Interview with Art-Ed Hero Leslie Robison


Where do you teach and what classes do you teach? I teach at Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida. I teach all levels of drawing and painting, as well as illustration and a two-dimensional foundations course. I also share the responsibility with my colleagues for teaching the Bachelor of Art and Bachelor of Fine Art senior portfolio classes and I am solely responsible for developing and leading two other courses: Artists in Residence and Socially-Engaged Art.

How long have you been teaching art? I have been a full-time faculty member at Flagler College sine 2006. Before that, I  taught in graduate school at the University of Florida and later I taught part-time at Washington State University, so it’s getting close to 20 years of teaching!

What is your favorite time of the day to teach and why? Usually by 11:00 am, everyone has had their coffee and is ready to work! Or, at least I am.

What is your favorite lesson or concept to teach? I like teaching students about color and value relationships and how these inform our perceptions. But I also really like discussing semiotics (the study of how we make signs and how we construct meaning through connotation). Lately, this has led me to create metaphor assignments in two different classes.

What has you underwater right now? I have so much planned for next semester that I am trying to take care of as much of it as possible now but I am still busy with the end of the fall semester so, for example, I am typing this in between helping my senior students install work in the museum for their final exhibition. And I’ve also been knitting to try and help a colleague’s community yarn-bombing project while starting a new painting of my own.

What is saving your life in the classroom right now? Camaraderie! The students and I need to believe we are on this journey together, or it doesn’t work. This semester, I’ve been lucky to have a wonderful group of students to work with. I think that when students don’t see me as a fellow artist and mentor, but as an authoritarian who holds their grade, they are less likely to stretch themselves and make good decisions for their own sake and in that situation, I don’t have a very good time either- I feel like I am just “at work.”  But enthusiasm is contagious; the more enthusiastic we all are, the more fun it is to put in the long hours.

What is your favorite memory (or a memory you cherish) of seeing a student you taught whose older now and is no longer in your school? I’m always really happy to see my students who have gone on to graduate school.  I love hearing about their experiences and seeing how their work has evolved.

Who is your favorite artist(s) to teach students about? I think that because I am always trying to get my students to be brave in the face of risk and potential failure, Francis Alys is a good artist to show to them. In Paradox of Praxis 1: Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing from 1997, the artist pushes a huge block of ice through the streets of Mexico City until it melts down to nothing. In 2002’s When Faith Moves Mountains, he gets 500 volunteers with shovels to move a hill (actually, a huge sand dune) a few inches. Watching the videos of these performances also inspires students to put as much invention and investment into their practice as they can manage.

What does your studio practice outside of the classroom look like and how does it make its way into your classroom? I don’t stick to any one medium- I draw, paint, knit, perform, and make videos. I usually have an idea I want to convey and will turn to a particular medium to do it. Once I get involved in working with that medium, I will be led by it to make more work and different choices that lead to new ideas. I encourage my students to try executing the same idea in different mediums, too.

 Another way my work comes into the classroom is by taking my students outside of the classroom and getting them involved in community projects. I have created several works of art for which my students and various community groups are the participants and they are collaborators with me on what the meaning of the work of art becomes. We’ve worked with senior citizens, homeless families, and incarcerated youth on a number of projects.

What’s your least favorite thing you get asked to do by your colleagues? I can’t really think of anything my colleagues do but I do get annoyed by the demands people outside of the Art Department make on us, especially on our students. When I was the Department Chair, I used to get weekly calls from well-meaning citizens asking our students to do all sort of things for free- one even asked me to bring my painting class to their kid’s birthday party to do face-painting. And that just isn’t a part of our painting curriculum.

 Do you let people borrow your glue guns(or any supplies)? I’m a huge sucker for lending things out or giving away my own supplies. If someone can use it or benefit from it, I’m going to lend it out. I go through a lot of paper and charcoal that way. I did pick up a good tip from a colleague, though- he takes a picture of each student holding the book they are borrowing from him and then deletes it off of his phone once they’ve returned the book. I’ve started doing this with movies and books and I am getting them back!

How often do you collaborate across disciplines and what is a collaboration you are excited about right now? The work my students and I do in the community crosses disciplinary borders from art into education, history, and social work. For upcoming projects with an emphasis on social justice, I’ve talked to my colleagues in Anthropology, Art History, Poetry, and Law about involving their expertise and/or their students in the art-making

What would you tell a 19-year-old who is thinking about becoming an artist or art educator? First of all, I would tell them “Congratulations!” because I cannot imagine a better life. I know I’m biased but I am a happy person because there are very few things at my job that feel like work to me. Also, my art practice has allowed me to explore my relation to the world and I think that has made me a pretty well-adjusted and fulfilled human. 

Secondly, I have this list of quick directives: Be brave. Take chances with your work. Make connections with others and create a community of artists and creatives. Say yes to opportunities. And even if you’re too shy to admit it openly yet, believe in your own greatness.

And, finally, pick up a copy of Art & Fear: Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking by Bayles & Orland. I re-read this book every few years.

Who was your art-ed hero growing up? I remember all of my high school art teachers- Mr. Howell, Mrs. Lewis, Mr. Seward- very fondly. But I think I was just as equally inspired by my 5th and 6th grade teacher, Mr. Wiggam. He had all sorts of ways of making learning fun. I think the first time I ever used a saw was in his class when he involved us all in building a treehouse inside the classroom. It felt like we were breaking some rules there and I don’t know how he ever got permission to do it. But we did have a treehouse. He also brought in one of those old-fashioned bathtubs and filled it with pillows- that was the best place in the whole school to lounge and read.

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