In his book titled The School and Society (first published in 1899) John Dewey speaks of the spirit of social co-operation and community life when he describes the ‘workshop’.
“[…] in any busy workshop; there is not silence; persons are not engaged in maintaining certain fixed physical postures; their arms are not folded; they are not holding their books thus and so. They are doing a variety of things, and there is the confusion, the bustle, that results from activity. But out of the occupation, out of doing things that are to produce results, and out of doing these in a social and co-operative way, there is born a discipline of its own kind and type. Our whole conception of school discipline changes when we get this point of view. In critical moments we all realize that the only discipline that stands by us, the only training that becomes institution, is that got through life itself.” (Dewey, 1956: 17)
What is particularly relevant to my practice is the relevance that this passage has in relation the printmaking studio and the possible contrast between the contemporary print studio where community is still important versus the painting studio where artists are encouraged, more and more, to work in isolation.
One of the reasons that I have always enjoyed teaching printmaking was because of the technical processes as well as the introduction of students to a ‘new’ artistic process. ‘New’ in the sense that many students do not experience a high level of printmaking before entering university because of the facilities and resources needed. However, in reading Dewey I realise that it is also because of the community that is fostered in my classroom. By teaching students the printmaking processes it is also the case that they (as students and individuals) are being asked to participate in a ‘workshop’ where they are required not only to learn the skills but also to negotiate the hustle and bustle of the studio with many students trying to use the same equipment. This requires, as Dewey points out, them to negotiate their social situation and gain an understanding of how to work alongside each other. Therefore, aside from developing new skill sets these students are also building a community that sees them help each other, congratulate each other on their successes and push through their less successful moments. This links their lives to the “ordinary conditions and motives of life” (Dewey, 1956: 17).
There are times when, as the teacher, I wonder whether or not students should be working more individually or whether I should be the only source of information and insight. However, I have always enjoyed seeing students help each other. In my eyes, it demonstrates that they not only are learning the processes but that they are concerned enough with the well being of their peers to help them execute their ideas. My role as the teacher is not as the fountain of all knowledge, but as the one who helps to guide them through a series of ideas in order to produce their outcomes. In the visual arts, and perhaps other Arts, this is particularly pertinent because the students must contribute their knowledge to the experience. It is not the teacher who dictates the subject-matter but rather the student who selects their journey and the teacher who guides them along their route.