Bob Johnson recently won a Gold Medal Portfolio Educator Award (presented to the educators of students earning a Gold Medal Portfolio) from the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards
for his work with Simba Xu '19. We sat down with Bob to learn from this great teacher.
“I think of myself mostly as a cheerleader.”
Entering his 47th year as an instructor of visual arts, Bob Johnson doesn’t spend a lot of time talking about his preferred techniques or mediums. Instead, it is very apparent that for Bob, relationships always come first.
“I have so much success with students who are different learners, because I am in that category. I understand their fears, so it is easy for me to teach.”
When talking to Bob about educating in the visual arts, he focuses almost exclusively on the relationships with students, creating the right culture and fostering a sense of team. Bob, as all his students call him, has nurtured the growth of over 170 current professional artists who have graduated from Cushing Academy. He meets with each of his students and gets to know who they are and what they want out of the experience, be that a college level portfolio or to just take the class to meet credit requirements.
Bob asks his students, “How am I going to make you successful and how are you going to make me proud?”, recognizing that they “have to work as a team together.” This carries over into how classes are designed. “In my advanced classes I always have a portion of them as beginners. I let the advanced kids help the beginner. And it reinforces what they should know, and what they don’t know. They work back and forth and it becomes a real team,” he says.
Bob is excited about about the more robust STEAM offerings across all academic programming at Cushing. “We teach STEAM all day [in visual arts],” he says. He has always appreciated the partnerships with a variety of departments, citing how the English department allows for some projects to be met by visual art pieces instead of or as an enhancement to their writing.
This dovetails with his general philosophy for fostering thinkers: “There is no such thing as gifted, just more experienced. We spend a lot of time talking about ‘what is a self portrait’. It’s not necessarily a shot of you, which everyone assumes. Being special and creative is coming up with your own concept. This is the reason my kids are so successful. It’s because they think outside the box.”
Bob is excited about the future of visual arts education for his students. He cites a shift in belief from parents, where they now support art as a career, be it architecture, graphic design, or being a more classically trained artist. As the incredible alumni who have learned from Bob can attest, the future is bright in the arts at Cushing Academy.
“There are so many unbelievable kids that have come through here, that came here for whatever reason, that discovered their life here.” —Bob Johnson