Courses

This section of the portfolio includes descriptions of some of the studio and related art/design courses developed and taught by Benjamin B. Olshin; see below for descriptions. Here, too, is a complete course, "Historical Technology Arts"; this course involved students studying ancient and Renaissance technology and design, and building reconstructions using original early texts and renderings.

ART, LAND, AND LANDSCAPE
The landscape and our interaction with it is one of the most fundamental of all human experiences. Freud even equated the landscape and our relationship with the landscape as coming from our earliest memories of looking up at the mother's breast. As adults, we have a complex interaction with the landscape: we alternately fear it, worship it, and even subjugate it. Artists have also had a complex relationship with the landscape, tackling it with paint and canvas, or on a grander scale, with sculpture or even actual manipulation of the land itself. Architects and builders have approached landscape with a wide range of conceptions and theories about humanity's place in the environment.

In this transdisciplinary seminar, we investigate this complex relationship between humans and landscape through several paths. These include early theories about the Earth and concepts behind mapping; fine art, particularly landscape painting in Eastern / Western traditions as well as site-specific sculpture and land art; architecture, both with and without architects; and manipulation of the environment, with examinations of everything from Easter Island to suburbia.

The course also focuses on some of humanity's earliest interaction and understanding of the land and landscape, examining the cave paintings of Lascaux, and the peculiar concept of geomancy.

Despite the broad arc in time and space of the course, it aims to explore a particular narrative: how humans, as self-aware beings, strive to find a meaningful relationship to the landscape around them. Specific topics of the course include: ancient ideas about land and landscape (including geomancy, ley lines, and sacred sites); artistic representation of the landscape (including landscape painting in both the realist and abstract traditions); and manipulation of the landscape in early civilizations and modern society.

VISUAL CULTURE
This course examines a range of ideas about the visual world in terms of key historical and cultural concepts. These include industrialization, modern psychology, the use of images, the rise of science and technology, globalization, and others. In each area, we will examine important questions about the changing relationship of visual culture to society through time and place.

ART AND THE CREATIVE CLASSROOM
Designed for secondary school teachers, this course focuses on the integration of the visual arts into other academic disciplines, including Social Studies/History, English, Performing Arts, Science, Mathematics, and Languages. Teachers in this course work through a series of readings, exercises, and in-class projects, all designed to see the visual arts in the context of history, archaeology, ancient mathematics, literature, and so on. Many of the materials used in this course are directly transferable to the secondary school classroom.

THE INTEGRATED CURRICULUM
This course examines a variety of academic disciplines in an arts-oriented secondary school setting. It is designed for secondary school teachers in fields including Social Studies/History, English, Performing Arts, Visual Arts, Science, Mathematics, and Languages. Participants in this course build real-life lessons plans and/or projects that integrate these disciplines. In addition, the lesson plans and materials integrate the arts, with particular emphasis on the visual and performing arts. In coordination with the instructor, teachers in this class develop its lesson plans and materials over a three-week period, working on four key issues: (a) the relationship of the particular discipline to the other disciplines (e.g., history and mathematics); (b) where to integrate the arts into these disciplines; (c) the building of an actual lesson plan/project in those disciplines; and (d) presentation and critique of the lesson plan/project. The course ends with the construction and presentation of a web resource that archives all the lesson plans/projects produced by the teachers.

CONCEPTUAL DESIGN STUDIO
This course will introduce students to the creative process of problem solving. The course will focus on visualization of ideas through sketches and concept models. Students will also learn about the design process, and the development of graphic and verbal arguments for the solution of design problems. By completing this course, students will: learn how to "attack" design problems and begin to think of solutions; understand the role of the sketch and the model in the design process; expand their ability to work systematically in solving design issues; develop skills in working with a variety of materials to express their ideas. Class time will typically be divided as follows: Students will work on their projects during class time, with a break in the middle of the day. The instructor will comment, and critique, and assist the students as they work on their projects. Some classes will also consist of critiques, and discussions, in which students and the instructor will discuss current class projects. There will be both individual and team projects during the course.

MODELMAKING IN THE DESIGN PROCESS
This course will introduce students to the modelmaking process and emphasize different modelmaking materials. Students will create models that communicate their ideas, explore alternatives and ultimately enhance their designs. While they study the process of 3D visualization for interior environments, students will develop sketch models for all stages of the design process: conceptual models, sketch/working models, structural/working models and detailed final presentation models. As Louis Kahn said, "Engineering is not one thing and design another. They must be one and the same thing." Vitruvius, in The Ten Books of Architecture, writes: "Architects who have aimed at acquiring manual skills without scholarship have never been able to attain a position of authority to correspond to their pains, while those who relied heavily upon theories and scholarship are obviously hunting the shadow, not the substance. But those who have a thorough knowledge of both, like men armed at all points, have the sooner attained their object and carried authority with them."

CHINESE AND JAPANESE ARTS
This art history course examines selected topics in the world of Chinese and Japanese art. Students will look at a broad range of media, including Chinese and Japanese painting, prints, calligraphy, architecture, tea ceremonies, and martial arts. The course will begin with both a look at underlying philosophies of Asian art generally (Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucian principles) and the question of how we define art. The course will include a look at some contemporary Asian art, including modern Japanese prints, and Chinese and Japanese film. This course will require extensive reading and visits to local museums.

HISTORICAL TECHNOLOGY ARTS
In this full-year "hands-on" course, students will reconstruct machines and devices from antiquity and the Renaissance. The first semester will cover the historical and artistic background of invention in the classical period. In the second semester, students will learn how to interpret early technical drawings from the Renaissance as they construct models and mockups of such devices as Leonardo da Vinci's flying vehicles and military engines. Click here to access this course.

ARCHITECTURAL STRUCTURES AND CONCEPTS
This studio course introduces students to "real world" design through a series of projects focusing on architectural concepts. The course begins with rendering and drafting, and then moves on to design and building following a process of experiment, critique, discussion, and presentation. Students will investigate production processes, materials, and model-making through their projects.

STRUCTURES: THE STRUCTURE OF THINGS
This mixed studio/humanities course will focus on questions of the structural and material integrity of buildings and other large constructions. Topics covered by the course will include the behavior of materials, analytic methods, and case studies. Students will follow course material in multiple media, including required texts as they conduct experiments, take field trips, complete group projects, make class presentations, and more.They will inquire as to what makes a given structure best able to hold itself and additional weight up without collapsing. The course will provide a basic grounding in the analytic and design methods known as statics and strengths of materials. In addition, it will look at the question of "structures" in a larger context: social structures, philosophical structures, knowledge structures, and so on, and how they relate to the work of architects and designers, and the built environment.

DRAWING
What is "art" about? Do only artists do art? Is art separate from other activities in life? Visual arts — that is, drawing, painting, sculpture, and other forms — is about many things: communication, creativity, and the solving of problems. Art in our society apparently is only done by "artists", but there are all kinds of art, done by those with — and without — extensive art training. Even Nature itself has been considered an artist, in the creation of all we see around us. Art, even for non-artists, goes beyond working in the studio. Art is found in many other endeavors: science, religion, athletics, and so on. Perhaps most of all, art is about seeing. In fact, the famous writer on art, John Berger, entitled one of his most famous books on art Ways of Seeing. The practice of such visual arts as drawing, painting, and sculpture encourages careful observation. This leads to a new sensitivity (an attribute commonly associated with artists) and an appreciation of all we see around us. This course, through the use of drawing, will focus on these principles of seeing and observing. Drawing, like other visual arts, is based on certain key elements; this class will give you a chance to learn these elements as you draw. Elements such as line, shape, texture, and space will be the emphasis of your various projects and homework assignments. In addition, you will learn more about some of the basic principles of art, such as composition, theme, and interpretation. As you continue to learn techniques of drawing, you will also explore the making of expressive and creative work: through better and better mastery of drawing skills, your most important ideas can be realized in your art

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