My Research-Based Practice Workshop for the Cleveland Institute of Art

Today I ran a day-long workshop for the Cleveland Institute of Art as part of Kevin Kautenburger's class Environment, Art and Engaged Practice, a partnership with the Cleveland Metroparks. The idea for the class is to provide a platform for students to respond to the environment and produce experimental works that engage real world environmental problems. I helped out in this class last year during the critiques and this year Kevin asked me to contribute again. We originally planned for me to run a sediment clay workshop, but it turned out to be focused more on developing a research-based creative practice and we had a fun day tromping around the Chagrin Valley.


I started off the workshop with a simple activity: I asked students to write out a simple single sentence description of the work that they were producing. I wanted to know what question they felt their work was answering. I didn't tell them what I was going to do with it, but I had them hand in the slips of papers and then we started our day hiking through the valley learning along the way.

I'll spare the details of what we covered in the workshop, but toward the end of the day I wanted to engage the students with an activity that would help them develop and cement their project ideas with another simple activity. 

We had hiked to this cliff with an exposed clay deposit that was calving huge slabs of a dusty grey clay (it turns out that it fires to a buff orange at cone 6 and has 50% shrinkage, pretty interesting stuff). When I saw this clay deposit and the cliff I knew we had to spend some time contemplating it as an element of the site.


I gathered everyone on the shore, a sandy bar on the depositional side of the river, and gave them this simple assignment: Write out the first 100 questions that come to mind about the site, the clay, and your work. Don't edit yourself, write down every question that comes to mind no matter how simple, and don't try to answer your questions.

They went to work and forty minutes later I pulled everyone back together and we talked about how to look for major themes in the list of questions. Usually when I do this activity in my own practice, I come up with 3-5 themes. Remember that simple single sentence description I had students write? I gave that back to them and asked them to compare the description of their work with the major themes they found in their list of 100 questions. Were there any overlaps in ideas? Using these two tools helps build cohesion into a student's work with the questions they are actually asking themselves which in the long-run keeps people passionate and doing work they find engaging.

Kevin mentioned to me that this was really going to help solidify the direction that students were taking in their projects and invited me back for the critique. All in all, it was a great day and a fun time spent working and learning together. I'm grateful to Kevin Kautenburger for the invitation, and to both the Cleveland Institute of Art and the Cleveland Metroparks for their generosity in providing me this opportunity. (oh yeah, my students we're pretty great too!)

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