COD Faculty Artists Provide Professional Insight and Experiential Knowledge to Students

By: Mike McKissack

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When College of DuPage Professor of Music Lee Kesselman discusses musical concepts with his students, he draws on his decades of experience as a professional composer and musician to bring the lessons to life and align practical knowledge with theoretical concepts.

Providing insight into a competitive industry, teachers’ professional experiences serve to enlighten students on topics ranging from staying creatively inspired to practical details on the ins-and-outs of the business of art.

For Kesselman, his professional art intrinsically links to his role as an educator.

“My professional work as an artist is connected to everything I teach and the ways that I teach them,” he said. “When I talk about theory and aural skills, I teach how those subjects influence my choices and skills as a composer. When we discuss and make interpretive choices, it is all connected to my life as a composer, conductor and pianist. Frankly, there really isn't even a dividing line. For me, the boundaries between being a musician and teaching music are indecipherable.”

Kesselman, an accomplished and prolific composer whose recent work includes the premiere of his piece “Hebrew Meditations” with the Metropolis Oboe Quartet, said a teacher’s experiences as a professional working artist are incredibly beneficial to students.  “We do the arts, not just talk about doing them,” he said. “It is also healthy to be confronted by issues of creativity, execution and problem solving in the same art form that one is teaching. It yields empathy and humility in the face of the art form. In addition, students respond to teachers as humans. They respect, admire and follow direction from those who can demonstrate what they are teaching.”

For Marina Kuchinski, COD Associate Professor of Art, it is crucial that art teachers provide advice from real-world experiences with their students.  

“I love both creating art and teaching,” she said. “To be able to teach well, I need to make art myself. I share that experience with my students to help guide their journey as artists and professionals.”

A regular exhibitor at venues across the country, Kuchinski’s work recently was featured at the Foundry Art Centre in Missouri and will be included in a group exhibition at the National Council on Education for the Ceramic Arts 2021 annual conference.

Drawing on her professional experience, Kuchinski has an abundance of real-world knowledge she brings to her students.

 “It ranges from the process for getting invited to exhibitions and residencies, the importance of dialogue with other artists and viewers through exhibiting to the process of challenging oneself to grow as an artist and the necessity of working in the studio every day,” she said. “In addition, I cover practical things such as packing and shipping work to exhibitions.”

Like Kuchinski, COD Associate Professor of Art Mara Baker brings her experiences as an active artist and exhibitor to illustrate the importance of lifelong learning and best practices in the art industry.

Her recent exhibitions include “Borrowed Light,” a group exhibition curated by the Cherith Lundin Center Art Gallery at Calvin University, Michigan, and “Chameleon Blind,” a series of multi-dimensional works in empty storefront window spaces throughout Chicago.

“I am constantly growing my art practice and knowledge, and this feeds back into the classroom,” she said. “How I have learned to navigate my professional art practice is something I share directly with my students. Most recently, I’ve started teaching a new course called Portfolio Development and Professional Practices that helps students to be well-prepared for a career in art.”

Kesselman, Kuchinski and Baker also have been able to bring COVID-19’s impact on their art to the classroom. While the pandemic has presented a multitude of challenges to artists, Kesselman said seeking a silver lining during challenging times is more likely to result in improvements in the art world and society as a whole. In this light, he said the pandemic has allowed both students and professional artists to explore life in more depth.

“The arts reflect the human condition,” he said. “Hard times tend to bring out good art because it forces artists to be thoughtful about what’s going on. We can use challenges to bring forth truth, meaning or pure beauty.”

For her part, Baker said her work as an artist during the pandemic has provided her the opportunity to find a place of regeneration and hope that she can share with her students.

“I really believe color and light brings joy and beauty,” she said. “I’ve tried to continue to exemplify that in my work, while not downplaying all the terrible stuff that is happening. I try to hold those two truths gently together.”

Baker, meanwhile, is grateful for the ability to both practice art professionally, and teach and draw inspiration from her students. She said navigating the pandemic as a professional artist has given her more experience to bring to the classroom.

“We haven’t been able to do things the way we’ve always done them,” she said. “As teachers and artists, we’ve had to develop new structures and processes. Sharing what we have learned with our students will be key in moving forward as art professionals and likely will provide expanded opportunities and formats for artists to practice their craft.”

Learn more about the Art program at College of DuPage.

Learn more about the Music program at College of DuPage.

Photo credit: Mara Baker, Chameleon Blind – West Town, 2019