Room 217, the Chelsea Hotel. The theme: vintage Andy Warhol. The hook: a recently discovered time capsule complete with footage of an undocumented love affair. The film is old, spotty, and fragile, looking as if a single touch would cause it to disintegrate into dust. Where audio remains, husky voices blur into static. These are images from Warhol’s exclusive “Silver Factory” circa 1967, and the ambience evident in the few precious seconds of film is playful and amicable. The subject matter of the five short clips revolves around rumors of a new Warhol muse, elusive yet influential.
Before Warhol enthusiasts rejoice at such a find, they should know that the scenario is simply a Warholesque fantasy, the basis for the Creative Writing department’s “On Being Andy Warhol” spring 2012 seminar.
“Seminar” isn’t quite the right word for such a class: it’s a hands-on experience, combining self-promotion with in-depth study of the Pop Art movement. Students in the class created a permanent website as the basis for “live portfolios,” public presentations of their work held long after the conclusion of the course.
“I just think it’s a million times better to teach this way,” says the course instructor, author John Reed. “You get something out of it,” he adds, alluding to students’ ability to link to the website in a résumé or showcase it in a portfolio.
For Warhol, art was largely about self-promotion and fostering an image. Reed thus saw him as the ideal theme for a class integrating education and new media technology, in which students would create a body of work for purposes of self-promotion.
Eighteen New School and Parsons undergraduate students from a host of disciplines came up with the Warhol love story, found costumes at Urban Outfitters, and wrote 20-odd scripts, of which five were chosen to create the final spots. Reed’s class proposal received an additional boost in the form of an Innovation for Education grant from The New School.
“Teaching this kind of class definitely requires a bit of dough,” acknowledges Reed. “We hired professionals to manipulate huge amounts of special effects to make the film look decomposed.”
Reed sees this production form as the future of teaching. “In this style of teaching, the pros really outweigh the cons,” he says. With a website, the lessons live beyond the class, and students walk away with something tangible.
“It will not be long before all universities have courses structured like this. It’s a better way for students to master material, and this generation of students works very well in collaboration.”