Studios and Individuals

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Studios and Individuals

An interview with the professor and head TF for Drawing 1

 

BY MICHAEL KIELSTRA

 

“The day that they found out it was awful… people were in tears and confused… It’s hard for me to imagine how this is going to work.” Katarina Burin, an artist who teaches Drawing 1, is not ashamed to admit that the early move-out came as a shock to everyone. Tanner Gauvin, head TF, was “taking it day by day.” Although, in Gauvin’s words, “drawing is… more of a mobile medium” than others, Drawing 1, an AFVS studio course with 18 students, was still designed around getting people together in a room. The Independent contacted Burin and Gauvin to learn more.

The fluid nature of studio classes in general and Drawing 1 in particular makes remote teaching much harder: you can’t just prepare a slide deck weeks in advance and talk over it for an hour and fifteen minutes. “I like being in the classroom with people,” Burin says. “A lot of my teaching has to do with spontaneity and… feeling the group dynamics.” By the middle of the semester, as Gauvin explains it, “we really start to get to understand our students… and so the syllabus may morph and change in order to accommodate the class’s needs, but then also prompts might be individual to each student in order to work on what their interests are, or their challenges are, or their strengths.”

However, the emphasis on the individual also means that the course is more ready to adapt to person-to-person differences in situations. As Burin explains, “[The students] are coming from such different backgrounds already in terms of their level and skill set.” Earlier, she had told me that “We have, normally, a lot of person-to-person individual time… I think we’ll probably do a little bit more just because… we’re not in the same space together.” Drawing 1 already refuses to make its students fit a mold. Refusing to assume that its students all have access to well-stocked, well-lit studios is only one more step. “We want to find out what their home situation looks like… that’s something that we’re definitely going to be doing,” says Burin.

Be that as it may, Gauvin and Burin are still feeling the loss of the studio deeply. The problem is deeper than a lack of supplies, which, like many AFVS courses, Drawing 1 is mailing out to students. “Even though people are working on their individual drawings… the fact that they’re in the same space doing it is really, really important,” says Burin, when I ask her about the class community. She briefly describes a friendship between a senior at the College and a graduate student at Harvard Business School which grew up as they worked together on their assignments. Moreover, the studio is useful in terms of teaching: “You often learn from each other when you’re in a studio. There’s a lot of idea-sharing, seeing what other people are working on, asking people how they were able to create such a mark,” says Gauvin. “There are a lot of questions that come up that don’t necessarily come up in the classroom.”

This inspired the team to make one of the boldest moves any AFVS course is making: continuing live drawing sessions over Zoom. As well as new homework assignments mandating that students draw for some amount of time each day or each week, Burin, when I spoke to her over spring break, was planning “a kind of portrait drawing session where I’ll do a demo and then talk about what I want [the students] to practice and then we’re going to be drawing each other on the screen… it’s almost like drawing from life, but not.” Critique is also crucial, and has migrated to Zoom in the obvious way.

The last thing I ask is about the goal of the class now, in these very different times to when the syllabus was written. Gauvin reiterates the importance of “[continuing] to foster the community of the classroom so that people feel like they’re not isolated.” Burin has slightly more to say. “The goal is to do the best that we can… trying to make this class feel as structured as it can be, as legitimate as it is, and still be somewhat challenging. Hopefully, we can still continue to teach something, right? And what that looks like is obviously still in process, but I want to try to do demos and continue to talk about drawing and the skills that [the students] are beginning to have. My goal is that this class turns out to be still a worthwhile and educational experience for the students, as much as possible… We’re getting into it. We’re just going straight. We’re going to figure it out.”

 

Michael Kielstra ’22 (pmkielstra@college.harvard.edu) has now written two pieces on AFVS courses, which is two more than the number of good art things he has made.