Thursday, April 18, 2013

Lessons in art, history, culture, teaching--all in one class

It's been a few days since I last posted since most of what I have been doing is either meeting with people (not too visual and too complicated to report in this forum) or dealing with things at home: NETS and a comprehensive exam for which I've been preparing. (Doing laundry, shopping, cleaning the apartment, etc. also take considerable time.)

Today was interesting as I observed an art class. I'm seeing a very different interpersonal style than I often use and observe with my colleagues at home. What I see here is little interpersonal phatic talk nor much by way of introduction or context construction for the lesson. Instructors just enter the room, and start the class.  Sometimes they talk a bit to provide some needed information; sometimes pose a question, or indicate a student or group has the floor and they start their presentation or activity (seems to be a very high context culture.)  So, with that, the instructor first gave the students some inexpensive manila paper and pencils and started.

 She had the students do some "looking" and talking about what they saw out these bay windows in the building where we met...
Designed by Alvar Aalto
then she showed them pictures of the campus from different eras and discussed what they reflected in terms of styles of eras (most you could see from the window, too).

But rather than focus on technical details of the architecture, she talked about the sense of history and community they represented (and explained why Finland is so keen on building preservation) and what all that means in each person's own life. With that, she then sent the students out to take pictures of buildings and sketch them (using pencils and manila paper--nothing high tech there, except the students' phones which were all cameras, too). The assignment was very open-ended; she just wanted to give the students a bit of a focus and let them do what they thought was most relevant to themselves.  I asked her later about evaluation and she said that such assignments, even the course as a whole was pass/fail.  I noticed that all the students engaged the task, took pictures, drew sketches and reconvened when she'd asked. Without direction, they easily shared their sketches with each other, even though some were very child-like.

The instructor said that the pictures were important because they documented this moment of existence which is meaningful and when compared to similar pictures from other times, the comparison gave new and increased meaning to both the images and the eras. The approach was very philosophical and thought-provoking.  It gave new value to the pictures I've taken on our trips and those I take at home.
Here are a few I took of the buildings nearby as they indicate different eras of the university:
This is one of the first buildings of the campus some 150 years ago.
A change of style marked the first decades of the twentieth century
The most significant architectural development in Finland it seems springs from the work of Alvar Aalto, Finland's greatest architect.  Here are some shots of just one of his many buildings on campus:

A very relaxing cafe
One entrance to the building
The furniture you see is 50 years old, still used and in perfect condition  (not from Ikea)
We then all got on our bikes and rode downtown to the art museum. Presently the theme of the museum is the relationship of art and science.  There were interesting exhibits exploring things like colors produced by nature through rust and corrosion, by fermentation, etc. There were interesting paintings in the form of pixelation.
Beautiful art made of corrosion
Colors from bio decomposition...

Almost unrecognizable up close...

Distance "reduces" pixel size and the image gets clearer.
Finally, the museum has a large installation piece that represents the story of a middle class family in Jyvaskyla in the late 60s/early 70's who take in a relative's slightly wayward son.  If you look closely, you can see some of the effects of the young fellow on family life...
The experience was a kind of creepy voyeuristic one, but nevertheless, very interesting!

1 comment:

  1. I'm really intrigued about the approach of the instructor, and the use of "pencil and paper". Sometimes just dealing with a complex medium or instructions can have opposite impact on students. Excited to hear more about that.