Spectrum of Approach:
Content in this issue is motivated by the theme of COLOR and examines a wide variety of ways in which it exists within the landscape of our field; as makers, as scientists, as educators, in industry, historically, and in so many more capacities.
For this issue, I put on my hat as educator and think about the various ways in which this very specific decorative process impacts media-specific teaching and learning...ways in which integrating color in the studio or in one’s making practice makes sense, when it is valuable. But also ways in which it introduces conflict and compromise with our educational objectives and our students’s growth.
Below is the draft I submitted to my Editor in its full, unedited version to serve as supplemental material to what is seen in the Summer 2018 issue of GASnews:
The allure of colored glass is diverse. It’s determined when opaque. It’s luscious when transparent. It sears radiant when lit up as neon. It’s textural when applied as a granulate. It withholds strong, associative connections; single hues possessing the power to speak to individual viewers in uniquely broad and individual ways.
Color in glass is a multi-faceted topic conversationally. It can move one’s spirit just as easily as it can move one to roll their eyes. Therein lies the dilemma of color: it’s loaded. Easy to be mishandled creatively, visually, and intellectually. Sometimes all at once. Turns out that the application of color within our making, teaching, and learning about glass introduces an equally diversified palette of predicament as it does allure.
As a theoretical debate, color is complex; and talking about it can be a contentious affair among glass educators and glass practitioners alike. It’s another one of those “c-words” like criticality or craft or cross-disciplinarity that can lend way to small riots within our community when the topic is brought up. Lots of angles in understanding its usefulness, just as many angles in understanding it as a hindrance. But the conversation about color in the studio within the context of education introduces some interesting points of consideration.
Color in and of itself isn’t the dilemma. It should be encouraged when student ideas justify its presence. I’ve bore witness to student learning and making under my watch where the integration of color was incredibly pertinent to the questions those students were asking in their research. I’ve also bore witness to the opposite: instances of student learning and making under my watch where the integration of color distracted, compromised, and/or derailed the objectives in their work and working. What facilitates such a disconnect?
It’s here that color – in the form of the frit bomb - makes sense to the introductory student: something productive that can still happen from a beginner’s vantage point amidst the chaos and mystery that glass working is, especially when the prospect of having molten glass “do what one wants” seems so far away. Color, in this educational case study, seems to provide a brief sense of satisfaction within their material incomprehension.
On the other end of the hot shop spectrum, the case study of color as spectacle for advanced students lies in bravado; when the driving force in engaging the overlay, incalmo, stuffing a color cup, or even pulling off some reticello is pursued as only a thing to “master.” They love encountering (and showcasing) signs in the things that they make as an indication that they, too, can accomplish the technical applications and feats involving color somewhat akin to their hot shop heroes…the pros at the upper echelon they want to emulate. It’s here that color application in student thinking and making is pursued as some sort of technical badge; an endpoint as opposed to a means.
Neither one of these examples of student approaches to color in the learning experience with glass are actually about color. They’re mostly about the psychological relationship to issues of skill (or lack thereof) by way of color. For the beginner in the above illustration, coloration in the studio is about making something interesting happen with hot glass when making anything at all seems damn near impossible. For the so-called advanced student, coloration in the studio is often mistaken as a billboard to broadcast what they can do with glass instead as a platform to support their thinking about it.
Beyond spectacle, a second area of dilemma regarding color relates to the two-sided coin that skill-specific teaching is. Building a sound material comprehension with glass and working it competently is important. But, to what extent can skill-specific instruction be truly helpful? The educational rub is that it’s difficult to provide students an open opportunity to navigate broad conceptual territory when they’re obligated to stick within the framework of a specific glass working technique. Especially when it comes to teaching, learning, and using color.
Ideally, the integration of skill-specific teaching is right when it reveals itself as pertinent to a student’s needs. When relevant to student ideas, the notion of learning and executing color-based processes could very well require a strong sense of technical comprehension in how color is best used or applied in relation to a student’s vision. For some students, they may want (and need) to know the rules of color application to support their proposed objective in the most informed and resolved way. For other students, they may need (or want) to know the rules of color application in order to innovatively bend them. And some students may need to know these rules in order to blatantly disregard them for revolutionary renegade purposes. In either of these cases, the issue of color (or any skill-specific technique) no longer resides as an “issue” when a sense of relevance is in play.
Beyond the dilemmas of color that compromise a student’s making relationship to glass are the ones that compromise their thinking relationship to it. Even when ideas seem relevant to color, they might not necessarily indicate something new, provocative, or even interesting that involves (and/or relates to) color.
The integration of color within glass education is tricky territory. The integration of color within student thinking and making even trickier territory. Even though intention has everything to do with its presence in studio, the obligation for sound discernment in how appropriate its role plays within our ideas demands our very careful and thorough consideration. Color is a tool, and it’s a difficult one to wield coherently…which is why it certainly needs to be approached conversationally within our teaching and learning, both in theory and practice.
I had the fortune of hosting Micah Evans to the GLASS program at RIT as part of our Visiting Artist Lecture Series in the Spring of 2016. During that visit, he constructed a lidded, percolating kettle at the torch by blowing and assembling a variety of hollow borosilicate components over a few hours. To indicate where the joinery exists between the kettle’s components, Micha applied a thin, black wrap before sealing one part to another in its assemblage. The integration of color in this case used a decorative process that transcended decoration: a method of mapping out the construction of the object visually after it had been made. Color, in this case, functioned as a visual tool for students to see how and where the kettle quite literally came together after it had annealed; a way for students years later to "read" the kettle’s assemblage long after the demo had taken place.
There’s more to talk about and chew over when it comes to the teaching, learning, and making with color in the context of glass education. In fact, I feel like I’m just getting started here. The topic of color is one of many examples of the kind of educational territories we educators in degree-earning, media specific programming have to negotiate quite often. It is our job to give and nourish. It is the student’s job to receive and grow. To bring educational content to the table that informs a student’s making as effectively as it challenges a student’s thinking is a significant responsibility. The issue of color is one of many conversations related to glass teaching and learning that hosts many snags. It’s good to identify where color proves problematic, but I’m more enthusiastic about dwelling on its unfulfilled potential; as teaching tool, as conceptual impetus in student research, and as a platform for deeper material comprehension.
David Schnuckel is an artist and educator, currently serving as Assistant Professor within the
Glass Program of the Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, New York.