We expected something unexpected, but we did not expect this” ― NASA’s Gerry Skinner, from Lewis Page’s, “Boffins: Antimatter comes from black holes, neutron stars”

I flagged this post with the categories “Fear” and “Inspiration,” because I feel equally fearful and inspired as I prepare for my first college teaching experience this afternoon. It’s also flagged in “discovery,” because, well, that’s what it is!

Until now, my teaching experience has been in workshops and seminars in alternative photographic processes, such as wet plate collodion, and in doing photo-manipulation software courses. Starting this afternoon, I begin teaching an advanced engineering/physics III course and lab, where experimentations will prove the concepts discussed in-class. Yes, it’s only one class (well, almost two), but I’m also continuing fulltime as a consulting engineer and artist.

Not only to do I need to review and in some cases, re-learn the subject, but I need to have a deeper understanding to teach it. I’ve got two engineering degrees, so what I know about the subject is from an engineering perspective, not a physics perspective. These are two distinct views of the same concepts.

In some ways, physics is simpler because it looks at the most fundamental elements at a sub-atomic level and not the complex convoluted way advanced engineering does. In other ways, this is much more difficult because many of the physics concepts are not only difficult to visualize, but are completely counter-intuitive! Just when you’re convinced that something should function in a specific way, you find that it actually works in the opposite way.

I find myself reviewing concepts and saying, I know how this works, but why does it work? What’s going on behind the scenes? This “but why” analysis process often kills the magic of creating art and science. It helps, but it’s also like breaking down a funny joke to understand why it works. That type of analysis removes the funny in the process. Ironically, the deconstruction destroys the very thing we wish to study.

I think that’s why it’s so difficult for many of us to resume making art after studying the subject, or receiving an advanced art degree. In addition to making consistently strong master-level work, art school teaches us to step out ourselves to objectively analyze the whats and whys of making art. After you go there, it’s extremely difficult to return to the place I talked about in my last post – that place where we can visualize the finished piece before starting, that place of becoming a conduit. The magic of art seems to vanish when we begin to analyze it.

That said, as I prepare to teach this technical class, I’m experiencing a surge of artistic creativity that I haven’t felt in a very long time. Years even. Why? Before attending Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) at age 45, I felt like two people in one body. After graduating with an MFA, the two often competing and conflicting hemispheres seemed fused into one sphere. There may have been sparks!

I said I was sort of fused into a whole being after SCAD. Now, I’m thinking that fusing of two halves resulted in a third entity. It created a new blend of the traits that make me an engineer and artist. This new third person is happy to have his creativity stimulated, regardless of the subject.

Although I’ve had much help from the several PhDs who have also taught this class before me, I’m happy to have the challenge of creating something I’ve never created before: a class of my own. It’s about creating a way to teach a technical or art-related subject and making them one. It’s also about finding inspiration to create new art that has nothing to do with teaching a physics class.

I started Mapping The Edge to explore the fringes of creativity, and that is what this is. What’s on the fringes becomes the new center. Wish me luck! I’ll continue to blog (and to keep promising and no-doubt failing to deliver podcasts) throughout the semester.

Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” ― Dr. Seuss