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John Crowe: The Constant Evolving Present


Professor John Crowe '71 with art education students, Crash Piece 1 in John's studio

Each Monday afternoon since the beginning of the spring semester, Professor John Crowe ’71 (Art Education) has been attending the Seminar Exhibitions class in South 104.  In this course, taught by Professor Steve Locke ‘01 (MFA Painting), art education students usually develop a themed exhibition as the culmination of learning about contemporary art theory and curatorial principles. This semester, they have taken on the new challenge of focusing on an individual artist and John Crowe is their subject.

After 41 years as an art educator in Massachusetts, 18 years of which have been spent as a faculty member in the Art Education program at MassArt, Professor John Crowe is retiring. As a way to celebrate John’s career as an artist and educator, the class is developing a retrospective show that captures the essence of his work rather than a chronology. “John Crowe’s identity as an artist has been irrevocably intertwined with modeling artistic behavior and process over product,” describe the students. “As a result of this educational mindset, Crowe’s work is constantly in flux.” Entitled John Crowe: The Constant Evolving Present, the exhibition is a culmination of the way John melds his artistic and educational practice.  John works on many artworks at a time, so all the pieces in the exhibition are in various stages of development.  “Everything is in flux, all of it, all of the time” remarks John Crowe. As an example, his Living Files are twenty-five 11” x 11” mixed media works filed in welded box frames, each at different point of completion. All of the artwork in the retrospective exhibition has been generated from John’s teaching.


Students visit John's studio in Savin Hill, Rose Boards in John's studio

When asked about his beginnings, and evolution as an artist and teacher, John points to significant moments that changed his life and set him on his particular course. John grew up south of Boston in the small working-class town of Holbrook, MA, in a neighborhood where no one had gone to college. He was a super quiet student in elementary school. One summer day, to his delight, a letter arrived in the mail addressed to him from his second grade teacher Ms. Tuttle. This thoughtful act from a gift teacher cemented in his mind that he also wanted to become a teacher. Praise received from his sixth grade art teacher for his response to the challenge of making watercolor paint flow like water, and the fact that the artwork was misunderstood by his classroom teacher, instilled in him the belief that art making has a mysterious “secret language” not readily understood by everyone and that’s really cool. His father arranging a meeting for him with the President of Stonehill College in Easton, MA, when he was in 7th grade opened his eyes to the possibilities of a college education. His high school art teacher Mr. Kindelan had high expectations of his students, yet at the same time created a home base for them in the classroom. “I teach my students that the art classroom offers a special place for certain types of kids,” says John Crowe.  “It is a refuge, an environment, where difference can be celebrated.” John still remembers feeling like a “big shot” the day Mr. Kindelan provided his students with four graded pencils, so they could draw at home.

In 1967, John began his studies as a freshman at MassArt. Driving a used 1954 Chevy he made from the parts of two cars, he commuted back and forth from Holbrook to Boston with a group of Boston State College students as his passengers and then later with fellow MassArt students. During his junior year at MassArt, John began student teaching at the Hancock School, an elementary school in Brockton, MA. When he reported for his first day of student teaching, he was handed a set of keys and a class schedule, and was told that he would be the art teacher.  There was no on-site cooperating teacher to mentor him. John quickly went to work teaching art from a cart five days a week to over 1,200 students in grades 1-6. His hard work paid off. The principal, Ms. McCarthy, went to the school committee without John’s knowledge and persuaded them to create a full-time teaching position for him. He was mailed a teaching contract without even being interviewed. He taught in Brockton for six years before taking a position at East Bridgewater High School, where he worked as the only art teacher for five years.  He then became the art director in Scituate overseeing art programs in five schools.

By the time of his 45th birthday, when John learned about a teaching opportunity at MassArt, he had been teaching at Bridgewater State University for five years.  Although a doctorate was required for the position at MassArt, the search committee had decided to also interview a number of non-doctorate candidates with extensive teaching experience. Even though he thought there was no way he could get the job, John decided his application would be a good way to present his portfolio and his students’ work.  He ended-up being one of two people, who were hired.  His appointment was provisional under the condition that he would earn a terminal degree.

After investigating a variety of doctoral programs, John chose to attend the Union Institute and University in Ohio.  He was drawn to its diverse interdisciplinary program. “It was a gift that changed my life,” says John. “A whole new world opened-up for me.”  The program was less main stream and encouraged non-traditional research.  “We innovated in our own practice,” adds John. “Instead of writing papers in the abstract, I would capture projects with students and then present to the art education profession at state, regional, and national conferences, to garner feedback.”  Union was open to creative dissertations, so John researched and investigated art education through his own artwork.

This experience continues to fuel his art making and teaching practice.  John needs to be in the same psychic space and deal with the same artistic challenges at his students. According to John, “The studio component of the Art Education program at MassArt is so important, as it holds the artist/teacher accountable.” He encourages his students to model artistic behavior for their students and to stay engaged in their own practice.

When asked what advice he would give to emerging educators, he replies:

  • Keep yourself alive as an artist and a teacher. It is the vaccination against burnout.
  • Maintain your own curiosity.
  • Be aware of what's happening in the Contemporary Art world. 
  • Bring enthusiasm to your teaching. 
  • "If you're not learning, they are not learning." - Peter London. 
  • Teach artistic behavior. Create different choices and freedoms within a clear structure, so kids (and you!) will want to show up and make art. 
  • You can't predict the responses and results of challenges you make of students, so don't even try; support and celebrate.
  • Share in their learning community. Share your triumphs. 
  • Ask generative questions. 
  • Embrace a new 21st Century curriculum that is student-centered, not teacher-centered; one that is mutually beneficial and inspiring.
  • Be alive and present. 
John Crowe: The Constant Evolving Present is on view in the Arnheim Gallery at MassArt from April 9-24, 2013. Please join us for the public reception on Wednesday, April 17, from 6:00-8:00 p.m., as we celebrate John’s lifelong dedication to his students and his artistic practice. For more information, call 617-879-7550.
621 Huntington Avenue / Boston, MA 02115 / (617) 879-7020