In this piece, Geoffrey Sirc takes the reader through an in-depth look into the life of Andy Warhol. Along the way, he pauses to demonstrate parallel’s between this artist’s life and the life of the composition classroom.
First, he reveals several sites of conflict in composition pedagogy through the lens of Warhol’s life experiences. For example, Sirc demonstrates how even this brilliant artist was anxious about the self he presented to the world so much that he was content to allow Allen Midgette to impersonate him. Sirc suggests that the writing class student faces the same anxiety and thus opts to plagiarize because they believe the text the have found more closely resembles the text we want than what they could produce themselves.
Sirc also describes Warhol’s exceptionally long films (6 hours) and the viewing experience that went with these works. Folks would roam in and out of the screening room, rather than sitting the duration. Sirc uses this viewing approach to discuss reading practices in the composition class. He explains that we teach as tough all readers maintain close attention to all that they read and never miss any detail, when really we ourselves slip in and out of texts as we read too.
After describing Warhol’s studio, “The Factory, and the rich creative environment it afforded those that spent time there, Sirc moves to envisioning a classroom model that takes this framework as the model for pedagogical design. Warhol’s site was a “production center crossed with a social space” (35). Folks who spent time there praised it as a space for education. One assistant even claimed it provided a better space to learn art than his actual art school. Our composition classes, like the art school this assistant spoke of, don’t always have the same energy that the Factory provided. Instead, students come to these spaces and experience what Sirc calls “curricular buzz-kill” (36). He proposes instead “assignments that consist simply of a title—say Bar or Video Game or Sex at College—and a set length (500 words or 3 ½ minutes or 16 images)” and opportunities for students to create a series of variations on the same subject (36). The point in this approach is to break out of the typical modes of classroom exercises and create “a laboratory of taste experiments, a studio course allowing the naïve exploration of forms and technologies: […] and writing” (35-36).
This piece helps us to see how seemingly unrelated moments in ordinary life can serve as lessons to those of us who are teachers. The world around us has much to teach us about what environments stimulate learning. As contemporary composition teachers we ought to ask ourselves not only “what can we learn from Warhol’s factory” but more importantly “what are today’s ‘factories’ and how can we appropriate them as true sites of learning, but also learn from them ourselves?”