David Chatfield
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99 is not 100.

That’s it. You can stop reading.

Okay... allow me to explain; this adage is likely the most oft-used phrase used in my classroom. The idea was inspired by a man named Valter dos Santos, a Catador (picker of recyclable materials) featured in Vik Muniz’ documentary, Waste Land. Dos Santos’ philosophy, begins with the question, “What difference would throwing away one aluminum can make?” His answer inspired my philosophy.

Broadly, my philosophy refers to how a student looks at their own work, and how far they choose to take it. It encourages constant self-assessment and leads to confidence in vision.

My first utterance of “99 is not 100” occurred at the end of a 2D-Design class. The assignment was to create a drawing from a small piece of black paper, and one student was clearly unhappy with theirs. Recognizing their disappointment, a raised eyebrow was coupled with stating my new philosophy in the hopes they would reassess. Their admission of dissatisfaction was followed by an audible sigh. They started over at home, and roughly forty-five minutes after class ended, I received an image of a completed, and more than satisfactory drawing.

The phrase doesn’t just encourage a student’s work ethic. It succinctly expresses another recurring theme in my class that is a consistent percentage of project rubrics: craftsmanship. When they create something, whether it is a painting, drawing, or collage, they should do it as well as one can. I want them to take their craft as far as they are able.

When a student is asked to look one more time at a piece, they are required to answer the question, “Am I done?” themselves. Through this process of guided self-critique, they become more thoughtful and confident in their own work, satisfied in its completion, and better able to speak about and defend their vision.

On Mentorship

I specifically chose my graduate program because it was designed with mentorship as a core tenet. Independent studio practice was balanced with continual contact with studio and writing mentors. Put simply: they knew me. My capabilities, interests, and quirks were known quantities, and my mentors knew how and where to push me. My mentors employed a similar form of guided self-critique. The vision was mine, and they helped me get there.

Similarly, my teaching and mentorship philosophies require familiarity and understanding of my students’ voice, style, and goals. This level of familiarity requires me to listen, especially when a student is from a different background. I’ve largely taught in under-served communities, from the nation’s first accredited HCBU to Community Colleges in rural, economically disadvantaged areas. As a white-cis-middle-class dude from Colorado Springs, it is incumbent upon me to listen. It is my responsibility to help young artists understand what it is they have to say while giving them the tools to say it. I seek to provide formal, contextual, and technical knowledge within a space where the student feels encouraged and safe to tell their story.

You know how twenty years on you still hear your mentor’s voice in your head whilst working in the studio? Me too. Just as my mentors help me find my voice through conversation, or via their particular adages repeating over and over in my head, I hope that I will be that voice for my students.

On Diversity & Inclusivity

(Let’s see if I can write this without using the word “holistic.”)

I see every class, from painting to Photoshop, as an opportunity to hear my students tell their personal narratives. As stated in my Teaching Philosophy, listening is integral to my process. I need to hear my students stories so I may better provide the formal, contextual, or technical knowledge they need to tell those stories. Put another way, each student has specific needs derived from their personal narrative; my goal is to create a safe, inclusive, and encouraging environment through listening.

I have had the privilege of teaching largely under-served communities, from a school in one of the poorest counties in New Jersey to the first accredited Historically Black College/University (HBCU) in the US. This has challenged me to step away from traditional art curricula and up my game, to seek out art and artists that don’t look like me. The first time I felt pushed to do so was when a student at the HBCU asked if there are any Black Dada artists. There aren’t any to my knowledge; however, I later Googled “Black dada artist” and discovered Romare Bearden, whom may have been informed by the Dada aesthetic and happened to have attended that HBCU. This sent the class in a new direction, and inspired self-portrait collagés, which have since become a recurring project. It connected them tangibly to the art, as well as their institution.

We are at a stage in our history where it is incredibly important to have traditionally marginalized communities represented in the content they are learning. Another student (who was Latinx and LGBTQ), asked if she should get into gallery or curatorial work. I immediately blurted out, “YES, the industry needs more faces like yours!” I stepped back for a moment and clarified that it’s best to be a fan of art to be successful in the curatorial and gallery scenes — yet the art industry is still problematically unrepresentative, and she would be able to encourage the next generation of non-white-cis-male individuals to participate in the arts.

The results of deep research into non-traditional or non-Western art permeates every class I teach as well as my own studio practice. For example, I now use collagé as a tool in my own studio, which is enriched by my discovery of Bearden’s work. Considering the work of other populations and communities beyond my own gives my own work a new perspective. I am asked to consider a larger audience, as well as better consider my background in building my own narratives.

(Success!)

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