Teaching Philosophy

Marjorie Och

My goals as a teacher are to present opportunities that allow students to develop skills for productive lives; to model an enthusiasm and love of learning as a delightful end in itself; and to explore the history and complexities of the visual arts as evidence of the intellectual and philosophical accomplishments and expressions of humanity.

In my teaching I stress the importance of the work of art within its original visual, cultural, social, and economic contexts, as well as within the context of contemporary art history. In addition to research papers, I assign a series of short papers on a variety of art historical approaches — such as connoisseurship, iconography, the use of primary sources, historiography, and critiquing resources on the internet — focusing on a particular work selected by each student. These papers require the student to focus on an artist’s style, the various meanings of the work at the time of its creation, and the interpretation of that work by art historians. I have found that these projects allow students to build a broad knowledge of the monuments of art history, gain a familiarity with traditions of interpretation, and achieve a sense that their own work is a part of the discipline of art history.

In addition to papers, I have turned increasingly to active learning strategies, and have developed assignments that get students to teach themselves and their peers. For example, in all of my classes I assign research articles; readings are assigned together with a set of questions to focus the reader’s understanding of the author’s thesis. In larger classes, I pair students to allow them to review and discuss the readings. In smaller classes, I will assign articles to groups of three or four students to review outside of class, and then present as a panel to the class as a whole. Through this exercise, students are not merely passive receivers of information, but active learners and teachers.

It is important to me that students have opportunities to work professionally within upper-level courses. To this end, I have directed numerous independent studies for undergraduate honors and graduate students in areas dealing with Renaissance and Baroque topics, as well as twentieth-century artists and contemporary issues. Moreover, I have sponsored internships at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Women in the Arts, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Peninsula Fine Arts Center in Norfolk, and smaller public art galleries in Fredericksburg and Northern Virginia. And finally, many of my classes have been assigned to research works of art in the permanent collection of the UMW Galleries. Some of this research has resulted in exhibitions at the Galleries, including The Body and Gender (November 7, 1997-February 15, 1998), Caught in the Act:  Artists’ Self Portraits (28 August-24 September 2000), and Margaret Sutton: Life + Work (April 19-June 29, 2017). My interest in offering students professional experiences is now combined with my interest in technology in the collaborative online exhibitions that are critical to my seminars on Venice and Bernini (please visit the page “Course Blogs and Sites”).  These exhibitions have been especially important for creating a scholarly community among the students and for creating opportunities for us to work together as a curatorial team; the goal has been to prepare students for future successful collaborative projects requiring research, writing, speaking, and technology skills, whether or not they continue in the arts.

I would like to close with my general strategy for finding the best means to achieve the teaching objectives outlined above – students’ development of life-skills, enthusiasm for and love of learning, and appreciation for the visual arts. First, I engage in dialogue with my peers at UMW and beyond on pedagogy and keep current with the latest research on teaching and learning. For example, I have participated in numerous sessions on pedagogy at professional conferences, including the College Art Association, Southeastern College Art Conference, and F.A.T.E. (Foundations in Art:  Theory and Technology). Second, I use trial and error strategies to refine and shape the ends I use to attain my objectives. Through course questionnaires, I evaluate the effectiveness of assignments and readings, and modify these as needed. While engaging in dialogue on teaching and continuous evaluation of my own teaching are time consuming, I have found that these improve my ability to achieve my teaching goals. I love teaching, I love learning, and I absolutely love art.

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