Virtual learning has become the new norm in the educational sector since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With schools closed, students have been forced to adapt to online learning platforms developed to accommodate remote education. However, one of the biggest challenges facing virtual learning is how to maintain student engagement and interaction. An artist and educator, Cliff Mendelson, has taken this challenge head-on and found a way to engage students through creative exploration, whether online or in the classroom.
Through the Virtual Day in Clay, Multicultural Potters Wheel Demonstration program, students get to have a direct ceramic experience witnessing the magic of a classical vase rising from the potter’s wheel as they explore cultures, design, form, function, and the millennia of technical changes in the art of clay. The program provides a vibrant mix of interactive activities and lectures, allowing students to explore the life of a studio artist, cultural art history, potter’s wheel segments, videos, and exploratory visual media across cultures, interactive quizzes, and Q&A sessions.
The program brings students into the artist’s studio for a behind-the-curtain experience of the creative life, where they witness the process of design, color, glaze, and firing. Exploring the creative process is key to understanding how each culture tells its unique story through three-dimensional art. Students explore Native American, African, Greek, Japanese, Chinese, European, and Latin American cultures, following the art of clay around the world.
The program is designed to be taught in the same style as my college classes – educational, challenging, engaging, and entertaining. Students experience an intimate view of the hands-on, creative process as if they were standing in the artist’s studio and witnessing how an artist thinks. A wet lump of clay rises from the platen on a potter’s wheel and is transformed into classic ceramic shapes, becoming a work of art. The intersection of art with culture is explored throughout, and students become part of the design process, engaging with the artist as the vase emerges while learning advanced techniques and the science behind glazing, painting, and firing.
The Q&A session of the program provides a platform for students to ask any questions about pottery-making, technical aspects, design, and the life of an artist. To maintain the smooth flow of the live presentation, there are designated times during the program in which students are encouraged to ask questions.
The Virtual Day in Clay program offers several benefits to students, including access to a practicing artist building on the Artist-in-Residence model, an opportunity to gain the working vocabulary of a ceramic artist, an introduction to design and its cultural impact, which can inspire their three-dimensional artwork for the remainder of the school year. The ideas explored through the program also provide an opportunity for reflective writing exercises.
Virtual learning presents a unique challenge for educators to maintain student engagement and interaction. However, with innovative programs like Virtual Day in Clay, students can experience hands-on learning and explore cultures, design, form, and function, as well as the millennia of technical changes in the art of clay, all from the comfort of their homes or classrooms. This program offers an exciting opportunity for students to connect with practicing artists, gain valuable insights into the creative process, and inspire their three-dimensional artwork for years to come.