mentions are simply an image or a sentence. Regardless, it is much appreciated. 

Review: "Under The Table" @ Fort Worth Contemporary Arts

Many Thanks to Colette Copeland and Ceramics Art & Perception magazine for this intelligent review of "Under the Table". Thanks again to Margaret Meehan, who curated the exhibition. It was a pleasure to be included with many artists I admire including Kristen Morgin, Kate Gilmore, Tom Müller, Akio Takamori, Matthew McConnell, Jeffry Mitchell, and my longtime collaborator Fabio Fernández. 

Exhibition: "Urban Environments" @ Grizzly Grizzly, Philadelphia

Urban Environments: Colin Keefe, Fabio Fernández, Tom Lauerman
Curated by Jacque Liu
Exhibition Dates: September 6–28, 2013
Opening Reception: First Friday, September 6th, 6–10PM
Grizzly Grizzly, 319 North 11th Street, 2nd Floor, Philadelphia, PA
Hours: Saturday and Sundays, 2-6PM

This September, Grizzly Grizzly is pleased to present ‘Urban Environments’, featuring the work of Philadelphia based artist Colin Keefe and the collaborative work of Fabio Fernández and Tom Lauerman.  The exhibition, consisting of drawings and sculpture, explores systems of architecture, the built environment, and abstraction. 
Colin Keefe will exhibit meticulously crafted drawings of fictitious environments that examine urban terrain through organic models.  Using ink on paper, Keefe begins with design principles gathered from diverse sources such as the reproductive processes of plants, the propulsion methods of microorganisms and architectural theory. Keefe states “the resulting images depict cities grown organically, without an “urban planner” as protagonist, based on environmental conditions.” 
Fabio J. Fernández and Tom Lauerman will present a collaborative body of work, Sculptures in Love with Architecture (SiLwA).  The works in this exhibition explore architecture from the perspective of two artists interested in “the reductive forms of early modernist constructions.”  They employ an array of techniques ranging from inked lines drawn on a moving train to laser cut wooden parts assembled atop folded paper geometry.  The artists state that “the works illustrate the development of ideas through conversation, repetition, experimentation and practice.”