Professional Practices – Assistant Teaching – week 5.5

This past Monday (February 21st), I drove down to the greater Cincinnati area for a visit to Northern Kentucky University. Now having my feet wet with my teaching internship, I had a strong desire to pay a visit to my first drawing teacher, Kevin Muente. When I was in my third year of undergraduate study at the University of Cincinnati, as a Biology major, I was searching desperately for what kind of career I wanted. I had started taking classes from different colleges within the University in an effort to try new things and discover my passion. After taking the standard assessment tests with all results pointing in an artistic direction, I bravely decided to take a Basic Drawing 1 class. I had recently discovered the art world via museum and gallery visits with my father in London, New York and throughout Ohio. Despite never having an art class in high school, or anywhere else, I had a creeping interest in art and especially learning the fundamentals of drawing.
Kevin taught this first drawing class, himself an MFA student and a T.A. at the time. Although I did not know it, it was also his first experience teaching. Twelve years on, he is full-time faculty at NKU and an accomplished landscape painter. One of the classes that he is teaching this semester is a Sophomore drawing class. In light of my internship with Ernie’s Sophomore drawing class, I felt it was appropriate for me to observe Kevin’s class for an additional perspective of how to teach drawing. This would also give me a chance to see firsthand the difference between similar classes at a smaller art college (CCAD) versus a larger university (NKU).
Walking into Kevin’s class was like taking a (roughly) 13-year step into the past, only through more experienced eyes. It was striking how many key fundamentals we had learned in our class years ago that Kevin was still hammering home to his students. For example, he will often tell his students to squint their eyes when trying to discern value structures. He also has them get up from their drawing and step back to look at it and the still-life arrangement from afar. Another thing that hasn’t changed is Kevin’s enthusiasm and sense of encouragement of his students.
As we started, Kevin introduced me to the class and gave a brief educational/professional bio on who I am. Then he told them that I would be observing as well as helping him for the day, and if they had any drawing questions to feel free to ask my advice. This was a bit of a surprise, but I welcomed it. Although I spent most of the class observing Kevin and his students, I did a good deal of walking around the room and looking at the students’ work. I answered a few questions, and towards the end of the class Kevin threw me for another loop: he announced that I had some particular expertise in rendering ribbons, which is one of the materials that the class are currently learning to draw. To be fair, he did ask me beforehand if I had anything I wanted to say that would apply to their ribbon studies, and if I’d be up for a brief lecture. I had a little time to mentally prepare, so I wasn’t caught completely off-guard.
The discussion I gave focused on the use of values, line, and sense of light in order to draw a convincing ribbon (or anything else for that matter). I thought about the way we have been approaching drawing in Ernie’s class at CCAD, and all of the things that he teaches that are consistent with what Kevin teaches. I wanted to give them a slightly different perspective than they would normally get with Kevin, but even more important was to not say anything contradictory to what I know Kevin would teach. The last thing I wanted to be was confusing. I drew a few quick demo drawings on the chalkboard as I spoke, and ended up talking about planes and how you can break a form down into flat planes of value. The students seemed to “get it”, and my improv presentation seemed to go pretty well.
After lunch, I hopped back on the freeway for Columbus. The drive was well worth the experience gained, as well as the pleasure of seeing an old friend. As I continue to work on improving my artistic practice and begin my own teaching, Kevin remains an inspiration.


About AlexEConrad

Fine artist. Freelance designer.
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