We recently spoke with Chloe Briggs, Chair of Foundation at PCA about the Foundation program, artmaking, teaching and much more
So, Chloe where are you from?
I’m from the UK, the south west of England. A small town called Frome, which is now on the map it wasn’t when I was a kid. It is a pretty market town.
Why do you think you ended up becoming an artist and a teacher?
I have always loved making things, especially drawing and I also have always had the desire to involve other people in the pleasure of making things. I have been fascinated watching students make work over the years. I am constantly learning from them. So, the artist/teacher role is bound up in being inspired myself and then inspiring others.
Why foundation? Why is foundation an important program?
I think it is the year that students become more confident with making things. We all agree as a team of teachers in Foundation that it is through learning how to make things with your hands that you grow in confidence as a creative person.
Many of our projects start with throwing students into the process right away, giving them materials, getting their hands dirty and working that way. This is important because it teaches them how to begin, what the process of being a creative person is, and how ideas evolve.
What are some of the key things you learn in Foundation?
Foundation teaches students how to slow down, to look – they learn to see differently. We are in a world that moves so fast and we have access to instantaneous information, ways of making images and possibilities for sharing what we produce.
The studio here is one of the few spaces where time is experienced differently – it slows down. Certain disciplines like drawing do not offer up immediate gratification – it requires work.
I often say to my students, the most exquisitely crafted things (whether analogue or digital) get the most attention! And that takes patience, concentration, time…
What do students need to grow as artists and designers?
Student’s imaginations are amazing. They dream-up the most extraordinary ideas but they don’t yet know how to make them. There is a distance between what students imagine at Foundation level and what they can actually produce. There is a humility students have to assume when confronted with materials and their own awkwardness with building things. They need to accept that a certain amount of ‘failure’ is an important and productive part of the creative process. In order to fully realize their ideas they have to learn new skills. This is hard to manage sometimes, students can get discouraged. As a teacher we give a lot of support to get them through it.
Having taught in both the UK and American education systems do you think there are certain students, a personality type of student who responds better to one, or the other?
Yes probably. But I also think – and this is the basis for my philosophy for this course – you need both. What I try to do at PCA is to inject some of what I consider, “British-style”, experimentation and freedom into the highly structured “American-style” courses. I think the results show that there is something to be said for both approaches.
Do you find that the multinational, multicultural background of your students has a big affect on what happens in the classroom?
Yes, I did some research at one point on how students were taught to draw before they arrived here. They arrive with a huge range experiences and when you get this mix in a classroom and someone is drawing classical lines and someone else is printing themselves with ink onto the paper, it’s like “ah, okay drawing could be all of these things.”
Students learn from each other as much as from the teacher. And I don’t think it gets more diverse in terms of background and experience as what we have in one room here at PCA.
You often talk about how this program is always different because you are always responding to who is here and now.
It is true, it changes: it is a conversation. I think it has to be because we don’t have a typical student body. It is not “oh that’s the type of student who goes to PCA”, it changes radically every year and the dynamic is dependent on the student’s experiences, where they are from. So in that way it is constantly moving and changing.
Do you have students who come back and talk to you about how the foundation year has changed them?
Yes! Most students love Foundation. A senior student said to me the other day, “Oh, imagine doing foundation now, with all that we know, like re-doing it.” There is always a real affection for the course because I think you don’t forget the first time you experience something, do you?