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Innovative Teaching Showcase: Garth Amundson - Portfolio
Garth Amundson
Department of Art

Promoting Collaboration for the Real World

Background Influence

I am a recipient of a Pew Charitable Trusts scholarship that was in support of a program at Syracuse University where I completed my graduate work. The program was called "The Future Professoriate Program." Graduate students applied and a handful were selected for the program which focused on a variety of interactive classroom techniques, ranging from media in the classroom and establishing a dialogue to solving difficult classroom problems. In one workshop, we grabbed a topic out of a hat to research and lecture about on the same day. It was definitely a challenge, but it illustrated to me that teaching style and facilitation is critical in the classroom. This experiences has followed me to Western Washington University and greatly influenced my teaching.

Collaborative Classroom Experience

background My teaching philosophy truly embraces peer learning as an essential ingredient in a collaborative multi-disciplinary classroom experience. Throughout all of my coursework, I encourage students to not only challenge me, but also challenge one another. By creating a context and atmosphere that encourages true interdisciplinary dialogue with peer-based projects, students are more likely to carry this knowledge with them into a post-graduate experience.

Throughout my career at Western, I have coordinated student exhibitions in the halls of the Art Department, across campus, local retail space, and a variety of galleries. Each experience is grounded in hands-on learning. Developing a body of work learning how to organize, design, and promote an exhibition is of paramount importance, but equally essential is learning how to work collaboratively.

Leading by Example

Garth Amundson reviews some of the works submitted during the "portfolio exchange" in one of his courses.
Leadership is an integral part of my teaching as well. This includes taking risks, creating opportunities, and being an active part of the cultural community. Shift Collaborative Studio, of which I'm a founding member, was established out of necessity due to the lack of alternative space in the Northwest. By example, I attempt to instill the concept of self-motivation in my students. In all of my coursework, and especially in my Professional Practices Seminar, I emphasize the idea of "making your own thunder" as integral to an artist's success.

This "Body Shots" installation fills an entire hallway in the art building and encourages students to learn from each other's work.
Encouraging students to participate in regional and national conferences is also part of my peer-based teaching styleleading by example. Insisting that they submit their work to competitions and juried exhibitions; having professionals beyond the walls of Western review their portfolios will ultimately help them develop their individual voice and vision. As an instructor, I motivate students through the use of demonstration, example, and critique. Critical dialogue is fundamental in any learning situation. In an interactive classroom, the course objectives are more likely to be applied in the students academic experience and utilized in their post-academic development.

Independent research is also an essential part of a studio artist's development. Over the last twelve years I have facilitated countless independent study projects. All of them have proven to be an invaluable exchange, promoting a more individualized dialogue with the students. The limited number of upper division courses necessitate that all studio faculty orchestrate several independent study projects each term. Although it adds to my primary workload, it's a form of teaching that I relish.

Students in Garth's classes often create temporary installations on campus for their peers in the program to critique.
Having a strong connection to my profession is one of the most valuable attributes I can provide for students. Using my own experience, I strive to encourage students in all aspects of their academic and professional development. I encourage students to submit their work to competitions and have their work considered by other professionals. This furthers their understanding of the larger art community.

As an active exhibiting artist and teacher, I believe leading by example is necessary. I am passionate about my creative endeavors and I encourage my students to be equally passionate about their own projects. I do not expect students to produce work in the same vein as my own; I want them to explore and define their own voice.

Collaboration and Peer Learning

Whether visiting the Seattle Art Museum, installing their own photographic creations, or taking photographs for school projects, the daily life of studio art majors relies on teamwork.
Using my own experience as a point of departure in the classroom, and having collaborated with my partner for the last twenty-five years, I define peer learning and collaboration as a necessity of any studio art practice. Sometimes our collaborations are quite literal, developing ideas and executing the work fifty-fifty. At other times, we consult one another as in any other team or partnership. I am a huge supporter of cross-disciplinary collaborations in all fields of study. Historically, I have engaged in this exchange and will continue to integrate this practice in my teaching and studio endeavors. Clearly I am not alone. Collaborative teams are a well-established model, both in and out of the art world. Gilbert and George, Pierre et Gilles, the Starn Twins are all very successful collaborators to be admired and respected.

Another important tool is the use of the photography concentration website and blog. The blog itself is an interactive digital forum where students can share ideas and inspiration and feed off each others musings. Using the text book, field trips, visiting artists, and other classroom components as a point of reference, the students are invited to discuss, debate, and share thoughts about particular topics. They are also encouraged to post images, articles, and information relevant to their interests and developmental processes. See: https://wwuphotoconcentration.wordpress.com/

Promoting Multiculturalism

My teaching experience has been informed both by my position as an out gay man and by living and traveling outside of the U.S. I believe multiculturalism is not static; it is fluid in theory and application. As an instructor, I am constantly addressing notions of diversity, and encouraging students to explore their own identity. The use of critically diverse texts such as Lucy Lipppard's Lure of the Local, Linda Weintraub's In the Making, and Liz Wells' The Photography Reader support this ideology. Recruiting students of diverse backgrounds is a necessity in any institution; the responsibility of retention is the duty of the faculty. As students experience one another and their unique identities, they are better prepared for the diversity of individuals and experiences that await them in their careers.

Professional Connections

Garth Amundson's students raised money through bake sales and portrait sales to the public to attend the Society for Photographic Education National Conference.
Outside of the classroom, I strongly encourage students to participate in both regional and national professional activities, including but not limited to conferences, competitions, and juried exhibitions. Most recently, a group of students lead the charge by writing and submitting a proposal for consideration at a regional Society for Photographic Education (SPE) conference. After being accepted to present, they coordinated and orchestrated a discussion panel and traveled to the conference to present their scholarship. They were received with tremendous enthusiasm and accolades. In fact, the SPE Northwest regional chair expressed that he had endured a lot of student panels over the years, but [Westerns] was by far the best yet. This is a true testimonial to the peer learning and exchange that I strive to promote within my classroom and, ultimately, the students.

Garth Amundson has arranged several installations for student work at downtown Seattle's Macy's department store.
This positive experience propelled a larger group of students to organize and fundraise for a trip to the national SPE conference in San Francisco. Before leaving, they raised money by conducting a portrait day, designing and selling a professionally made calendar, and countless other ingenious methods of generating the necessary funds to create professional portfolios, travel to San Francisco, and participate in the conference. This invaluable experience was sparked by the initial dialogue surrounding my experience with SPE, further illustrating that enthusiasm for learning is created through dialogue.


It is my goal to share my knowledge with students and encourage them to collaborate and develop their own worldview. As an artist and teacher, I feel that it is my responsibility to continually pose questions. I see art as an agent of local politics that insists on embracing the notion of pluralism not only as a reality, but also as a necessity.

See also:
Video interview with