by Eleanor Brown
Gail Bourgeois nurtures vulnerability in her classroom, and that includes
In the fine arts and womens studies, there is no theorem,
no formula for engaging with the world. Im trying to get students
to trust their own experience, [to] interpret their own lives, but also
to see the world critically.
Bourgeois, an artist and curator, teaches a womens studies course
at Concordia called Feminism, Art and Autobiography. Every Tuesday evening,
the 18 students are shown a work of art, and their homework is to record
their own response, in text or images, in their sketchbook-journal.
She sometimes shows her own work in class, telling the students they dont
have like it, just give an honest reaction and analysis and some
do. That permission can lead them to talk back.
Thats the risk in teaching a course. Students leave themselves
vulnerable to risk, so I do, too. There is no creativity without risk.
You have to be vulnerable to create.
Understanding the process
Bourgeois has found that teaching is about finding the right questions
to ask, especially when students are at different levels (the course is
cross-listed, with enrolment from womens studies, English, communications,
fine arts and journalism). A single student can throw the dynamic off,
yet those with insight can teach their peers much. Even trying to get
the shy geniuses to speak is a challenge.
Its a very challenging course for me. Ultimately, the best
lessons come out of challenging ourselves. I said I wanted to teach this
course, so its all my fault! she laughed.
This is her second take on it. The first time, it was team-taught. She
was unhappy with the lack of critical analysis from students (It
was more like, Dear Diary: I had a fight with my boyfriend and Im
upset), and didnt like its rather clinical approach through
texts and slides.
She revamped it, gave it a different name, and brought it back this term.
She has added a more personal touch: performances and artist talks.
A cellist performed a Bach suite last month, and the students watched
her strain and struggle from a few feet away. The students went to a local
art gallery in February, and heard an artist describe her obsessive search
for identity after a childhood in foster homes.
Art is no longer glamorous and romantic when seen from this vantage point,
Bourgeois said. Its a struggle, both physical and emotional, and
the artists expose themselves.
This course is not about the product. Its about trying to
understand the process of art and how we can bring it into our own lives.
Its the anti-thesis of flaky. Its actually quite subversive.
Bourgeois wants everyone to slow down and think and feel a bit more. Under
pressure, we can meet deadlines if necessary, but creativity entails slowing