sp150411 Printmaking school
reboots for 21st Century
Copy written over medical school education article the author heard on NPR on April 9, 2015
Thirty years ago, this article—which the author copy-wrote over another article heard on National Public Radio—would have been appropriate to describe his experience when he was a professor in a university which happened to include a major medical school.
Copy-written By Bill Ritchie over the article, Medical Schools Reboot for 21st Century by JULIE ROVNER, broadcast on PBS radio station KUOW. The original transcript was copyrighted and provided to the public by NPR. If article about changing art school printmaking curricula were created and broadcast, this would be the revised transcript. Unfortunately for printmaking students, the curriculum was not changed.
Printmaking School Reboot for 21st CenturyREPORTER: (The imaginary reporter here might have been hosted by one from Seattle’s member station KUOW. As it stands, the only tape I recall was made in 1980 for radio by Angela Henrick.)
REPORTER: The art of printmaking has changed a lot in the past 100 years, but art school training hasn't kept up with modern needs. To equip artists for the 21st Century, a printmaking professor at the University of Washington wrote up a new curriculum and started teaching differently. Reporter (Fictitious) of Radio (Fictitious) paid the professor a visit.
REPORTER, FICTIONAL BYLINE: In a bright, cluttered corner art gallery in Seattle, I sat with a 70-something professor watching videos about his teaching of printmaking. These are not traditional classroom recordings, but vintage, black-and-white. They show students forty years ago polishing their management skills. In one video, students report on safety and security measures in the etching studio. Their teacher is Bill Ritchie, and he’s showing me the video now, in 2015.
STUDENT: (In the video) “I want to point out that the fire extinguisher . . .”
REPORTER: It may seem like an odd way for art students to have been spending their class time, but the students appear to have taken it a seriously. They will have to practice safe procedures during their careers, especially in printmaking. Etching is a process that uses acids and hazardous solvents.
RITCHIE: I was piloting some new approaches to management and leadership, and that was one of the ways. Students got credit for attending to the management part of the course. The video, by the way, was made by a student on camera.
REPORTER: It was a far cry from how art students were traditionally taught. The longtime model for art classes was the Master’s atelier, in which students spend years in classes following the directions of art professors and studying pictures of how other artists worked—19th Century methods adapted by art educators and applied to college. Bill Ritchie architected a new curriculum in the 1970s. He says the atelier model persists even as art has changed. Classes stayed the same for generations chiefly because of painting.
RITCHIE: I think the vast majority of art schools still use a 19th Century painting atelier model, but printmaking has different qualities than those of other visual arts. It is not understood very well by most painters, and printmaking teachers seem to feel bound by the rules of painting—as if painting were the only visual art form.
REPORTER: Ritchie says the painting studio model simply doesn't work when it comes to his favorite art, which has always been printmaking. For one thing, there's so much science, math, and engineering in printmaking—too much for anyone to learn in just a few years. And the field is constantly in flux. What Ritchie started in the 1970s at the University of Washington School Of Art was to prepare artists for the inevitable changes they would see over their practice lives that technology would cause.
RITCHIE: I didn’t try to predict what art was going to be like in forty years and teach my opinion, but I wanted to give students the tools to be adaptable, resilient, to problem-solve, to focus on some things, accept new things, and change other things for good.
REPORTER: Ritchie says he succeeded for a short while. He saw his former students do quite well. Yet, despite that, faculty saw Ritchie’s innovations as disruptive. Since printing, according to Ritchie, is the ancestor of all technologies, he stressed learning how media systems work and he benefitted because he had to learn right along with the students about some of the possibilities on the horizon.
RITCHIE: It started when I made teaching videos live—like a cooking show—right in the class. Right away students saw video cameras and monitors as sources for art ideas, and they mixed the media. They took video’s special effects and made electronic prints off the video monitor!
REPORTER: And sometimes it wasn’t the art professor who was the best teacher about making interesting art. Professors in the performing arts came to his classes.
RITCHIE: If I hooked the art students up with music and dance professors and their students, all of them together playing with live video—then we all learned about improvisation and what teams can do.
REPORTER: Printmaking art students learned to work as part of a team, rather than be like the painter, who often is an innovator working in isolation. Printmakers share the printing press for etching, for example, and, later, shared video studios with medical students. Next came the computer and networking. These added layers of interaction revealed new relationships among students, engineers and people outside of the university.
RITCHIE: Our work went global. Students were getting invited to international shows, and people were making the UW a destination, visiting us to see what we were doing with video and computers.
REPORTER: It’s obvious from watching the old videos that Ritchie was more guiding than teaching, but he says he didn’t learn that when he was a student.
RITCHIE: I was not taught this in school. My teachers didn’t teach how to work in teams, how to communicate with peers and colleagues and how to communicate to the general public about what art has become. As far as I know, they still don’t. I wish they would. I owe it to printmaking that I see and enjoy the difference between the arts of the past with what art has become today.