The Art Institute of Houston
Diligence and tenacity are the constant companions of success, in all things. Never give in. William Lanigan , Program Coordinator , The Art Institute of Houston
My family moved from Washington, D.C. to New York in 1951, and I spent much of my free time in my mother’s company as I was still in my mid single digits and not fully conversant with the Manhattan subway system. She took me everywhere, especially to places she wanted to go to, including a small but truly interesting building on West 53rd Street called The Museum of Modern Art. It was there that I first saw Guernica and a magnificent painting by Henri Rousseau called The Dream; and after that, everything else but painting seemed superfluous. It’s important to note that choosing to become a creative professional is less a decision than it is a recognition; a recognition of one’s true purpose and place in life.
How do you weave your professional background into the classroom experience to provide an industry veteran's sense of the realities / challenges / opportunities of the profession?
All teaching arises from experience. Every teacher communicates what they know or believe, which is the product of their own unique and incomplete life journey. It is necessary and desirable that their message be credible; and in order for this to occur, they must teach what they have seen, done, and most importantly, love. If they do this, they will teach.
Is there a class assignment that exemplifies your approach to teaching and mentoring? Similarly, how does your approach inspire each student to push themselves beyond their own perceived limits?
Learning is a brave act. It exposes students’ ignorance, and takes courage. The trust relationship between teacher and student is based on this fact—the student must trust the faculty enough to be able to reveal a personal weakness. The faculty, in turn, must be worthy of this trust. People can be emotionally damaged in three ways—by betrayal, by abandonment, and by shame. I never conduct a lecture, discussion, review, or critique that does any of these things. All of my assignments are designed to identify gaps, to provide the means to fill them, and to strengthen my students. This is how you advance learning.
What role does collaboration contribute to students' success, especially when students from other programs contribute to the same project?
College faculty are doorkeepers. They open doors. They present their students with new information, ideas, skills. This is cognitive learning, or awareness, information gathered by seeing, hearing, or reading. But the acquisition of learning isn’t simply through awareness. In order to truly learn, a student must do something with the new input – a task, activity, project, or problem to be solved. This is kinesthetic, or experiential, learning. And we know something about experience. Experience is less memorable or meaningful in terms of what has been done, than it is because of who it was done with. This is social collaboration. Combine the three—cognitive sensory input, engaged kinesthetic activity, and shared experience—and you have the most profound, durable, and long-lasting learning.
In your opinion, what is the single most important thing you impart to your students to help them succeed in your class and in the real world? Alternatively, what is the most critical advice you would offer any student as he / she embarks on a creative career?
As Winston Churchill famously advised in a 1941 school speech: “Never give in. Never give in. Never, never, never—in nothing, great or small, large or petty—never give in, except to convictions of honor and good sense.” Talent is cheap and abundant—everyone is good at something. Intelligence is overrated—very smart people often do very stupid things. Background is the worst sort of security blanket—too much privilege robs a person of the challenges that forge their character. Diligence and tenacity are the constant companions of success, in all things. Never give in.
Is there anything else you'd like us to know about you, your experience, or your role as a faculty member at The Art Institutes?
There is no role in life that offers greater rewards than one that permits you to intervene constructively in the lives of others. It is both a commonplace and an irony that the teaching profession is on the one hand one that makes the greatest impact on both the individual and society as a whole; while at the same time being the least well-regarded or compensated. Fortunately, teachers tend not to be unduly motivated by fame, fortune, or the dubious prerogatives of the very rich. Teaching is enough of a reward in and of itself, and teaching well, to students who truly love to learn, is the finest reward of them all. And, not incidentally, teachers are by far the most interesting people to talk to.