As a novice academician, I was assigned to the introductory classes, but I felt that I had leeway to be inventive, since the department head wasn’t paying much attention to the basic courses. My favorite was art appreciation, the class no one really wanted to teach because, unlike, say, “Sixteenth-Century Folio Editions in the Flemish Lowlands,” it did little for a résumé. I threw everything I knew, and much I didn’t, into the mix, hoping my students – many of them only a few years younger than I was – could understand that art was important. I wanted them to experience what it was like to make something that wasn’t “useful,” and to come to respect it. Many were from rural and working-class families where art was considered extraneous, a put-on, a waste of time. I didn’t ask them to actually make artworks because it was an art appreciation course, not a studio class. Instead, I used games and exercises to try to help them discover their potential to live a creative life.
One exercise I gave required that the students do something they had never done before – something that seriously scared and challenged them and that would take an entire semester to accomplish. A student who had never cooked a single thing in her entire life produced a soup. Another of my students, an older man, taught himself to tap dance, and he demonstrated for us – he wasn’t very good at it, but it was just beautiful. One of my students taught herself to ride a motorcycle, and she got her license the day of our final class. Another taught herself to fix her car. On the last day of class, she dragged in a car engine and proceeded to take it apart and put it back together in front of us. Our jaws were on the ground. Some projects were very personal: one man explained that he had been estranged from his father his whole life and spent the semester reconnecting with him.
- Marcia Tucker, A Short Life of Trouble