Doctoral Student Profile : Brian Bulfer

As a current Doctoral student in the Arts & Art Education program, Brian Bulfer constantly strives to accommodate the plethora of artistic paths and opportunities that have presented themselves since his enrollment at Teachers College. Last Fall, his silkscreen submission to the Myers Art Prize Competition on the theme of equilibrium titled “Sacred Exchange” was selected as one of fourteen student winners. Now immersed in research for his dissertation, Brian recently participated in a group show at the Tibet House called “Mandala: Locus of Thought.” He also teaches art classes as Chair of the Extension Division’s Visual Arts program at Rutgers University where Brian received his MFA.

"Sacred Exchange" - Bulfer's winning entry from the Myers Art Prize Competition

“Working with children is a challenge,” Brian says. “One must find a middle ground between guiding their students and also allowing them to find their own creative, focused space. If a child is given too much opportunity they sometimes appear lost and uncertain; however, if they are given precise instructions on how to go about creating there is no room for their individual voice.”

“My projects often include a combination of observation and imagination,” he continues. “In doing this I hope they will start to incorporate some of the visual observation into their imaginative work and vice versa.”

Brian likes to explore the influence of other cultures on artistic representation and to give his students the opportunity to be influenced by these cultures as well.

“I find it important to expose children to other cultures and their modes of expression,” Brian explains. “I often incorporate Tibetan mandala sand painting, Aboriginal dream dot paintings and African masks into the curriculum. I also let my students make decisions, like a democracy, on what type of project they will work on.”

Familiar with private and public classroom settings, Brian is confident that art can have an empowering effect in giving children a voice and positively influence their learning of other subjects.

“As public school curriculums are very rigid in their focus, I believe the children should have a say in what they want to learn at a very early age,” Brian discusses. “This can be cultivated in the art classroom and lead to engaging innovative interdisciplinary projects.”

Having mostly instructed younger arts students, Brian is curious about the possibility of teaching college-aged artists as well, the breadth of new topics he could discuss in his lessons and the different stages of artistry he could help to further develop.

“What I enjoy most about working with children is observing the fluctuation between different referential modes as they develop their repertoire of marks into their own visual language systems,” Brian describes. “At the college level I’m interested in interdisciplinary conversations through materials and representation. All images, objects, symbolic acts and other modes of expression have a history and it is important for college students to engage those narratives in their projects and research.”

“I feel that a good teacher’s primary job is to encourage students to believe in themselves,” he elaborates. “Many students leave the college system because they are discouraged by challenges and financial situations, especially those with dyslexia and other learning issues.”

Brian himself has contended with dyslexia and art became an outlet for expression early in his life. He is interested on how arts education can better help those to whom learning does not come easily:

“Curriculum and dyslexia are not a current focus on my work,” he states. “Yet, I hope through personal example that I will inspire not only those with dyslexia but also others who struggle to learn and get an education.”

“It is well known that many dyslexic children and adults gravitate towards the visual arts,” Brian continues. “There are a number of schools that have adjusted their pedagogy and curriculum for those with different learning styles. There is Landmark School that specifically focuses on a curriculum for students with learning disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD and ASD. The Waldorf and Montessori schools also incorporate art projects into their curriculum that made education meaningful for dyslexic students.”

In addition to his research and interest in teaching artists, Brian also enjoys exhibiting his own projects, such as his recent submission to the group show at the Tibet House US.

“Exhibiting art projects is a way for me to engage others in a conversation,” he describes. “When entering a competition or group show I hope I will have the opportunity to have a conversation with someone about my research. I also hope that my work will be part of a greater interdisciplinary conversation about visual culture, yet grounded in dealing with real issues, cognitive and social.”

“I feel that anyone can incorporate the arts into their everyday,” Brian concludes, “which can alter ones’ quality of life and education. Visual art practices have tremendous potential for changing perception and crossing over into other fields of inquiry. I’m not interested in ‘art for art’s sake,’ but rather how visual arts are a powerful vehicle for communicating important multi-variant information that engages both the mind and body simultaneously.”

Contributed by Alyssa Foster, A&H Staff Writer