Robert Loss is an assistant professor at Columbus College of Art and Design in the English and Philosophy Department.
I am proud to have helped develop the college's new Comics and Narrative Practice major which launches in Fall 2017. Teaching literature and writing at an art and design college poses unique challenges and offers incredible rewards; there's nothing like seeing students absorb the knowledge and methods of great artists into their own creative practice. Below are some course descriptions and a teaching statement.
Fiction Writing: 200-level introductory creative writing workshop with an emphasis on building narratives and character development. My students write numerous short exercises, a complete short story, and a craft analysis essay. Students read short stories by modern and contemporary authors.
The Literature of Comics and Graphic Novels: 300-level seminar focusing on a variety of mainly book-length comics. Provides some overview of the medium's history and contemporary issues while paying keen attention to comics' unique verbal-visual language. Texts rotate but have included Maus, Watchmen, Asterios Polyp, Incognegro, Fun Home, Persepolis, Our Cancer Year, From Hell, You'll Never Know, and Daytripper.
Comics and Narrative Illustration: Launched in Fall 2014, this 300-level hybrid creative-writing workshop/studio course focuses on students' original comics. I co-teach this course with Mike Laughead. Workshop and studio schedules are integrated, covering topics like narrative, character, setting, and point of view as three short comics are developed by students.
American Literature: Various 300-level seminars focusing on specific time periods in American literature. My expertise is in 20th and 21st century literature, especially prose. I often include cultural history along with traditional literary analysis.
Other Courses I Have Taught:
Advanced Creative Writing Workshop
Writing and the Arts (Freshmen Composition)
There Is No Ivory Tower: Why and How I Teach
Two cliches bother me when they pop up, usually in the media: that college is somehow not the "real world", and that academia exists in an "ivory tower". If you can touch the computer in front of you, then you can be relatively sure that you're living in the real world. And I have been looking for this ivory tower for years and have yet to find it. I suppose if you're a tenure-track professor at a wealthy institution, you may have found yourself a room there, but the bottom line is that 70% of American faculty are adjuncts who are underpaid and overworked.
My teaching philosophy is based on a few key experiences: my own education, my creative process, my professional work, and more than ten years of teaching in classrooms, renovated houses and open fields. (The house would be the Thurber House and its activities center next door, where I work with young writers. The open field alludes to when I taught theater classes for children.)
I believe over-specialization is eroding the quality of our lives. Crowd sourcing, niche markets, social media and information silos are blinding us to the importance of a common good and a richer world. It's the responsibility of those in higher education to reach across barriers.
A Liberal Arts Approach
I was lucky to receive a liberal-arts education, one that encouraged intellectual curiosity, experiment across disciplines, and creative risk. A few core ideas have stayed with me ever since:
Knowledge is vital and powerful and should be shared. It is the job of the artist and the academic to share his or her ideas with the world.
The ability to think critically--to analyze, reason, synthesize--is crucial to not only the creative process, but a life well-lived.
Interdisciplinary thinking and engagement will enrich you and your community.
Very little knowledge is truly "knowledge for knowledge's sake". Especially as artists, we absorb and transform knowledge from diverse sources.
We must stand beside the quality and truthfulness of our work. Our integrity matters.
The Creative Process
As a writer and musician, I've come to believe in the necessity of the creative process. We are almost never handed inspiration and immediately complete a wonderful finished product. In my classes, I stress:
And crucially: Revision. This is what separates the amateur artist--be it a poet, painter, or rock 'n' roll guitarist--from the mature artist. You have to be willing to see your work with some measure of objectivity and have the patience and courage to make changes. Passion is good; devotion is even better.
It's incredibly important that the classroom then be a safe place to take creative risks. This means listening, taking a student's words and work on his or her own terms, offering compassionate but clear feedback, encouraging a sense of common purpose and shared experience, and speaking truth to risk by discussing my own process.
Being a Professional
Being able to communicate with others about your art and theirs, and to talk clearly and compassionately about what works and what doesn't, is not only a professional necessity, it's good for you.
Managing your time and respecting the time of others will help you succeed. This is reflected in the promptness and condition of the work you hand in.
Your professional integrity is an extension of your personal integrity as an artist, a member of a profession and community, and a human being.
Everyone is unique and has something worthwhile to say. We are here to bear witness to each other and the world around us, even on the days when we'd rather sleep on the couch.
Students must learn to fail, and to learn from their failures.
As a teacher, I learn every day. Even on the days I'd rather be sleeping on the couch.
I learn from my failures, too.
Disciplines can and should talk to each other. Reading, reflecting, writing--these are not "English", they are core aspects of your expressive self.
Openness to new ideas is a necessity, not a luxury. As a rather dubious but wise character says in the novel The Master and Margarita, "Your novel has some more surprises in store for you!" Be open, and you'll be surprised what awaits you.