Above: UC Berkeley, Introduction to Visual Thinking Course Reader (Mel Day)
At the core of my teaching philosophy is an emphasis on visual thinking as a mode of research and philosophical inquiry—ideally grounded to the outside world. I want students to know that their work has the potential for personal, social, and political transformation, on a spectrum from poetic to pragmatic. Students need to begin to develop a line of questioning and a point of view in their work. I seek to lay the groundwork for students to develop a meaningful, relevant practice by focusing on the following areas:
Visual thinking: My strength is cultivating students’ sensitivity to the meaning in material and the importance of an implicit visual congruence between form and idea. I design projects, class exercises, lecture bursts, critical discussions, and short writing assignments to build visual vocabulary and to emphasize a commitment to the process and conceptual development. With this toolbox, I encourage them to persist in taking risks—to work at the edge of their capability—whether that means trying new tools, exploring the possibilities in emerging media, experimenting with traditional media, or working interdisciplinarily.
I seek to foster versatility and conversance with the visual language by exposing students to a broad collection of formal and conceptual strategies and skills, appropriate for the particular class. For example, while teaching four consecutive sessions of An Introduction to Visual Thinking at the University of California, Berkeley, I organized a series of Foundational Media Workshops that included introductions to industry-standard digital media software, drawing, painting, and printmaking techniques, color theory, composition, and even pinhole camera workshops. I paired these workshops with selective solo and collaborative projects, visiting artist and studio visits, as well as lecture bursts on relevant contemporary artists and issues. I put together an Introduction to Visual Thinking Reader to help us question our preconceived notions about art and contend with ways the audience participates in making meaning.
Critical thinking: I have incorporated a range of teaching methods including peer-to-peer learning, written reflections, one-to-one meetings, and larger class discussions, designed to stimulate reflection, critical thinking, and diverse group discussion. I structure the class so that the students help each other to think critically and draw and learn from each other’s diverse experiences. For example, when discussing a reading, concept, or work, I often use a “think, pair, share” model as a way to lay the groundwork for an enriching discussion, among the larger group or in smaller sub-groups. First I ask students to write down their initial individual reflections on the topic at hand (think) before exchanging their ideas with a neighbor (pair), and finally, with the rest of the class (share). I find that this approach helps to stimulate a discussion among diverse learners, particularly the more reserved students, and deepens critical thinking.
Critiquing, being critiqued, and generously engaging with work is the “lifeblood” of art making and is a learned skill. Art is about looking, thinking, questioning—you get what you put into it¹. For this reason, I have put a lot of thought into the structure and formatting of critiques in order to facilitate generous engagement and continued critical reflection. For example, I strongly believe it’s important for the class to discuss the work as a “cold read” before the student discusses their own work/intentions. After listening to these observations and feedback, only then does the artist-student speak to their intentions. Finally, a back and forth ensues about constructive ways to further register and align intentions to the work. I find this approach offers more helpful feedback and encourages listening and generous engagement.
For younger undergraduates or new students, I typically start warming up with written critiques (e.g. students each write a positive and constructive feedback about the work on a piece of paper). In this way, students can practice critical thinking and reflect on the feedback given about their own work in a supportive context. I then build upon written feedback with peer-to-peer, small group, and larger class critiques.
Student evaluation: I work to pair thorough preparation for class and ongoing evaluations with a receptive attention to the individual where they are, the day-to-day dynamics of the group, and unexpected moments of discovery. I seek a balance between well-considered curricula and a sensitivity to the class dynamics and individual capability, effort, and needs. Projects, one-to-one discussions, critiques, lecture or workshop “bursts,” collaborative work—even the occasional debate (see below) are structured so that students gradually and constructively build on their ideas and learning experiences through a wide variety of teaching methods over the span of the whole class. I find this structure encourages deeper learning and student engagement, rather than issuing a few “make or break” deadlines.
I resist providing students with answers or solutions and instead strive to provide ongoing and detailed one-to-one, peer-to-peer, and larger class oral and written critical feedback. I structure frequent self-evaluation and student journaling opportunities into class time. While I happily teach technique when applicable—and insist on an attention to craft—I place less emphasis on technical mastery as an end in itself. I look for openness and engagement with an ever-growing array of tools and conceptual development in their work.
Self evaluation: I typically organize confidential mid-term and end of semester opportunities for students’ feedback on the course so that I’m able to assess and modify my approach to better accomplish my teaching objectives. This is a simple process in which students anonymously write feedback on an index card. These cards have also been useful in my gaining new insights for coursework research.
I genuinely enjoy learning new pedagogic approaches through teaching workshops/certifications (as evidenced by my C.V.) and I have been asked to speak about my teaching methods at a UC Berkeley Graduate Student Teaching Seminar. I welcome colleagues to observe my class and I try to visit others’ classes from time to time. I continually strive to update and incorporate alternative learning tools. For example, in my Introduction to Visual Thinking at UC Berkeley, I held a debate using Duchamp’s Fountain as a starting point. I unveiled a urinal in the center of the classroom and asked them to debate the question, “Is this Art?”. They drew upon on readings in the Introduction to Visual Thinking Course Reader I created and each person took on a role. I have iterated this debate in various classes and find that it provokes deep, student-driven learning and retention of the material, participation amongst a wide cross-section of the class, and a personal grappling with fundamental questions on the nature of art. Lively student-driven debate and post-debate discussion often ensue as students’ thoughts about the subject evolve.
Design thinking: I find it’s valuable to incorporate interdisciplinary methods of design thinking, such as the model developed by Stanford University’s D-School. This methodology strongly emphasizes rapid prototyping, user empathy, and a focus on the process. I have developed an experimental design thinking methodology in my own practice stemming from my experiences as an OpenIDEO Meet-up Coordinator. In this role, and as the recipient of two IDEO-awarded projects, I facilitated large groups of interdisciplinary practitioners as they worked to solve global social and environmental challenges at IDEO, Palo Alto. Incorporating design thinking methods helps students to focus on the audience/viewer, encourages a rigorous attention to process, and is a valuable interdisciplinary tool. I ask the students to further test their work with the audience through critiquing methods, class shows, and site-specific installations.
Mentoring: I value and cultivate a mentoring and advising relationship with my students and am careful to set aside time in class to meet with students individually as much as possible. In addition to teaching undergraduates, I also have recently served as a Graduate Advisor at UC Berkeley for two MFA students. I find this exchange, in which I’ve learned as much as the students, stimulates my practice and helps me to stay abreast of current issues.
As part of my social contract with the students, I hold my own work accountable to many of the above goals and seek to bring the same rigor to my research-based practice. This speaks to my commitment to fostering an atmosphere of mutual learning and respect.
¹ Paraphrased note from ALVA NOË talk about his book “Strange Tools” on Forum with Michael Krasny, October 22, 2015
“Mel Day is, without question, one of the most outstanding advisors I have worked with during my time as a MFA student at The University of California, Berkeley. I was grateful to have Mel as my external MFA advisor—her conceptual abilities, work across a wide range of media, interdisciplinary research interests, and her engaging and thoughtful personality were a critical support to me during my thesis year. Over the past two years, she helped me to develop my thesis work by providing technical, conceptual, theoretical and aesthetic assistance and feedback. Mel was able to speak fluently to me about my videos and photographs and, with the same ease, about my sculptures and performances. Her insights, challenging questions, and recommendations of artists to look at was invaluable. She took on the responsibility of helping me to develop professionally, created plans of action for critique sessions, and shared teaching advice, all beyond what was required of her role as an advisor. Mel was generous with her time and energy and was an incredible support for me at every turn. I wholeheartedly recommend her.” (MFA Candidate, University of California, Berkeley)
“I am writing in enthusiastic support of Melissa Day who served on my MFA Thesis Committee and advised me throughout my time in graduate school. Melissa was organized, quick to respond, and always reliable during the two years I had her visit my studio for engaged and insightful critiques. Melissa’s feedback during my time in graduate school was consistently the most beneficial I received, always creative and discerning, she had a way of getting right to the issue(s) of the work and then having what seemed like an endless stream of ideas and considerations. Melissa also gave me multiple opportunities to visit her classes to participate in presentations and panel discussions on topics important to undergraduate art students. Melissa (I suspect) went beyond the standard expectations of her teaching duties at San Jose State University and advised many graduate students, as well as, served on more than a few Thesis Committees, often showing up for us graduate students when other faculty came up short.” (MFA,San José State University)
“Art 8 with Melissa Day is among the best courses that I have taken at Cal. Melissa is an amazing instructor. She has an innate ability to challenge her students while offering insightful comments on their work. I have really enjoyed this course and have already recommended her to many people.” — Art History Major, Senior (Introduction to Visual Thinking, University of California, Berkeley)
“This class was great in terms of subjects, theories, and ideas covered in lecture. It was mainly such a wonderful class because of Melissa the GSI. She introduced us to some awesome artists, readings and small projects that definitely helped in helping to expand the mind to think visually and more creatively. She gave very thoughtful and good feedback on project ideas and always made herself available for questions or other concerns. She made studio time really fun and interesting and the class overall comfortable and not as intimidating as I thought it would be going in. She is basically the best GSI for this kind of art class I could possibly imagine.” —Art History and Art Major, Sophomore (Introduction to Visual Thinking, University of California, Berkeley)
“This class really helped me to think creatively — it does exactly what it aims to do: teaches students how to ‘think visually.’ Although difficult and frustrating at times, the project assignments really forced me to think outside the box, pushing me to stretch my artistic limits. I found group critiques fascinating… I learned almost as much from my fellow students as from lectures. Overall, I have found this course to be very successful and challenging. I have learned more in this course about how to think about art as I have during the years of technical drawing / painting courses.” —Undeclared Major, Freshman (Introduction to Visual Thinking, University of California, Berkeley)
“Great intro class into art. Melissa is very focused and knowledgeable as well as being available for discussion. She makes times for all students and responds well via email. She really pushes you to expand your ideas and to go beyond your comfort zone, yet she still makes you feel secure, and supports your ideas. She has enthusiasm and knowledge, and she shares her personal insight into art making. This class really inspired me and helped me to realize the importance of thoughtful consideration to your ideas, and how to convey them in an effective manner.”—Art Major, Junior (Introduction to Visual Thinking, University of California, Berkeley)
“Melissa is dedicated to her students and gives a genuinely devoted energy to her class. She cares about our thinking and our progress as artists. She is a bright thinker and challenges us to extend and develop our ideas creatively. She’s a great instructor, and inspiring. And easy to talk to.”—English Major, Sophomore (Introduction to Visual Thinking, University of California, Berkeley)
“Melissa Day is a great instructor. She’s encouraging and helpful. You can tell she cares about teaching and getting through to the students. I owe her a lot and am grateful for her help. My only suggestion would be to consider hiring her at Cal.” —Art Major, Junior (Introduction to Visual Thinking, University of California, Berkeley)
I’m fully committed to fostering a genuine, open, and welcoming environment for individuals from all ethnic, religious or racial backgrounds, geographic and cultural origins, class, orientation, abilities or learning differences. I am continually working to examine my own lens and positionality as part of an open dialogue and exchange with the students. I attend workshops, readings and engage in discussions with other educators and students in order to increase my racial literacy and teaching effectiveness. I also seek to include and draw out a broad range of artistic perspectives and approaches. In the classroom, I seek to cultivate an accessible environment where all backgrounds, experiences, viewpoints, and abilities are nurtured. I incorporate teaching methodologies that draw out and value a wide range of experiences and backgrounds—both in discussion and project work. In addition to directly talking about our “lenses” and positionality when viewing or making work, I also often use a“think, pair, share” model (as described in my teaching philosophy) specifically to promote self-reflection and to draw out diverse experiences in a supportive and safe context. I also carefully plan solo and collaborative projects for each class—paying special attention to class dynamics, learning styles, and a balance between extrovert and introvert skill sets. Outside of the classroom, I’ve worked extensively with OpenIDEO (a global open innovation platform for social and environmental good) as an OpenIDEO MeetUp Coordinator, developing and facilitating large workshop meet-ups at IDEO, Palo Alto—encouraging membership from as wide a range of backgrounds as possible and collaborating with meet-up coordinators from all over the world. In my practice, I also seek to lay groundwork for deepened dialogue across diverse backgrounds, ideas and groups. For example, I recently founded and lead an IDEO-award winning OpenIDEO Youth Fellowship at Djerassi Artist Residency. This Youth Fellowship offers a unique opportunity for students from a local high school historically underrepresented in higher education to participate in an international residency program. In these and other ways, I work to support efforts to diversify and advance studies in diversity across institutions and within the classroom. At the same time, I’m committed to diversity training as an ongoing, long term learning process.
Kathy Aoki, Chair, Associate Professor, Studio Art, Department of Art & Art History, Santa Clara University, Santa Clara, CA, kaoki AT scu DOT edu / T. 408.551.1954
Greg Niemeyer, Associate Professor, New Media, Department of Art Practice, University of California, Berkeley, niemeyer AT berkeley DOT edu / T. 510.307.6145
John McNamara, Department Lead Graduate Seminar: Introduction to Visual Thinking; Continuing Lecturer, Department of Art Practice, UC Berkeley, namara AT berkeley DOT edu / T. 510.642.2582
Anne Walsh, Associate Professor, Department of Art Practice, University of California, Berkeley, agwalsh AT berkeley DOT edu / T. 510.642.2582
Ten images; please see work / projects to view more images
STUDENT WORK SAMPLES
Ten images; more student work available on request
Mel Day’s interdisciplinary work combines new technologies and the virtual with traditional media and ‘actual’ forms and experiences. Recent projects focus on the role of amateur singing in civic engagement, deepening dialogue among potentially insular groups. Recently awarded the 2019 Silicon Valley Creates Artist Laureate Nexus Award for her ‘pioneering work in art and technology’, Day has exhibited nationally and internationally at venues that include Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, San Francisco Film Festival, The Berlin Office in Germany, Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley Art Museum, San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, and Peak Gallery in Toronto. Residencies include Stanford University’s Experimental Media Arts Lab, Headlands Center for the Arts (Alumni New Works Award and UC Berkeley MFA Fellowship), Djerassi Resident Artist Program, Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus (Schwandorf, Germany), and The Lab (San Francisco). Other honors include San Francisco Foundation’s Murphy Fellowship in the Fine Arts and the Eisner Prize in the Creative Arts from UC Berkeley. As part of her inclusive practice, Day founded an IDEO-Awarded Youth Fellowship in collaboration with the Djerassi Resident Artist Program, curated Love & Longing at Root Division Gallery, San Francisco, and participated in V-tape‘s Curatorial Incubator in Toronto, Canada as part of ‘What the F**K? Video in the Age of Sublime Uncertainty’. Day currently has a position as Visiting Lecturer at San José State University and has taught at UC Berkeley, Santa Clara University, and University of Toronto Mississauga/Sheridan College. She holds an MFA from UC Berkeley and a BFA from Queen’s University, Canada with a year’s scholarship exchange to the Glasgow School of Art, Scotland. Born in London, Canada, Mel Day currently lives and works in the San Francisco Bay Area. / www.MMD.CA