Chris Staley, Penn State Laureate, has created a video series in hopes of teaching the presence of the arts in everyday life.
Staley, a professor of ceramics in the School of Visual Arts, has been expanding upon his teaching philosophy through a weekly video series, exploring the “nexus of art and life.”
Staley said his intention for the video series is ultimately communicating beyond the classroom, which he does in a nod to the methods of former Penn State poet laureate Robin Becker.
"[Becker] would read poems around the campus, and I thought that would be a great way to reach a larger audience," he said. "I thought very short YouTube videos would be a great way to communicate to that larger audience."
Profiling the visual arts experience
“I feel remiss in not speaking about the Director of the School of Visual Arts, Graeme Sullivan," Staley said. "Graeme is the person that really nominated me and has been full of ideas and encouragement. He really brings out the best in everyone.”
Sullivan said the laureate is a practitioner who advocates the arts across Penn State and its regional campuses in a way that opens up understanding to other people.
"I thought it was very important that someone with a visual arts background was able to take some leadership, and he's been a really good advocate for notions of quality of life, honesty and transparency,” he said.
Sullivan added that Staley has been the pioneer in a process of relating the arts experience at Penn State.
"The videos are putting a public face on what some of us do in this environment," he said.
Sullivan said he has begun to "come along in the wake" behind Staley's video series, continuing to spotlight more faces from the school in an effort to communicate their identity and emphasize the voices behind the curriculum.
"Evidence of our success is in the things we create," he said.
The gift of good questions
With titles ranging from "Can You Teach Creativity?" to "How do You Grade Art?,” Staley has initiated a pointed effort to expose the deeper artistic meaning that students encounter in daily life.
An interesting aspect of Staley’s teaching is he likes to place himself on the same level as his students, he said.
Staley places an influence on the value of teaching students how to learn by sharing ways to engage the world creatively, he said.
“Art’s a big question mark. It’s not about answers. It’s about asking questions," he said.
As a teacher, Staley said his hope is to make each student feel like the most important student in the class.
“Fear and a sense of insecurity tend to dominate often in school, so as a teacher I try to play the fool. I’m the idiot. I don’t know anything. I need your help,” Staley said.
He said by teaching this way, students feel more comfortable speaking out, and they “genuinely” become a part of the learning process.
Staley held a night of questioning on Dec. 7, allowing students to form their own questions and spark conversation about each one.
At several points throughout the evening, Staley could be seen writing thoughts about student responses into a personal notebook.
"You can create something that doesn't exist," he reflected at one point in the evening.
A collaborative partnership
Cody Goddard, a multimedia specialist in the College of Arts & Architecture and former student of Staley’s, has been working with Staley throughout the video series, a partnership that Staley referred to as "collaboration in the best sense of the word."
"Over time, you come to realize that successful collaboration really requires trust and respect. With time, I've really come to both respect and trust Cody," Staley said.
Staley added that what makes Goddard a wonderful person to work with is his investment of possibility that he brings to the whole process.
"There’s a sense of authenticity that comes with the videos, and I think he’s added to that authenticity.”
Goddard said the resulting product has always been a meshing of ideas from he and Staley combined.
"Chris always has this amazing collection of quotes," Goddard said. “A lot of the things that I have been contributing is taking a cool idea that he has and trying to interpret that in a way that is visually compelling."
Exposing art in less thought-of places
In addition to gathering insight from students within several of his videos, Staley has also sought art in places that not many people would think it could be found. In one video, Staley interviewed Penn State football head coach Bill O'Brien in hopes of connecting art and football.
"I think a lot of people often marginalize the arts, and my thinking was that I could talk to Coach O'Brien and try and make the point that city isn't exclusive to the arts. It's used as a way of life," Staley said. “I was hoping to show that there is an art in everything that we do."
Staley said he plans to continue the video series throughout next semester, as well, seeing each week's submission as a "weekly check-in."
"It's an organic process," he said about the videos to come. "We'll see how it unfolds.”