Oh, Academia, You Won’t Miss Me Either, Will You?

Here is a summary of why I really really hope I can find meaningful livelihood outside of academia, in one event:

(Background: Long-time readers will know that I became unemployed when the college at which I held my most recent 1-year contract decided to eliminate my position altogether.)

The college has been forced to cancel the classes I taught because they could not find any adjuncts to teach them.

Ha.  Take that m**f**cka!

No, really, I don’t feel that strongly…

Ha!

Well,  here’s the thing:  everyone knew it was next to impossible to find people qualified to teach Computer Graphics who will also do so for adjunct pay at that suburban campus – what with the mind-numbing rush hour commute times and all.  I told them so.  My predecessor also told them so.  The dean told me he was told so…  Because, unlike old-school media studio artists (my own background), the people who can teach digital media can find other jobs.  And all jobs pay better than adjunct teaching.  Some even offer health care!

So… so, here’s the other thing:

I was hired at the same time as one other art faculty, to replace two retirements, who comprised an art department of two people.  I, because I studied painting then got into digital media in order to incorporate printmaking with it, can teach all of the art classes offered at that campus.  The other guy can only teach painting/drawing (and the studio foundations that is non media specific).

More so, I have more experience than he does.

More more so, I was hired at a higher academic rank, by standard HR formula, than he was.

So, who got the permanent contract and who got the 1-year?  Who did I just say is unemployed?

I was told, quietly, that the decision was “controversial”, whatever that means.

Now that I’ve said that, however, let me also say that this other art faculty is now a good friend and a very good teacher.  He does deserve a good, permanent faculty job.  And, he is certainly better at teaching drawing than I am.  So, no disparaging here, got it?

But, who is unemployed and what college is left without faculty to teach their classes?

Hmph.

Stupidity #3 about same event:  The college actually did find and offer a position to someone to teach my former classes.  But, HR denied his hiring because his MFA is in video and he doesn’t have “computer” or “design” in enough of his course transcripts.  Sound reasonable?  Not to me.  I taught those classes (and significantly updated them), and I don’t have a single computer-related art course on any of my transcripts at all, grad or undergrad!  The adjunct candidate, on paper, is a more appropriate match, if you understand how videos are made, or if you bother to call someone who does – which this HR apparently didn’t.  And moreover on this facet of dumbness, the course content summaries that define those courses say, “teaches the use of microcomputers to make art work appropriate for a portfolio”.  I.e., “vague to the point of meaningless”.  (And, yes, it does say “microcomputers”.)  I would argue that within a contemporary context, a person could actually teach them as video classes without running afoul of the official document.

So, in what may be stupidity #4, enrollment in the Computer Graphics courses was modest at best when I arrived at the college.  You see, my predecessor, who filled the familiar role of the painter-who-is-really-a-painter who took on digital media in order to help the college transition, taught the exact same thing in Computer Graphics 1 and Computer Graphics 2.  CG1 was collage in Photoshop and CG2 was just do the same thing again but do it better…  That, and it had a 100% technical and maybe 75% conceptual overlap with the digital imaging course offered by the Photo department.   I changed them to Photoshop + Illustrator with new concepts in CG 1, and to animation & interactivity in Flash in CG 2.  The kids loved it.  But, alas, the decision to eliminate my position was made during my first semester, before my efforts could produce any evidence.

What’s so stupid about that, you ask?  Well, everyone involved has acknowledged that the computer-based offerings are the most significant growth area for the art department.  They also most directly target college-wide initiatives.  Every one has said that what they need is a dynamic instructor to build them up and promote them over a long term.  Now, they’re lamenting the difficulty of finding that in a person who is under an adjunct’s constraints (if they find any adjunct at all) and with one full-time art faculty who doesn’t know anything about the digital end of the field.  Well… they already had what they were looking for- they got rid of him without any consideration of what he actually did while he was there!

There are other stupidities corollary to those events; other things to rant about.  But, I’ll spare you.  The real question, you know, is will the next place I work be any better?

The End of Times!

At least they’re funny this time…  From the web site over at the Landover Baptist Church (I’ll just put on a screen shot rather than post a link here to anything associated with them):

Alternately, you could just think of women as, you know, real people with, um, you know, uh, brains and amazing athletic abilities and stuff…

That, and, really, what could stop young boys from masturbating?

’cause, you know, if women hug, it probably doesn’t have anything to do with friendship or comraderie or team spirit or anything like that.  I’ll bet the first thing on those Brazilian atheletes’ minds is what some shy, chubby 13 year old in Kansas is thinking about right now.

At least the “church” was kind enough to re-post the hot girl on girl action for its own members.  “But, mama, can I’s go to the internets if I just go to the church’s web site?”…

And while we’re on the subject the things that “inspire” teenage boys, here’s a video compilation of Britney Spears performances paired with the actual sound from her mic while she’s lipsynching.  (Because WordPress won’t allow embedding Flash videos, you’ll have to click on the image and go watch it on the host site):

Click to go and see the sad, sad video of what Britney sounds like while she's lipsynching

Click to go and see the sad, sad video of what Britney sounds like while she

I know I should be ashamed to say it, but watching this made me laugh.  Until about 2/3 of the way through when I couldn’t stand it anymore and had to turn it off, that is.

And, I don’t want to perpetuate tabloidesque Britney bashing or anything of the sort.  Like I mentioned a while back, I thought she looked great with her head shaved.  I had hoped she was about to follow in the way of Debbie Gibson and go on tour with a punk band or something.  I was really looking forward to it.  I mean, if you need jaded rants against the establishment to lay down over your three bass chords, go straight to the source…

Anyway, to be more high minded, I think that seeing this, to ask just exactly how and why she (and the rest of the pop star minions) landed their superstar jobs – in the face of a huge pool of people who are in fact very talented singers, many of whom also fit the “aesthetic requirements” – is to look straight into the saddest realities of the “culture” part of our culture.  At least American Idol and Eurovision, et al, turn it over to a perversion of democracy, but democratic selection nonetheless, in which some variation on an ability to hit notes becomes a factor in success.

Free Textbooks

(No, I’m not giving any away, sorry…)

Again today with an interesting item from Slashdot: Open-Source College Textbooks Gaining Mindshare.

I’ll relist the links from that blurb here:

http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-textbook18-2008aug18,0,4712858.story

http://www.mcafee.cc/Introecon/NSSP.html

http://www.calstate.edu/ats/digital_marketplace/

http://www.maketextbooksaffordable.org/statement.asp?id2=37614

I hope to anybody’s god that’s listening that open source and free-use textbooks become one of the norms across college campuses.  I think among the most common, early, jading, gut sinking slightly enough that you can ignore it if you just continue to ignore it, experiences for new full-time faculty happens when his/her mailbox fills up with unsolicited review copies of texts – all the while the poor kids are dropping over $100 for used paperbacks on math that Greeks wrote down 2500 years ago, without any good pictures…

Because I taught a lot of digital media classes in fine art, I ended up getting all kinds of Graphic Design and Programming textbooks, even though I didn’t teach those subjects.  I gave up trying to explain the difference to sales reps about a year and a half ago.  Some poor design student is paying for those things right now.

Recently, I looked up a book I used in 2006 at the request of my supervisor.  In 2006, I thought it was pricey at $60.  Now the exact same edition retails new for $100.  Fuel surcharge?…

Fortunately, because there are so few good books for digital media fine art, and most of the books appropriate for my classes were 100% technical, I rarely used textbooks.  Instead, I opted to distribute photocopies and web links to articles that addressed non-technical concepts, preferring to use reading time to focus on the art content of the class over the software content.  Then, I created my own technical hand outs for students to download from the class web site at will.

When I was “asked” to teach (assigned in between signing my contract and showing up to my new job in a new town), a 3D modeling class (to the horror of this here faculty who didn’t know how to do 3D modeling), I was fortunate to find in Blender a pretty good open source application that had a wiki-based online knowledge bank and a downloadable PDF guide available for $15.  The other option was to use a $600 software package students could only use during class time (no way the college would buy it for the open computer lab) and a $100+ text that would be absolutely necessary to compensate for the teacher’s ignorance.  With the open source option, everyone could practice with the software for free at home while having access to a range of support resources – for a whopping total of 15 bucks.  Fortunately, very fortunately, the class was canceled.  (I did, however, just to make use of weeks of my own frantic 3D modeling study, decide to integrate a day of 3D modeling into my studio art foundations class.)

All know all of you tenured profs probably do need the extra cash from adding your name to the next edition of something before you retire, but…

Creativity, Computers, and Manual Labor

Update:  I edited this post to submit as a writing sample offline on 9/18/08.  I’ve decided to post the revisions – most are related to style, none of them are substantive changes.

Today, Slashdot brought up an interesting topic regarding the (perhaps small) resurgence of manual labor and processes in the design fields: hardware.slashdot.org/hardware/08/08/17/205232.shtml.

The post points to two articles.

One, by G. Pascal Zachary in the New York Times, about the phenomenon itself: Digital Designers Rediscover Their Hands.

And, Two, an op-ed in the Guardian by Richard Sennett: Labours of Love.

The phenomenon itself is something that I’ve long thought inevitable within the pendulum swings of social and technological changes, as they feel out the right directions for themselves.

But, it’s the second article that really interests me.  Because, it articulates a belief system and a real experience that underscores the manifestation of those ideas in the events of the first article.

It’s an issue that’s near and dear to my heart because I’ve taught digital media art in higher education and elsewhere, for about six years.  But… I studied painting and drawing.

Toward the end of my undergraduate study, I started using the computer to help with making silk screen prints on photographs − that I would sometimes continue to manipulate with traditional drawing techniques after printing.  Because I lost access to school facilities when I graduated, and because my interests turned from linguistic theory to exploring less theoretical interactions of visual form; during the years between undergrad and grad school, I returned to a studio practice in which I mostly painted with oils.  Then, the truth of graduate study in fine art today is that being in the “painting” studio in most programs really means you can do anything.  And, I did.  I also made a lot of work that applied digital media within more traditional studio discourses.

In a way that you can probably imagine, nearly all of the opportunities I’ve found since then have involved new technology.  That has been, of course, due in part to the recent emergence of those technologies in art and a glut of older faculty who already have considerable experience teaching art materials and techniques that have been around in one form or another for centuries.  I was one of very few people in my graduate program who could teach the Computer Graphics classes.  And, that has continued to be the door I’ve most often found open.  As a person who studied painting, I’ve had faculty jobs teaching digital drawing, intro to digital media as a fine art course, intro to digital media as a design course, page layout, web design, and animation.  None of this seems unnatural to me.

I’ve even put forth significant efforts to integrate digital media, and 3D modeling at that, into traditional studio foundations classes.  I developed online resources and brought student blogging into my computer-based classes.

In my art work, I continue to use both digital and traditional media on the surface of a single work.

So, I’m no Luddite.

But, to counter the drive toward technoligizing educational settings is most surely to make one’s self anathema.

When I’ve suggested that it would be better if my introductory computer graphics classes did not have internet access, I’ve almost always been met with bewilderment and confusion.  When drawing/painting faculty I’ve worked with have expressed kindred views, they’ve invariably been cast as anachronistic trolls (most weren’t).

Here though, is what caught my eye in the Slashdot blurb, from the NYT article:

Making refinements with your own hands — rather than automatically, as often happens with a computer — means “you have to be extremely self-critical,” says Mr. Sennett, whose book “The Craftsman” (Yale University Press, 2008), examines the importance of “skilled manual labor,” which he believes includes computer programming.

And, self-criticality is so important in art.  In fact, art’s ability to teach critical analysis in general is among the things that I tout most when fighting the (supremely difficult) battle about the importance of art within a general curriculum.

While new technology brings the issue to the surface, however, the phenomenon isn’t unique to it.  While I was working as the preparator for a gallery that showed his work, I twice had the opportunity to visit Jun Kaneko‘s massive studio facilities in Omaha.  I even stayed in a guest apartment, I think usually reserved for resident artists at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts, once.  What struck me then was that as a wildly successful juggernaut of the ceramics world, Jun Kaneko can do anything he wants. He’s even got a staff of half a dozen or so highly skilled assistants whom he can ask to fabricate or prepare whatever he needs.  So, here’s the thing: in terms of ineffable art qualities like “poignancy” or “being challenging”, I don’t think it helps him − because he doesn’t have to be self-critical. He doesn’t have to reign himself in.  It sounds enviable, sure, but reigning yourself in, knowing that what you’re working on has to count, forces a deeper engagement that usually produces better art.  To put myself in contrast, at that time I had so few financial resources that I had to analyze and evaluate each step I made.  If I ruined a painting, it could take a day’s wages just to replace the materials.  And I think that pressure made me a better artist.  Now, true, I was young and aspiring and Jun Kaneko was older and long quite accomplished; and each of us in need of very different assets for development.  But, how do you maintain a sharpened self-criticality when you do not have any external factors driving it?

And there in a nutshell is the struggle I’ve had with balancing digital media within my own creative process.  You see, working with my hands once played a formative and significant role in my creative thought process.  I grew up in and around construction work.  By the time I was 17, I was passable as an apprentice bricklayer.  I could and had framed houses, installed drywall, shingled roofs, poured concrete…  All the while my art is fairly cerebral (not to say intellectual).

Yeah, but… there are so few things more comforting than knowing you can press “ctrl+z” after you screw up an image.  Just keep clicking and dragging stuff around until you get what you want…  It’s wonderful.  Yeah, uh-huh, but… the down side is that you don’t suffer the same pains, as Richard Sennett describes, of “dwell[ing] in waste, following up dead ends”, “creat[ing problems] in order to know them” as is par for the course in non-digital media.  You could suffer those things.  It’s just that most of them are so easy to fix.  If you remember the old cartoons, when a brush would wipe across the screen with a couple of zig zags and suddenly a whole drawing would be right there; creating on a computer is the next best thing.  It’s awesome.  It risks one of the external factors that motivates critical thinking.

I used to think that after enough practice and development, the “struggle” of craft and expression would evolve so much as to become unrecognizable as what it once was − to essentially go away.  Now, I can identify that event as the moment at which an artist’s work just goes and falls flat.  The next struggle that ensues is one to balance confidence with maintaining a sufficient depth of engagement.  I’ll leave it as a few open questions then − because I don’t have the answers:  What are the relationships to external factors that artists need to forge in order to sustain that balance and depth of engagement?  To what extent do you need your media, your resources, your hands, or your time to present obstacles in order for you to continually grow through your art?  As facility changes your relationship with your work, is there a point at which that facility is no longer an obstacle in itself?

It’s Not their Bodies, it’s the Money

Speaking about men’s gymnastics, one of the announcers commented on the growing trend of “older” competitors in the sport.  My immediate thought was that it must reflect improvements in sports medicine.  But, the guy on the TV said this:

In this day and age, the atheletes are able to support themselves with gymnastics, allowing them to stay in the sport much longer.

You see, it has nothing to do with their physical ability, it’s all about the money.

I can totally identify.

I mean, not with the physical part… but you know, with a relative equivalent…

Of course, the “older” athlete he was talking about was 27.

On a very related note, I’ve been posting less often over the past week or two because I’ve had a lot of off-blog-topic things on my mind lately.  I’m busy making art that’s in a state at which I don’t want or need to talk about it.  And, then there’s job hunting.  The past few days, I’ve also been enjoying a book called “An Ocean in Iowa.”

Thoughts on Synchronized Diving

I heard someone say that men’s synchronized diving seems “gay”.

Solo diving doesn’t.

I wonder, what does that say about the way men are supposed to work together in our culture?  (Or aren’t supposed to work together.)

I didn’t bother to ask if there’s anything “lesbian” about women’s synchronized diving.  Of course, by the same norms, there isn’t.

I’ll tell you, some day, all the ways that gender roles screw up men is going to make it into a bona fide issue.  Just as soon as us guys are willing to fess up to an iota of self-reflection, that is…

And another thing, I’ve heard one of the comentators for synchronized diving use “preciseness” as a noun a whole handful of times.  Um, “precision” anyone? And so then, just what does watching a nationally televised comentator repeat the same grammar mistake say about our culture?

Applying for Government Jobs

So, I took a couple of days of doing nothing to take my mind off of the general stresses of being unemployed; trying to change careers from academia but staying within the arts…  Oh, yeah, that’s why so many artists cling to their professorships so defiantly…

I vegetated, tired of TV very quickly, read, exercised, played a really dumb computer game that I’ve also tired of, and other comparable things.

Yesterday, however, I got back up on the job searching horse.  Luckily for me, living as I do in the DC metro area, the government supports some very large and very wonderful cultural institutions.  It’s also fortunate that the arts are disenfranchised enough that as far as I know none of the non-profits focused on them are political fronts for ideologues, which is more than we can say for all of the non-profits in this town.  So, jobs come up.

As that goes, I’m once again spending my days writing essays for job applications.  Here are some of the questions I’ve responded to over the last couple of months (the ones I’ve saved my responses to), otherwise known as addressing the KSAs:

  • Ability to work with diverse populations, particularly Native American constituents.
  • Knowledge of administrative, service and budget procedures, and ability to arrange meetings and coordinate travel and logistics.
  • Knowledge of writing and editorial skills, with good command of the style and grammar necessary for preparing clear, concise, and informative reports independently or in a collaboration with others.
  • Knowledge of archival practices and collections.
  • Ability to manage information for multiple, simultaneous, and overlapping projects.
  • Knowledge of Photoshop, HTML, MS Excel, PowerPoint, and other computer programs.
  • Ability to communicate in writing in order to perform functions such as creating and producing reports, documenting new accessions, conveying written information on projects, and similar materials for internal or public dissemination.
  • Knowledge of American art history.
  • Please describe your specific experience, education, or training that demonstrates your skill in developing creative and innovative educational programs.
  • Please describe your specific experience, education, or training that demonstrates your knowledge of African American history and culture sufficient to develop educational programs.
  • Please describe your specific experience, education, or training that demonstrates your ability to collaborate with internal and external museum staff.
  • Knowledge of current educational trends and learning theories.
  • Ability to plan strategically for the continued development and growth of multiple-visit museum education programs.
  • Skill in written communications.
  • Ability to analyze problems that arise in managing an active tour program for a museum in order to implement effective solutions.
  • Skill in compiling data on audience response for reporting purposes.
  • Ability to implement community outreach strategies related to an educational exhibition.
  • Knowledge of the history of European and American art and basic art historical research techniques.
  • Knowledge of museum collection management, exhibition and publishing procedures.
  • Knowledge of personal computers and Microsoft Office or similar software and skill in using automated databases and on-line resources for project coordination, creating special reports, duplicating photographs and scanning materials.
  • Skill in office and information management and performing administrative support activities.
  • Ability to communicate with a wide variety of people, verbally and in writing, with accuracy and in a diplomatic and tactful manner.
  • Knowledge of knowledge management theories and practices.
  • Ability to create and organize knowledge bases.
  • Knowledge of needs assessment theories and applications.
  • Knowledge of management practices, such as continuous process improvement, strategic planning, performance measurement and evaluations, and logistic management.
  • Ability to communicate effectively in writing.
  • Ability to communicate orally.
  • Please describe your specific experience, education, or training which demonstrates your knowledge of training and/or education to design and implement programs for museum and off-site, non-traditional settings.
  • Please describe your specific experience, education, or training which demonstrates your knowledge of Native American cultures and histories of the western Hemisphere.
  • Please describe your specific experience, education, or training which demonstrates your ability to plan and manage off-site training workshops, conferences, presentations, and special meetings.
  • Please describe your specific experience, education, or training which demonstrates your ability to communicate with native peoples, museum professionals, tribal representatives, scholars, museum colleagues, and the general public.

Eeek.

Double eeek…

And I thought applying to teach at community colleges was bad (it is)

Sure, I enjoy writing.  I mean, I have a blog.  But, this is hell.  It seems to me to be part of an HR strategy that loads a ton of work on the applicant up front, as some sort of filter. The thing is that in a highly competitive field, and in a highly competitive sector like government cultural institutions, an unemployed job seeker can’t really afford to put undue limits on his/her job applications just because they eat all of your time. (Time seems to be what I have, right?)  But, that also equals a whole lot of effort trying to drum up inspiration for writing what are otherwise pretty dull short essay responses.

Then, of course, someone presumably has to read all of these things.  Someone in HR that is; most likely not the expert in the field who may be your next boss.  Those poor souls.

On top of that, most people I know say it usually takes at least six months to go through a government hiring process, if you ever hear anything from them at all.  I’ve been dealing with the USCIS (Immigration) for my wife for years now.  (Being married to non-citizen is a red flag for some government work, but not the jobs I’m applying to.)  And, if applying to other agencies is anything like dealing with the Immigration Service, I’ll expect them to contact my next of kin for an interview offer long after I’ve died of old age.  Still, this is one of two of my likely options.  And, the govt. jobs I’m qualified for often pay double the meager wages of the non-profit jobs I’m applying to.

Tomorrow, I hope to go kayaking on the Potomac in Georgetown.  It apparently only costs $8/hr, which makes it the only thing in Georgetown I can actually afford.  So, if you see some guy out there paddling away, pity him, for that will be the only sunshine he sees for another week.