June 3, 2014
So yesterday night while driving to a Bachlorette viewing party (pro tip: this is how one best balances the rigors of being an academic dean of an online program…mega drama, make out sessions, and lots of mascara + sequins…awesome) I was listening to a podcast from my new favorite pod-caster, designer, and design educator, Mitch Goldstein. Mitch co-hosts at Through Process. The podcast I was hoping to hear was all about the VCFA Low-Residency Graphic Design MFA Program run by Silas Munro but it wasn’t posted yet so instead I listened to a conversation between Mitch, Nancy Skolos, and Thomas Wedell.
Nancy and Thomas are married (I think) and have been with Rhode Island School of Design for 20+ years. They spoke with Mitch primarily about how their design-making practice has influenced their design-teaching practice and vice versa. Then, as podcasts do, they rambled down several other pleasant side trails like: Does graphic design even mean anything anymore? (nope…well, maybe but maybe not.) What is the best skill a student can have when they grad? (ability to Google so that they can take advantage of all that is out there and not be limited by their own small frame of reference of skill set….woah! never heard that one before! : ) Does curriculum’s obsessive focus on the final project rather than the initial exploration phase ultimately neuter students’ creativity before they even start? (yep….well, most likely but maybe it is just a necessary evil with accreditation and all.)
It was a great conversation to hear and it made me realize how much I miss being in a space and school where I can have these types of conversations with my own faculty on a regular basis. Legit I love my team but it seems with both our program structure and geographically distant disbursement having these types of super heady chats about everything and nothing just don’t happen often.
Beyond the general goodness of the chat, the thing that really struck me was when the three of them were talking about this almost parasitic behavior that they see in all students wanting to get to the end of a project and into the finalized state as quickly as possible. They said it’s nearly impossible to get students to self-reflect about process and feel safe sort of wallowing in the iteration phase exploring, trying-and-failing-and-trying-again, and all the while producing work in an infant format just for the sake of making. Work begets more work and even the not so great stuff at least gives you the forward motion you need to arrive where you never imagined. Apparently (and I get this with my own students too) students feel that if there’s not a clear direction and a clear goal it’s a waste of time to explore for exploration sake.
The podcast ended with me cheering on my new BFFs Mitch, Nancy, and Thomas, chanting “iteration love for ever!” as I continued to drive. With all this design adrenaline in my head, my mind drifted, as it often does now, to my dissertation and the general fog I feel about it all. The podcast was so concise and clever and I found myself fantasizing about how great it would be to stop all this exploring and get on with my final focused topic. It’s June and the clock is ticking and all this time being open is fine for some people but clearly I’m a girl on a mission and all this exploring for exploration’s sake is a total time suck. I want the straight and narrow path and I want it now.
And then it struck me…was what I was doing with my dissertation exploration really all that different from what I’d just heard about these rogue design students who want to fast track it all so they can get to the end? Is my renewed missionary zeal about rooting down into my topic and sorting things out, etc. really just a fancy way to say: I’m done exploring, I’ve settled for convenience and now let’s get on with it and get it done.
Hard truth is…I’m totally an undergrad student chomping at the bit and looking for the fast track because the fast track means that you know your stuff and you have a destination and most of all you are in control. Iterations are legit so so scary because every one you create has a 50/50 chance of being a total flop. In the longer view I know that nothing is wasted and everything can inspire you even at a later date but in daily view…every “this might be a great idea next year” idea feels a little like a fail and a time waste.
So, I’ve since repented to the iterative process for my own tendency to default to the quickest route possible and for my own closed mind to process and exploration. I think I need to get back to the original June idea of exploring all ideas to see where they might lead me. Now is the free and easy phase of things where I can be a bit more like the Bachlorette and revel in the ability to date 25
men ideas all at once. I will root and I will narrow and I will settle eventually but not now…now it’s time for sequins, mascara, a little drama, and some, theoretical, make out sessions…awesome.