This thing of making art, of teaching art, for me the two are one. Boundaries do not exist. It is seamless.

It's unlikely that I'll teach more 3-D Design classes, but that 
doesn't mean it's out of my blood. The poet Rilke called this
blood remembering. True: when working in my studio, I still  
think about teaching this class. It's seamless! This material
is a time capsule from my classroom, and I'd be remiss
to exclude it from this updated website.                

Ed McCullough

The 3-D Design course I've taught at Columbia College Chicago
since 1990 has, in many ways, run parallel to work that's come
out of my sculpture studio over that same span of time.  In my
studio, in my 3-D class, the same question is addressed: what
is this stuff that we occupy, that we move in and out of and so 
casually refer to as space?  I get  very specific about all of this,
and for good reason, because  space, and  everything attendant
to it, just mystifies me. 
Here's how I see it, in my studio or in my class, call it an over- 
lay of functions and expectations in both places of work.  


The name I'm most comfortable with for my approach to teaching this 3-D Design course is "experiential learning."  At the core of this method is making discoveries that are grounded in hands-on activities, involving the use of  basic materials and basic tools. 
We work on four projects in this performance based class, each containing specific investigations into the manipulation of three-dimensional space.  I pay special attention to demonstrating working processes, use of materials, shop demonstrations and concept expectations --what we're addressing and why.  This is where students can be lost if a clear understanding of what's going on isn't within their grasp.  I do not lose people.  This is not an option.  I go over and over material until everyone's aboard and the class is ready to move forward.
From hereon, I work one-on-one with students.  Not everyone's used to this. It can get frustrating, because I'm now challenging students, straight-up, to initiate critical choices as their ideas develop and begin to take shape as real objects in real space.  My aim is for them to begin challenging themselves and, in turn, gain autonomy from me.  This is not easy.  Every one-on-one encounter carries with it judgement calls that bear high stakes: if I give too much help, advice, I can inhibit growth and independence, and thus inhibit the unfolding of discoveries.  The key is timing, it is everything, and truly I am walking a tight-rope.
I try to make lots of room for my students to lay claim to discoveries that are authentically their own; moreover, this is the the brick-and-mortar of empowerment that my students are entitled to and that they can take with them from this class.  When it happens, it's a joy like none other.  There's a lot of joy in this class because this happens a lot.  Believe me, I step lively, whether on or off the tight-rope.  My personal rule is this: stay out of the way so I don't have to get out of the way when magic's happening for my people.
         We are here to discover
         that in three-dimensional space
         you can make things
         that are not there
         be there
         you can make things
         that are there
         be somewhere else.
What follows are descriptions of the four projects for this performance based course.  Also included are selected images of works produced by my students for these projects, along with their names and when they took the class at Columbia.  Read as if I'm speaking directly to you, as if we've just been introduced and are seated across from each other at a studio work table, making eye contact and talking.  Materials we're working with are basic, the tools are all low-tech, we're making things with our hands.  Eye, hand, brain and instinct, all are focused, all stay focused. This is how I teach.
This project gets us directly into space.  It is a fundamental investigation into what the course is about: space, and plasticity therein.  The intent is to use planar shapes, in serial arrangement, such that they produce a convincing sense of movement and direction within a defined amount of space. Things become complex very fast as the functions of time and repetition soon reveal themselves as integral components of your unfolding design process, a process as specific and as unique to you as your handwriting. Serial Planes sets the stage for what lies ahead, both conceptually and technically, in projects 2, 3 and 4.
Can space be compressed?  Can it be expanded?  Sure it can. In the last project it was discovered that certain arrangements of planes almost seem to be elastic, stretching space in one direction, pulling it back in another.  Let's build on that and continue using planar shapes, but let's also include lines in the investigation: lines, hereafter called linear elements. 
Here is where such things a volumes can appear when, frankly, nothing is there, or so it "looks."  Former students refer to this project as the "meat and potatoes" of the learning curve in 3-D Design.  It is hands-on, it is demanding, it is tedious, and it iswithout equal in how it will compel you to see into  thingsthat were there all along, right in front of you, things you had merely been . . . looking at.  Someone said after the critique for project #2, "This is when the curtain opens at the 'Magic Theatre,' a la Hermann Hesse's book The Steppenwolf."  
May I add, from my personal experience as an artist, that:
         Where nothing is visible,
         that's where nothing-is-visible.
We pull out all the stops.  We go to see Cezanne's paintings, in order to understand edges --where things stop, where things begin; we go to Giacometti's works, especially the sculptures, to see, to experience what he called his magical doubles.  We do the same thing at the Chicago Picasso, Daley Center, the north Loop, and also with Louise Nevelson's great sculpture just a few blocks to the west, Madison and Wells.  Then we pour over the Joseph Cornell collection at the Art Institute of Chicago.  An entire class session is devoted to doing only this, and throughout is the focus on what is there versus what is not there; to wit, positive and negative space.  I go at this with near surgical precision.  It is the heart and soul of the course. Nothing is left to chance.
Why? What is so important about positive and negative space, call it a phenomenon, that I hand over this much of our precious time to it?  Maybe because I believe it is just that, a phenomenon, thus easily glossed over; moreover, it remains at the core of what I still cannot get a handle on myself -- I don't know what it is-- even though my work as a sculptor demonstrates that I'm not too bad at working with it.*  So there!
We go after photographic imagery, specifically a "PLACE" of special significance to you, then take it all apart and work with those elements as a source for what goes into the "solid-void" tri-dimensionality of the project.  Speaking as an old submarine sailor, "We take this to test depth, then go deeper."  It's okay, I'm right there working with you.  A former student said, "In retrospect, Ed, this is the 'Manhattan Project' of the course, it's when thinking and doing reached critical mass for me and I never looked back."  (Katrina B, Fall,  2005, Columbia College Chicago.)
(* To put you at ease, I've never met anyone who really knows what positive and negative space is; thus, I use the term phenomenon because I believe it's the right word for what positive and negative space is.  For a great read on "phenomenology," may I suggest Signs, by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, 1908-1961, Northwestern University Press, 1964.)
By now in this class the word plasticity is not just an art term that's reserved for the spoken word.  You'll know too much for that alone.  By now, it is your work that will entitle you to use art terms like this with authority and humility.  This is a transition and it is of considerable significance.  I will welcome you as you move across this  threshold. 
I know.  We just can't let go of all this.   In this last project  the content in project #3 is converted to a relief sculpture. Simple, right?  Trust me, it isn't, at least not the way we're going to investigate matters. This is . . . how else to put it, the creme de la creme of moving around positive and negative spaces as they were worked out in project #3. Look at the images herein of project #4 and then size them up with their source, the images of project #3.  Move back and forth between the two and trace out where open and closed spaces move in and out of each other with fluency. Things that are there, in project #4, whether solid or void, almost dissolve and then return, seeming to echo their sources, right in front of you, in project #3. More often than not, what is there is a matter of interpretation.

The invisible is there without being an object,
it is pure transcendence, without an ontic mask.
And the visible themselves, in the last analysis,
they too are only centered on a nucleus of absence – –

Maurice Merleau-Ponty, The Visible and the Invisible, (Working Notes, Page 229) Northwestern University Press, 1969
Dear Reader, you have every right to want to know what my sources are, what my resources are, for all this.  What's behind it all? I loathe the expression, but it is apt, so I'll use it anyway: where am I coming from in all of this? Listed below is where I'm coming from. There's more, but this is where the real juice is for me, for now anyway. 
If you're one of my students reading this, please, relax. This is NOT your reading list. It is mine! Load your hot glue gun and put a fresh blade in your mat knife. Mercy. I will be with you soon. Martin Heidegger can wait, and for those of you who can’t wait, consider Edith Stein


Eliade, Mircea.  Images and Symbols.  Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Eliade, Mercea.  The Myth of the Eternal Return.  Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991.
Heidegger, Martin.  Poetry, Language and Thought.  (trans. Albert Hofstadter) New York: Harper & Row.  1971.
Hirsch, Edward.  The Demon and the Angel.  Orlando FL: Harcourt Inc, 2002.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice.  Signs.  Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969.
Merleau-Ponty, Maurice.  The Visible and the Invisible.  (trans, Alphonso Lingis) Evanston IL: Northwestern University Press, 1969.
Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo.  Vision in Motion.  Chicago IL: Paul Theobald, 1947.

Ed at work on Meridian III, Spring 1998


©2019 Ed McCullough