Chris Garvin, the new director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art and a professor of art and design, brings a balanced approach to his teaching that is sensitive to the artistic impulse as well as to the business acumen that students need to thrive in an ever-changing world.
Where did you earn degrees and what are your current responsibilities at UGA?
I am currently the director of the Lamar Dodd School of Art and a professor of art and design. I also sit on the board of the Ideas for Creative Exploration (ICE) and the Georgia Museum of Art. I received a Master of Fine Arts degree from The Ohio State University in 1996, with a painting focus with special studies at the Advanced Center for Computing and Design. I received my Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the State University of New York at Buffalo in 1993 with a painting focus.
When did you come to UGA and what brought you here?
I started here at UGA in July. The opportunity to teach art and design at a research university was an exciting draw for me. I had previously taught at an exclusively arts institution, and I was excited for a new academic context, student body and set of challenges.
What are your favorite courses and why?
I really enjoy teaching a variety of courses that cross borders between design and art and across levels from freshman to senior and grad. Most recently, at my previous institution, I took a great deal of pride in teaching professional practice courses. I felt it is an undervalued class in a lot of art curriculums yet a vital one. One of my favorite classes when I was an undergrad was an “Art Between the World Wars” survey. That course, as much as my studio education, has stayed with me. The content of that course and its delivery, setting art in a larger world context, has shaped my thinking to this day. I am excited that Dodd offers a similar course to its students.
What interests you about your field?
Discovery. I think any field, if approached with a sense of renewal and reflection, can be part of a life full of innovation and learning. However, working as a designer has allowed me to continually push myself into new areas. Learning more every day about people, what they care about, how they see the world and how, through working with them, I can affect some positive change in the world.
What are some highlights of your career at UGA?
Well, in my four-month tenure … I have begun a strategic planning process at Dodd that has started some conversations about what we want to be as a school. Renewing the Dodd’s sense of community and self-direction is key as we move forward. I hope that the faculty, staff and students see my commitment to facilitating their ambitions and building a vision for the school that leads us to great prominence through our teaching, research and service.
How does your research or scholarship inspire your teaching, and vice versa?
Being trained as a painter who has practiced primarily as a designer helps me bring a balanced approach to my teaching. I feel I have sensitivity for both the artistic impulse and the business acumen that our students need to thrive in an ever-changing world. My teaching has really helped to nurture my ability to be a good listener. Teaching in any field is a performance art but studio pedagogy is live theater. Like any good performer, your ability to act and react and to improvise is a vital skill. I think my practice is greatly improved by my experiences in that type of classroom. That skill set translates very well to a client meeting, a pitch and a boardroom and maybe, most importantly, to being empathetic with the people you work with.
What do you hope students gain from their classroom experience with you?
I hope they have fun learning. My job is to take this content and help them find a place in their lives where it makes sense, is helpful and guides them to find their path. There is no one correct way to do most things, and there is no one path to a creative career. What I hope to give my students is a way to internalize the material and shape their point of view. The second part of that is reminding them that success is something we all define for ourselves; it is a highly personal and subjective metric. Without that understanding it is difficult to weather the ups and downs they will all face in their lives.
Describe your ideal student.
I don’t know if there is an ideal student for me. But I have often said that one of the reasons I so enjoy teaching freshmen is that they have this wonderful cocktail of fear and enthusiasm and dreams and energy that will fuel them to run through walls. I love trying to harness that, help them pick a direction and then letting them run. What I hope students can hear from me is to stay open to new experiences and ideas. Students who get that are a joy to work with.
Favorite place to be/thing to do on campus is…
I wish I knew. I think right now I am spending a bit too much time in my office. I still feel a bit new on campus. I will tell you that my studio will be in the art school facility on North Campus and I am eager to get into it and I think that will open up my eyes to campus a bit more.
Beyond the UGA campus, I like to…
… spend time with my family. I have to say, in choosing to come here, I fell in love not only with UGA, but also with the opportunities that a wonderful town like Athens provides for a young family. Our family carpool to day care and preschool to the vet school (where my wife is) and then on to the art school on East Campus has been a wonderful way to start the day. Outside campus I have become very familiar with the playgrounds and parks and, on the culinary side, the restaurants that do and do not have three highchairs.
Community/civic involvement includes….
This is a huge topic in the arts and is very important to me. As I have said, we are trying to work on building our community in the arts. But it is important to remember we are first making creative citizens, people who are engaged in the world around them. We have talked about how to live that in our curriculum in the future and model it in our own behavior. As a school we are working to open ourselves up to the community and the rest of campus. It means we will be more involved with Lyndon House Arts Center in Athens and the Athens-Clarke County school system. It means we will be opening our galleries and buildings more and more and inviting the community in for more meaningful exchanges. As for me, this sounds geeky but registering to vote as soon as I got here was important to me. As I learn this community more and find my niche, I hope to weave myself in.
Favorite book/movie (and why)?
Currently it is “One Bear Lost” because I read it multiple times a day to my three children. I have recently taken another look at “Paris to the Moon” by Adam Gopnik. As far as movies, well that is too long a story to tell. Recently my oldest son has been interested is “Star Wars” and it has been nice to re-engage with “Episode IV: A New Hope.” It was one of my first movies that I saw in a theater and the epic fairy tale of it has always been something I have romanticized. Seeing him find his place in the story is wonderful to watch.
Proudest moment at UGA?
I was very proud that the faculty of the School of Art, the dean of Franklin College and the university selected me to be the new director of Dodd. Leading a community committed to shared governance is a heady responsibility, and I cherish the opportunity. Every day has been a thrill … the good and the not so good ones as well.
Originally published 11/9/14