2009 Distinguished Teaching of Art Award
Roland Reiss, Claremont Graduate University
Roland Reiss stands out through his legendary energy, passion, and intellectual commitment, and above all for his transformative connection with the individual student. Born on May 15, 1929—a self-professed “Depression baby”—Reiss has developed pedagogical investigations and personal artistic expression that continually evolve toward new depths of understanding and investigation into the contemporary. An exceptional teacher can connect with the current generation of students and lead them into the future. It is a rare educator who can do this generation after generation, deeply penetrating the pulse of the times. One nominator, Thomas Nozkowski of Rutgers University, writes, “He is not loved by students because he [is] easy on them, but because he takes them seriously.”
Reiss is a single individual who has managed to have an impact on the entire field of art pedagogy and practice. His most current enterprise as director and founder of the Idyllwild Arts, Painting’s Edge, submerges students into a studio experience guided by some of the world’s most influential practitioners and critics. The development of this dynamic breeding ground for young painters comes after spending thirty-five years as professor, now emeritus, in the art program at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, launching its reputation as a cutting-edge program. An educator for over fifty-five years, Reiss’s students can be found throughout the world, carrying on his legacy as critically and expressively engaged artists, educators, and creative thinkers.
The enthusiasm of Reiss’s students and colleagues rebounds throughout the numerous support letters CAA received. Micaela Amateau Amato of Penn State University writes, “For over fifty-five years, Professor Reiss has prepared his students with superior technical skills, [with] critical and historical perspectives, with global acuity, with innovative and sometimes even uncanny problem-solving abilities, and with a readiness to take real risks to make creative leaps.” They recount that Reiss was a pioneer in setting standards in college teaching. John S. Gordon, provost of Otis College of Art and Design, states, “Reiss invented the concept of accountability in arts education and in professional practice long before achievement and assessment became the requisite bywords of American higher education that they are today.” Others, such as Gary Lang, speak of Reiss’s uncanny ability to bring out the best in everyone he works with—students, faculty, visiting artists, and critics—“finessing a successful mix of energy, wisdom, and spirit.” Thomas Nozkowski writes, “Teachers like this—smart, warm, generous, and talented—are to be prized,” and CAA is honored to be able to give this prize to such a deserving candidate.
Standing on its own, his teaching and administrative record is remarkable. It is even more exemplary that Reiss has maintained a dynamic, impressive career as a visual artist. He has the unusual honor of receiving four NEA Visual Artists Fellowships and a Lifetime Achievement Award from LA Art Core. His exhibition record is encyclopedic, spanning a half century and still building momentum, and his work is held in numerous important collections. He is also a sought after speaker, presenting lectures from Calgary to San Antonio, and from St. Petersburg to Santa Barbara.
Jury: Lester Van Winkle, Virginia Commonwealth University, chair; Debra Drexler, University of Hawai‘i; and Ronald Leax, Washington University in St. Louis.
Read a list of all winners of the Distinguished Teaching of Art Award from 1973 to the present.