PA Grant Report: Working with Artists in Vermont to Build Upon My Teaching at MMFS

October 29, 2018

By Caitlin Clifford, Upper School Head Visual Arts Teacher

As a practicing artist, I find that my own artwork and artistic pursuits inform the way I teach. My work is often mirrored in the projects and curriculum I develop. The MMFS Parents Association (PA) Grant I was awarded this summer helped make it possible for me to attend a one-month residency at The Vermont Studio Center (VSC), the largest artist residency program in the United States.

Each month, the VSC residency program hosts around 50 artists and writers from across the country and the world. My time at the residency was incredible. I met many inspirational thinkers and makers, including other visual artists and writers who were also university professors and high school educators. Our conversations often meandered between discussions of pedagogy and classroom triumphs and struggles, to best practices for balancing a serious studio practice and the demands of full-time art instruction.

I’d like to name a few people whose practice (both studio and teaching) have impacted the way I plan to implement my curriculum this year. Dylan Dewitt, a professor at The University of Arkansas, was revamping his color theory curriculum. His practice led me to think about more interactive ways to explain color theory (using light projection and paper) with my drawing and painting students. Heidi Hogden, a professor at the University of Arizona, makes large-scale graphite self-portraits. I plan to use her work (and a Skype interview!) during my unit on self-portraiture, as way of showing how personal research and exploration can serve as a setting, conceptual underpinning, and formal reference for art work.

I also benefited from the artist and writer talks given throughout the month. I was fortunate to attend talks given by Owen Eagerton, Frohawk Two Feathers, Heather Rowe, Ocean Vuong, Brian Tolle, and John Lees. I plan to reference many of these visual artists when I begin to work with students in my Advanced Painting classes on developing research for their own work.

Finally, I spent one month working on a series of large scale paintings that I am very excited about. I look forward to showing some of that work in Beacon, N.Y this Fall! Thanks again to the MMFS Parents Association for helping to fund this enriching experience. I’ve made connections and friendships that I am certain will last a lifetime. This residency has had a very direct and important impact on my teaching practice.

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