Tori Ralston

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The artist/educatorís role is as an activator. In the studio classroom this begins with forming the culture. Within any group there arises a dynamic, complex gathering of identities and voices. The ways in which these voices are revealed to the group can foster an environment in which the students feel both challenged and supported as they begin to work with images. This peer culture naturally influences students to express personal issues in their work.

My desire for the students is that they will be highly curious and engaged with each other and each otherís work as well as finding motivation from the images and theoretical issues addressed during class. One of the most interesting and challenging aspects of contemporary art practice is in being able to make fair judgments about what art actually is, what it has been, or what it could be in the future. This is a dynamic and on-going debate and one that plays a large role in class discussions as well as class critiques.

The group culture forms in many ways at once. Each semester begins with a collaborative project in which the students exchange their work and build on each otherís ideas; an example might be a variation on the Exquisite Corpse. In order to facilitate students working larger than life-size, they work in collaborative groups. The projects may be earthworks, performance pieces, or addressing issues of scale. The collaborative process helps students build confidence with new mediums and pushes them beyond their perceived limitations. Early collaborative projects also reveal the particular interests of each student: style and aesthetic, materials and mediums, and foremost, their ideas and points of departure in their thinking.

As students emerge from the group and are ready to envision their ideas, activation comes through personal one on one interaction. In the area of sculpture, the execution of ideas must be driven by the concept which leads to more informed choices around materials and media. Particularly in advanced classes, working with students to ground their decision- making in their concept is the best way to help them focus and be true to their intention. This helps the student create an authentic image rather than relying on clichť as well as understanding their motivations in making choices. Consequently, I prefer to teach sculpture classes as concept driven rather than material driven.

When dealing with any kind of technology an important issue to investigate and address with students is fear- fear of not knowing how to operate a tool, fear of getting hurt, and fear of looking foolish and inexperienced. In the field of sculpture, itís not uncommon to work with predominantly male-dominated technologies such as one might find in the foundry, woodshop, or metal shop. Iíve observed that students need support to make large work and to use power tools. All learning involves moving through stages toward mastery. In this regard, itís important to convey that any skill can be acquired with patience and persistence. A major advantage to being a female sculptor/educator is that I can work closely with the female students who desire to work with traditionally male materials and tools in a way that models success. Likewise, male students who desire to work with more traditionally female materials and tools will require extra support as well. Ultimately, I find it vital to instruct students to become versatile with many materials and media so that they have a variety of skills, allowing them to be expansive in their thinking and inventiveness.

Teaching requires passion and flexibility; initially meeting each student where they are and helping them discover where they are capable of going. For some students this takes support and reassurance while others respond well to being exposed to images and critical exchange. As with my artistic process, the teaching process begins with investigation and meeting, identifying what parameters exist, and grounding actions toward a specific goal. I motivate students to be expansive in their thinking, experience the challenge and joy in making, and feel a sense of awe and surprise with their results.
Tori Ralston
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