Teaching and Collaboration
Teaching had a dynamic impact on Corita’s artistic practice. After receiving her B.A. at Immaculate Heart College in 1941, Corita first worked as a primary school teacher in British Columbia. Returning to Los Angeles in 1947, Corita began teaching in the art department at Immaculate Heart College and working on her master’s degree in art history at the University of Southern California which she completed 1951. At Immaculate Heart College, Corita began by teaching art under the guidance of Sister Magdalene Mary, however, she quickly became known for her own innovative teaching strategies. Corita went on to become the chairman of the art department at Immaculate Heart College in 1964.
Known for her inventive teaching strategies and particularly tough assigments, Corita developed a list of ten rules for students and teachers that encouraged hard work and productivity for everyone in the art department. Rule seven states, "The only rule is work. If you work it will lead to something. It’s the people who do all of the work, all the time who eventually catch on to things." Intended to foster student’s creativity and openness to new ideas, Corita’s final rule for her students, which she borrowed from John Cage, stated: "We’re breaking all of the rules. Even our own rules."1
Through her work as a teacher, Corita encouraged her students to pursue new approaches not only to the production of art but also to looking at the world around them. Having students employ viewfinders to create unconventional perspectives of their own environments, Corita wanted her students to develop what she termed their "seeing muscles."2 Organizing Mary’s Day parades on the Immaculate Heart College campus that would later be compared to the artistic happenings of the 1960s, Corita also encouraged her students to take field trips into the Los Angeles community. One such particularly influential field trip Corita organized was to Simon Rodia’s Watts Towers in South Los Angeles. Several of her screenprints from 1959 such as be of love and festival-green echo the vertical forms of the Watts Towers. Corita found to be influential not only aesthetically but also as a model for artistic practice for herself and her students.3
Jan Steward and Corita Kent, Learning by Heart (New York: Bantam Books, 1992) 176.