Riot Bus Studios

Teaching Philosophy

An overview of my approach to education. 
David Chatfield, Image by Alexis Oliver

99 is not 100

That’s it. You can stop reading.

Fine, allow me to explain; this adage is the most oft-used phrase heard in my classroom. The idea was inspired by Valter dos Santos, a Catador (picker of recyclables) from Vik Muniz’ documentary, Waste Land. His philosophy begins with the question, does throwing away one soda can really make a difference? His answer: one does make a difference, or, 99 is not 100. My philosophy refers to how a student looks at their own work, and how far they choose to take it. It is rooted in constant self-assessment and leads to confidence in vision.

The idea encourages a student’s work ethic and succinctly expresses another recurring theme appearing in my rubrics: craftsmanship. 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 satisfied?” Through this process of guided self-critique, they become more thoughtful and confident in their own work, satisfied with its completion, and better able to speak about their vision.

Listen

Similarly, my teaching philosophy requires familiarity and understanding of my students’ voices, styles, 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 HBCU  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.

Just as my mentors helped 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

Students who see themselves in my curriculum feel included, safe, and enriched in their educational pursuits. Simultaneously, marginalized voices must be given space to be heard by those who normally aren’t exposed to diverse perspectives. It is my job to ensure my class is a place where this can all happen in a way that fosters community.

I have had the privilege of teaching largely under-served communities, from a school in one of the poorest counties in New Jersey to Lincoln University, the first accredited Historically Black College/University (HBCU). This has prompted the inclusion of art and artists outside outdated Eurocentric sources. One of the earliest examples involved a Lincoln student asking if there were any Black Dada artists. There aren’t; however, I did my research and discovered Romare Bearden, who may well have been informed by the Dada aesthetic and had also attended Lincoln. This sent our class in a new direction, and inspired self-portrait collagés, which have since become a recurring project. This discovery connected my students tangibly to the art as well as to the institution.

I also see every class, from painting to Photoshop, as an opportunity to create a conducive environment for my students to tell their personal narratives. As stated in my Teaching Philosophy, listening is integral to my process. I need to hear my students’ stories for the overall enrichment of the class, so I can also provide the formal, contextual, or technical knowledge they need to tell those stories. Put another way, each student has specific material needs related to their personal narrative; my goal is to create a more inclusive environment through listening, curating inclusive course content, and understanding the tools best suited to help tell their stories.

Reflection on my own privileges and including non-Western art permeates every class I teach. It enriches my students’ view of art and history, provides representative role models, as well as influences my own personal practice. An inclusive classroom gives marginalized communities the opportunity to be seen and heard while providing other students a broader perspective and empathy.