“Teaching to Unlearn: Paradox in Studio Art Pedagogy,” an essay written for the Randolph College faculty art exhibition catalogue this fall, offered readers a glimpse of the significance of the faculty art exhibition, “Teaching Begins Here.”
Paul Ryan, a professor of art in the Department of Art and Art History at Mary Baldwin College, wrote, “Here is the artist’s studio—a significant space, perhaps even a sacred one for some artists—where creativity occurs through cycles of intense work and critique, offset with crucial time for reflection and reverie.”
For the four artists and Randolph College faculty members participating in the exhibition—Professor of Art Jim Muehlemann, Professor of Art Kathy Muehlemann, Adjunct Instructor in Art Chris Cohen, and Adjunct Instructor of Art and in Communications Studies David Kjeseth Johnson—the line between studio and classroom, creating and teaching, is often blurred. “Teaching informed by a committed studio practice possesses not only passion and authority, but also a genuine feel for the difficulty of making art—an understanding of the creative process, infused with irony and contradictions,” Ryan continued.
In her introduction to the exhibition’s catalogue, Martha Kjeseth Johnson, curator of education and interim director of Randolph College’s Maier Museum, captured the breadth of the artists’ work and their passion to create, citing Cohen’s “intimate domestic scenes,” Johnson’s “complex and visionary” narratives, Jim Muehlemann’s “sense of pathos and foreboding,” and Kathy Muehlemann’s “subtle, quietly spiritual, and emotionally generous” offerings.
One of the faculty artists, Jim Muehlemann shared a perspective that aligned with Ryan’s notion of passion and authority. For Muehlemann, the art of teaching art is as much about sharing oral history as it is about technique. “I love telling stories to the students about my different experiences—and it’s not because I want to wax nostalgic,” he said, recalling his days in New York City when he listened to and absorbed the oral histories shared by many different Abstract Expressionists or perhaps older artists. “The stories fill out the gaps in art history for students.”
Ryan wrote that teaching studio art must guide the work and progress of individual students and encourage them to take risks. This fall’s exhibition enabled Muehlemann and his colleagues to demonstrate their own progress and risks. “I think it’s important for students to see that their professors are actively working,” Muehlemann said. “The students were excited to see the things a professor speaks about year after year.”