Vermont College Distance-Learning MFA Program
Part-Time Faculty and Visiting Artist, Vermont College Master of Fine Arts Program, Montpelier USA (1996 to 2001)
Originally a Visiting Artist to this pioneering low-residency distance learning MFA, I was subsequently invited to be a Part-Time Faculty Member. Launched in 1990, this MFA was one of the first, and is still one of the few, such distance learning programmes to extend to fine arts practice. The wide variety of practices and materials encompassed by fine art is complex, and teaching it at a distance involves logistical complications in terms of assembling student work from all over North America for critiques and tutorials during the intense two-week residency periods of the course. It also involves considerable mental agility on the part of both students and lecturers.
The programme was conceived and honed before the advent of ubiquitous email, and so it is not predicated on the notion that instant-access = instant-teaching, as is increasingly the case for distance learning, where computer architecture stands in for an often absent intellectual scaffolding. I benefited from this experience in that I have a clear idea of what is intellectually and structurally necessary for successful distance learning.
As a student’s ‘Faculty Advisor’, I gave interlocking tutorials on both studio work and essay writing. These were spread across the student residency periods — where they were given face-to-face — and the longer, non-resident term, when they were effected by postal, fax and, later, email correspondence. Judicious use of telephone contact was also part of the spectrum of communication tools.
During the twice-yearly two-week residencies in Vermont, my teaching through this programme involved daily seminars with student groups; daily meetings with fellow Faculty members to track student development and co-ordinate student support; specially devised lectures; approximately 35 studio tutorials; and participation in structuring student-led exhibitions and oral presentations.
I effected distance teaching through correspondence of about a dozen students each academic year, with approximately five extensive, written contacts per student, creating comprehensive study plans with individually crafted syllabus for both studio work and essays.
Some student essays I guided include:
‘The marginal rim between beast and man: a study in zoomorphism in imagination and art’
‘Value hierarchies between domestic technology and museum legitimation: the case of glass’
‘A study of the historical significance of railway traffic signals and their significance for societal communication and visual art’
I taught alongside a group of very accomplished artists and critics — Claire Pentecost, Gregg Bordowitz, Steve Kurtz, Miwon Kwon, Janet Kaplan, David Deitcher, Doug Ashford and others. Because of the commitment of students (many of them mature students returning to their practice) the high calibre of the Faculty, and the intensity of both residency periods and the creative constraints of correspondence, it was some of the most productive and exciting teaching I have ever done.
Further Links: Vermont College Visual Arts MFA