Emily Elliott is a second year MFA student in the Socially Engaged Art program at Moore College of Art & Design. She is a passionate and driven art educator with 19+ years of experience. She has taught all levels, from infant to adult, in many subject areas. She considers herself a teacher first and a specialist second. Her passion for teaching does not end at her classroom door. She enjoys working with students in their other subjects, and collaborating with colleagues, to create lessons that inspire students and help create lifelong learners.
As an artist, she is skilled in many mediums, but her focus is fiber art and drawing. As an art educator, she works to help students to develop the visual vocabulary to navigate in the modern world and to relate to the past. Her focus in the SEA program at Moore has been teaching as an artistic practice and how that practice can manifest in a classroom setting. This summer Elliott worked with a small group of students, in a virtual environment, to guide them in creating student determined collaborative artworks.

Her MFA in Progress exhibition is on view September 26 – October 3 in The Galleries at Moore.

Share your qualifying review question and plans you have for your final year at Moore in thesis writing and thesis exhibition/project.  

What does it mean when teaching is a process-based dematerialized art practice? How can teaching as an art practice manifest in the traditional school art classroom?

Here are some questions I have that relate to teaching as artistic practice:

  • What does a classroom look like when it is a space specifically for making by others?
  • How are issues of power addressed?
  • What does documentation of work look like?
  • How is authorship addressed?
  • How, or indeed can, a classroom where these ideals are in play exist in a traditional school setting?

During the next few months, I will be working to find answers to those questions. Specifically I plan to explore both the physical and the theoretical aspect of the classroom as a space for the production of other’s work. I will be looking at models of classrooms where students are recognized as experts on their own experiences. I will also be looking at pedagogical methods in which the teacher’s role is coach and organizer.

In my experience as an educator, I am familiar with a number of physical classroom structures and their advantages and disadvantages. This year I will be creating a plan for my ideal democratic classroom environment and my pedagogical ideals. I plan to develop a manifesto/promise of how I can live those ideals within the limits of my environment.

How do you plan to use your MFA in Progress exhibition as an opportunity to work towards those goals of the final work, or to explore other concerns?

My MFA in Progress exhibition will focus on my role as coordinator of the art making of others, especially during a time when we cannot be together physically.

Over the summer I worked with a small group of students, through Zoom, to create collaborative art works. I sent out a call on social media to gather students of middle school age, four parents responded that their students were interested. Our group met twice a week for about an hour. Each session we met we talked about the work we had done previously and what to do in the future. We used web-based, computer and mobile technology to create collaborative works. Each week I would scale back my leadership of the conversations and my input to allow for student leadership. The student’s collectively made 16 pieces of art which are on display in a virtual gallery on my website. Some of it will also be on display during my MFA in Progress show.

I will also be displaying a work in which I solicited knit and crochet pieces via social media. My role is the action of joining together these pieces using gold yarn in reverence to the Japanese art of kintsugi, where broken pottery is repaired using gold, silver or platinum in order to recognize the healing of the object. Here I act as artist-curator using my skills to draw attention to the connections of individual artists.

I am currently exploring ideas of authorship in collaborative work and issues of power. What is “mine” in the work I am showing? How do I draw maximum attention to the work of others while still recognizing my own labor? How do I ethically display the work of others?

Share some of the themes/doctrines/values that inform your work and creative process. What are some of the ethical considerations, audience engagements or social impact goals that your work has or will be confronting?

There are several common themes and thoughts emerging from my research. One is that a classroom is a learning community and communities must be built. A classroom community must have a foundation of trust, safety and mutual respect in order to be most effective. These elements must be worked for and are every bit, if not more, important than lesson objectives.

Another theme, the classroom is a space for making by others and the teacher’s job is to create that space. The teacher provides the space, the materials, the resources, the connections and the questions, the student does the work. I have also noted that the classroom requires a multidisciplinary approach to learning. No subject should be approached without connection to others and the world. The teacher in this classroom makes the connections to other teachers, subjects, community resources and beyond. And finally, the process of critical reflection is a recurring theme in my reading. Reflection, critique and refinement are necessary in every artist’s practice and in every teacher’s practice. The classroom is not a vacuum. The world is always changing and the classroom must as well.

My explorations and research are leading me toward the idea of a declaration of pedagogical independence and teaching philosophy that manifests itself as a manifesto or pledge. By necessity it will contain discussions of ethics, of accessibility, authorship, ownership, and power. It will also contain hard won experience, successes and failures, and guidelines for my practice as I go forward. Most importantly, the manifesto must address reflection and critique as an essential part of teaching as an artistic practice.

Teaching is by its very nature a format for social engagement. The relationships and influence that teachers and students have on one another cannot be measured in a year. An art teacher often has the opportunity to work with students for several years and the teacher and student can experience growth together.  I have been a great teacher and I have been a terrible teacher and I have learned and grown because of both. In my research and my creative pursuits going forward I hope to refine my approaches, and continue to try new things in pursuit of being a better teacher, a better artist and a better human being.

The first “assignment” was an idea that I had to help us to learn to use the tools we have available and to get our art minds working. Each student was asked to make a “doodle” on a piece of notebook paper and then write a thought along with the doodle. The next week each student doodled on another person's doodle and wrote a thought, until all students had “touched” each doodle. Each doodle was uploaded to a Google Drive folder and students had the choice to either print out the drawing or draw with a computer or phone program. We experienced a few technical issues but the result was four collaborative art works.

The next assignment was a themed artwork. I led and recorded the conversation while the participants brainstormed for ideas that they would like to make art about. After they had a significant list of ideas they voted and decided on “girls can do anything." Each artist responded to the theme in their preferred method.

We also discovered the “whiteboard” feature of Zoom. We spent two sessions creating art together in real time. These sessions were fun and  times of discovery and shared leadership. I participated in the discovery process but stepped back for the “formal” art making.

The final project was entirely student-led. The conversation began with a few simple questions: What would you like to do? How will you make it collaborative?

The students brainstormed, I took notes and clarified. They chose to personify or make a character of inanimate objects. They brainstormed ways to add character to an object and process options. It was decided that each student would take two to three pictures of different objects and each would choose someone else’s picture to personify.