As the associate professor of art education at Tennessee Tech, Jeremy Blair teaches a range of art courses, from traditional observational drawing to expressive mixed media collage. He aims to make art experiential, having students engage directly with materials and processes to drive discovery. His efforts saw him awarded the 2023-2024 Art Educator of the Year by the Tennessee Art Education Association (TAEA).
"I really believe in the power of an experience, especially with training teachers," said Blair. "If I can provide a lot of hands-on experiences for my students, I feel they will be better teachers when they get their own classrooms."
In one of Blair's courses, Drawing 2, students create elaborate collages out of recycled materials that they then translate into large-scale drawings. For another class, Blair sets up a makeshift darkroom in a closet to teach the science of photographic development.
“It’s called STEAM Studio – and it stands for science, technology, engineering, art and math. So, I’m teaching a class to our educators on how to treat disciplines like science and math and art equally in a class.”
No matter what the subject, Blair encourages his education students to let their own students take the lead in what they learn. He fondly remembers his time as a teacher in Georgia when his high school students discovered their parents’ old film cameras and started begging him to show them how to use them.
At that time, Blair had never done much with photography. So, after helping them find all the necessary equipment, he made it their senior project to research and teach him how to use it. The class was a huge success and Blair enjoyed photography so much, that it's now one of his favorite art forms. He’s become well-known for his technique of creating shadow images of found objects.
“I do a lot of experimenting,” he said. “And that also reflects my philosophy on teaching: Let’s try something. Let’s create an experience. Yes, let’s look at some slides on a PowerPoint, but then let's also go do something to apply what we learned. I really believe in the power of an experience, especially with training teachers, because when they get to their own classrooms, that’s what’s in their tool belt: things they’ve experienced. If I can provide a lot of experiences, then they are going to be better teachers.”
In addition to giving his students hands-on learning, Blair also works to ensure his education students have every advantage available to be successful from the first day they step into a real classroom. He brings in former pupils to explain things like the Praxis exam or demo an art lesson. Blair also helps place students in classrooms to get teaching experience before graduation.
He formally accepted the 2023-2024 Art Educator of the Year award at the TAEA's annual conference in Knoxville, where he also led an interactive workshop for the state's arts educators based on hands-on learning philosophies. The organization comprises arts educators from across Tennessee, from K-12 teachers to university faculty.
In winning the TAEA's top honor, Blair is quick to credit his support system at Tennessee Tech for empowering his teaching. From administrators to the College of Education, Blair feels encouraged to be experimental and student-focused.
"I’m very much appreciative of how I’m treated and well supported, I have been set up for success here. Honors like this just can’t exist without that support," Blair said.