Darvin Yoder has been teaching art at IMS for 35 years. He is half-time although you will often see him here much longer as he works hard at displaying the art that his students create. Darvin responds to several questions below as only Darvin can explain!
Q: Describe some interesting projects, discussions, guest speakers, “a-ha” moments from your classroom this year.
“The ‘a-ha!’ moments belong to students and are individualized. Each student makes discoveries along the way as they solve the problems in front of them. They learn processes of art-making but unfortunately get to “solve” each process only once. I have often thought about how good it would be if students could do an assignment twice or more, building on the discoveries they make.This happens best in our work with mono-prints. They are quick and easy to produce and provide an opportunity to try multiple solutions. Then learning can build.”
“In my Drawing and Painting classes this year I am trying a new problem which can be solved by both classes. I have taken a full-length photo of each student. I am then inverting the photos, and projecting the digital photo-portraits for them to draw or paint upside-down as they observe their own photo on the screen. After completion, the images can be turned right-side-up. The reason for this is the idea that portrait or figure drawings are more honest, are less threatening for the student, require more careful observation and produce less temptation to draw from memory, if done upside down. Does this sound crazy? Maybe it is. Check our future exhibits for the finished work.”
Q: What units do you cover in each discipline?
“The three courses first semester are Introduction to Art, Drawing and Printmaking, and Painting. The introduction to Art course might be described as having two units running parallel. One is western Art History and the other is studio art work. Last year in the studio art portion of Intro to Art, I revised the Medieval manuscript illumination assignment. I asked each student to develop three letters, and then all the letters were exhibited together and spelled out a paraphrase of a verse from Philippians 2. The Drawing and Printmaking course is also divided. The first nine weeks we work on drawings. The second nine weeks we work on prints. During second semesters I teach Computer Graphics, Photography, and I alternate teaching sculpture and ceramics every other year. Additionally, students who have completed a number of IMS art courses already, can register for a ‘Creative Project’, and can define the kinds of work they want to study. Usually this happens in the junior or senior year.”
Q: What are your goals for your students this year?
“My goals change little from year to year although the assignments I give the students are always up for reconsideration. I think more clearly and more creatively myself when I revise assignments. My goals might seem intangible. Taking an art class should introduce students to themselves, to their abilities, and to their culture. Obviously they should develop knowledge and skill as they study. They should be introduced to the work and understandings of accomplished artists and be able to talk about why—or why not—the artist’s work is valid. I like to be reminded of this quote from an art school catalog describing ‘smart artists’. This describes what I’d like to achieve: ‘Smart artists roll up their sleeves and invest in work that’s above and beyond conventional…a smart artist is open-minded yet skeptical, inquisitive and disciplined, intuitive and perceptive. Smart artists balance ‘fire in the belly’ with ‘electricity in the brain’. Smart artists understand that art is an idea as much as an object. ‘Smart’ is really an unquenchable curiosity and openness to questioning ones own reasoning.’ I wonder if these ‘smart artist’ ideas may be true for all of what we teach at IMS. Annie Dillard says: ‘I knock myself out trying to do art—not that it is so good—but by its very nature it is not reducible to a system. It’s not so airtight.’ My continuing goal over the years is exhibiting the work the students do. Visual arts are meant to be seen. I want parents and community to know what IMS art students are doing.”
Q: How can parents help their students succeed in your classes?
“Parents can simply be interested in what’s going on. Mealtime conversations about schoolwork—or specifically artwork—can happen occasionally. A principal I know from a neighboring school district was once asked why scores were high in his school district. He told me how he answered: ‘If I’m honest, I have to say it’s our homes.’ In the occasional situation where an art student is running behind in their work or not getting things done, personal conversations or email conversations with the teacher are very helpful.”
Q: What are the greatest challenges to your teaching or to your subject?
“One challenge is boredom or an ‘I don’t care’ attitude. Fortunately I can say this is rare. If I were asked why art students do well at IMS, my answer would be: The quality of our students and a culture of wanting to excel. It isn’t only art ability that matters—although that is certainly important—but it is diligence and curiosity, a willingness to focus on the task. These are habits that have been learned at home very early on.”