Pier Marton’s Teaching of Media
– Student Letters –
Explaining the impact Pier Marton has had on me is like explaining the impact of a close friend or family member: it would be impossible to imagine my education and my development as an artist without him. Though I am now a novelist and not a filmmaker, I almost daily find myself thinking of Pier’s lessons.
In his classes, Pier gave me the extraordinary gift of the many lessons he has gathered from a lifetime in the arts. Lessons about story, mystery, atmosphere, audience attention, and about how to communicate what I want to communicate. But Pier’s greatest lesson, the one I find myself thinking of so often, is not something he told me, but something he made me feel: the absolute necessity of difficulty in art. Pier guided me to the enduring awareness that in order to produce art of any value or uniqueness, I must keep hacking and hacking away until I begin to split open that subconscious reservoir Kafka describes, that frozen lake inside.
Pier Marton is a treasure.
Stefan Block –Novelist. His first book, The Story of Forgetting, featured in the NYTimes, was translated into 12 languages. His second novel The Storm at the Door is receiving rave reviews: unflagging and deeply admirable… a brilliant young author – Edmund White & One of the bravest and the most beautiful books I have ever read. NYTimes – http://www.stefanmerrillblock.com/main.html
Pier Marton was the best teacher I had at Washington University and continues to be an extremely important mentor for me in the professional realm. He is the only teacher I had at WashU that continues to offer support in my work. Any success that I have had in the world of the moving image is due to the teaching of Pier Marton. That is not hyperbole and it is a conclusion that I come to every time I complete a project.
I was lucky enough to have 4 semesters of classes with Pier. Those classes required a personal and emotional investment like most classes require paper and a pen but I needed those classes because I needed the challenge.
In my experience as a student, his passion as an educator is unmatched. For me, his intense and tireless attitude paid off. Pier’s wisdom and teachings have been with me in everything that I do and have done in the past 4 years. I have been taught to challenge myself, challenge others with my work and I do not believe that this attitude towards life is innate.
I credit Pier for having the intelligence, patience and kindness, even until today – 4 years after I have graduated – to help mold me into an award winning director and artist.
Since graduating, I have traveled all around the world shooting film and creating animated work, I have been honored at many film festivals, I have been featured in the New Director’s Showcase in Cannes, I have won Best Director at the British Animation Awards, I have directed a super-bowl commercial, I have directed work on youtube with over 5 million views, and most recently I have had two of my commercials inducted into the MoMA’s archives for The Art and Technique of the American Commercial.
I do not often talk or even think that much about these achievements but they are really important in the context of the people who helped me get here. More than anyone else, I thank Pier Marton. I thank him for challenging me and I sincerely hope that he continues to challenge students like me for as long as he can.
Aaron Duffy – 2010 Super Bowl Google commercial director, 6 Gold Lions & 1 Bronze Lion at Cannes, Best Director/British Animation Awards, over 5 million views on Youtube, with two commercials inducted into the MoMA’s archives for The Art and Technique of the American Commercial – 1st Avenue Machine/Special Guest: http://www.1stavemachine.com/ & Creature vs. Culture: http://creaturevsculture.com/
I remember long intense evenings at the lab trying to figure out the filmmaking tools Pier had been trying to teach me. Harder so was that nagging feeling that the content I was working on was cliché, that I had to reach deeper to get at what Pier was hoping to see from his students. To this day, this remains one of the most frustrating times in my life! Yet it is truly one of my fondest memories, where I was challenged and inspired. I’ve never lost the love of a good challenge, and after 10 years I’m still working on films! That says it all.
David Ready – Currently Production Vice President, Chernin Entertainment, formerly VP for di Bonaventura Pictures, Paramount (L.A. Times: “considered a rising star in Hollywood”)
It is not simply Pier’s kindness, or his vast reservoirs of knowledge, or his gift for navigating disparate ideas, mediums, and philosophies, that make him a great professor; it is his unparalleled commitment to his students, his attention to each student’s personal vision and the boundless potential for collaboration. Pier balked at nothing to enrich the academic experience of his students, devoting incalculable amounts of time outside of class to further inquiry and discussion for those who sought it from him.
In class, it was as if he had personalized a curriculum for each student based on his/her strengths and goals. Seldom have I experienced such focused attention from a teacher at any level of my education. Pier’s ongoing efforts to connect people and facilitate conversation/collaboration between faculty, students, alumni, and artists attest to his generosity and truly nurturing disposition.
From my first class with him, it was clear that Pier was as committed to the art of teaching as he was to the art form he taught. He has been nothing short of inspirational ever since. I feel lucky to have had him as a professor and am happy to call him my mentor as I continue to learn and grow through our correspondence.
Michael Kugler – ’07 Comparative Arts Major – Current Bauhaus University Media M.F.A. Candidate
Pier Marton is a wonderful educator who is deeply invested in the success of his students. I had the privilege of working with Professor Marton my final semester of graduate school. During this four month span Pier provided me with constant critical technical and conceptual feedback; recommended relevant readings, films, and lectures; advised me on the writing of my thesis; and connected me with people both in the United States and in Germany.
Having Professor Marton as my advisor was by far the highlight of my experience at Washington University. Pier has had a profound impact on me, both in my artistic output, and in the way I view myself as an artist in the world. Pier expects nothing short of the best, but never holds his students’ hands while getting there. He has left me with the passion for research and critical inquiry.
Maya Escobar – ’09 Sam Fox M.F.A., Washington University – Creative Director at New Futuro, Chicago – http://mayaescobar.com/
One professor pushed me not only to be a better artist, but to be a better human being. This professor is Pier Marton.
If you are wondering what makes Pier so special, you can imagine a passionate teacher who offers his students the opportunity to confront with issues that are not taught anywhere else. For example, how creativity and restrictions work together, what Japanese music and video editing have in common, how barriers between disciplines can blur. Also, imagine a teacher who doesn’t ask you to understand something in an abstract way, but creates the conditions for you to experience it. For example, he brings you to an unechoic chamber to help you feel and understand sound anew. Finally, imagine a teacher who asks you to go beyond the safe idea of yourself that you have built over time. Who asks you to produce something that nobody else could make, because it comes from your unique sensitivity. A teacher that tells you that limitations exist, but they can be transformed into strenghts.
Pier Marton is all this and much more. I could also write about his ability in teaching video shooting, editing, storytelling, rhythm, sound, and how this has revolutioned my work as video artist. I could describe his tireless efforts to help his students day and night, in person and through the internet. But, most importantly, I want to stress the fact that Pier’s teaching goes beyond video production to embrace life, with much to offer to any student of Washington University.
I have never met anyone who was born to teach as Pier is.
Even students like me, art graduates, who could not gain credit, took a class with Pier because we found him extraordinary, and because we couldn’t find anywhere else what he was giving.
I have audited both, Video Production in 2009 and Visual Music in 2010.
Pier is a teacher that truly cares for his students. He is always present with whomever needs advice, both in person or via email.
Not only he was teaching us how to shoot, light, edit, work with sound, and tell a story: he was encouraging us to face our deepest questions, to awake our mind and our senses, and to be passionate and responsible about what we make. His knowledge of film, video and sound is amazingly wide, and he communicates his subject matter with passion, in a style which challenges the student to think outside clichés and to find their own voice. He organizes field trips which contribute to transform what is learned into what is lived. It is always surprising, at the final screening, to see what students who had never held a camera before are able to achieve with his guidance.
Furthermore, Pier is actually knowledgeable in a variety of fields. In his classes he draws threads between topics as diverse as film, contemporary art, contemporary music, Japanese culture, physics, theory of information, psychology, and theater. He opens the way to a thinking which is interdisciplinary. He is always informed about contemporary conversations, opportunities, and technology, which he comments upon on his own websites. He promotes continuous exchange and communication between his students by creating Ning websites, where they can post their clips, add comments, and receive immediate feedback from the instructor and their peers.
Now that I have my graduate degree, I still find Pier’s lessons and advice extremely helpful in my life. I speak about him and his lessons to any student I meet.
Alumni know better than anyone else what privilege it was to work with Pier.
Paola Laterza – ’10 Sam Fox M.F.A., Washington University – from Italy – http://www.paolalaterza.com
Pier Marton sees the world and art in a way that is different than any other teacher I ever had. If you spend several minutes with Pier, you will learn something new in film, art theory, philosophy or new technology.
Zlatko Cosic – ’11 MFA Candidate Visual Art, Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts, Washington University – http://www.eyeproduction.com/
His breadth of experience, knowledge and artistic insight serves to strengthen the development of a pedagogy that cultivates critical thinking and discursive artistic practice. His devotion to teaching and enthusiasm in the classroom is refreshing and reflects an individual truly devoted to the education of his students.
Christopher Ottinger – ’11 MFA Candidate, Danforth Scholar, Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Arts, Washington University – http://samfoxschool.wustl.edu/portfolios/christopher_ottinger
Here is the truth:
“Pier’s passion for the medium of film is contagious. I am currently at USC’s graduate film production program because I feel as if I can’t do anything with my life other than filmmaking. I largely attribute that fact to Pier’s influence on me.
In only the first few weeks of Pier’s beginning film production class nearly 3 years ago, I recognized how rigorous the medium is. It requires severe discipline and concentration, and is incredibly emotionally demanding. Pier always said that the restrictions he placed upon us for our projects were to make us better filmmakers, because an artist without restrictions cannot grow. And he was so right. This outlook deterred many other students from taking his classes and pursuing film further, but it benefited me in a way I can only attempt to describe.
Pier did not simply provide me with the tools necessary to physically make a movie (camera, software, hard drive space), but was an active force in my growth as an artist. In the 4 classes I took with him (which is the maximum I could have taken), he pushed me to my limits and made me not only into a better filmmaker, but a stronger, more disciplined, and more determined person. The back-and-forth nature of his classes, in which we discussed our story ideas, rough cuts, and technique, was immensely beneficial.
Because the Film and Media Studies program was so small, Pier was forced to teach all the fundamentals of filmmaking in one class, which should have been split into multiple classes. The editing software, editing theory, cinematography, physical use of the cameras and other equipment, story structure, frame composition, sound design, and motion graphics are all elements of this one class, and Pier had to cram them all together to give the students the full filmmaking experience. This made for a very fast-paced and intensive class, which once again deterred some students that expected filmmaking to be leisurely and easy. I, on the other hand, soaked up every kernel of information Pier could give me. Through use of video clips, demonstrations, and his insightful metaphors to make strong points, Pier made every class (which was only held once a week) an immensely pertinent learning experience.
I recognized right away that Pier’s attention to detail and understanding of various elements of filmmaking to make a cohesive and effective piece of work made him an irreplaceable resource for me as a budding filmmaker. His emphasis on telling a story visually is so important, because that’s what cinema is all about. I try to keep that lesson he taught me in mind constantly. Even now that I’m in grad school at one of the best film schools in the world, 98% of my filmmaking technique is still based upon lessons that I learned from Pier. Because of his manner of teaching and knowledge of the art of filmmaking, I regard myself as a “complete” filmmaker, meaning I believe I have a firm grasp on all aspects of production and how they come together to form the final film. I cannot thank him enough for what he has taught me.”
I hope that didn’t run too long. But I felt like I had to say those things, because you have taught me so much… I wouldn’t be at USC without you!!!
Alexandra Jensen – Film and Media Studies M.F.A., USC Film Production M.F.A. – http://alexandrajensen.com/
Pier Marton is a magnet for enthusiastic and passionate students at Washington University at St. Louis.
Joy Li – Senior Art Director at TBWA GROUP CHINA (Hong Kong) – presently in London.
Pier teaches in a way unlike any other professor at Washington University. As a natural science major, I have been conditioned to methodically observe and report as prosaically as possible. Pier demands the exact opposite.
The film production classes I have taken at WashU have confirmed the value of a liberal arts education.
Martin Ben Gross
Pier teaches with an urgent intensity and focus that is also found in his video work. His education practice transformed my own practice as an artist: I took Pier’s video class on a whim and I now use video as a pivotal part of my artwork.
Pier’s passion for his craft is unrivaled, except possibly by his zealous attempt to uncover a similar passion within each student he teaches.
Erik Peterson – Artist-Sculptor http://www.eriklpeterson.com/content/about
Pier is the John Cage of the classroom, encouraging creatively minded students to think beyond the ubiquity, banality and conformity much video and film work has become, demanding student’s work present a unique voice in an increasingly dense sea of video voices.
I am an 2007 alumni of the Sam Fox School where I graduated magna cum laude with a BFA in Sculpture and a minor in Psychology. Since graduating from Wash U, I have obtained my MFA in Video Art from Syracuse University, taught video art and art history classes to undergraduates, run a DIY art gallery, received numerous artist residencies for my work (including the highly esteemed Yaddo in Saratoga Springs, NY). I have also performed on national television for several weeks on a reality show, have had my writings about the experience published in Bust magazine, received attention from numerous online publications such as Glamour.com for an online persona I created in 2008 and was even recently featured in The New York Times and ArtInfo.com for my work. I have performed all over the country and exhibited video internationally. I currently live in Brooklyn and am assistant to Tony Award-winning playwright and performer and Unicef Goodwill Ambassador, Sarah Jones.
I am writing you today to tell you of my complete support of Professor Pier Marton and how sure I am that without any of his teachings, I would not be the artist, or person, I am today. I know many of Pier’s other students, and likewise they have all gone on to succeed just as I have, becoming great in their field, expanding territories of discovery within new media and beyond.
It is the innovators who help change this world and that is the kind of person Pier fosters in his students. In today’s age of the internet, video has become our most valuable and powerful medium. Those who are able to manipulate this medium in a way that sets them apart from those who have come before, will be the thought leaders of the future. I say this from my own experiences teaching as well. While at Syracuse University, I had the opportunity to teach students video production within both the video art and film programs. I, of course, modeled many of my teaching practices after those I learned from Pier. I found that it was the students who most closely mirrored the already established canon within the film industry that failed to get a serious job after graduating. It was those students who pushed their boundaries and notions of acceptable media that were the ones to land jobs at MTV, various production houses as well as become directors in their own right. The latter group of students is the kind Pier produces. The former seems to be the kind many schools would like to produce to be safe and play to popular interest.
Ann Hirsch – M.F.A. Performance/NewMedia Artist and assistant to Sarah Jones
You always told us, “No illustrations, no symbols, shortcuts only lead to death.” Your teaching had an element of unpredictability; it was layered and complex—just as you hoped our films would be.
A few of your own words: “We have to stay where we don’t know. This is where we are alive.” – “This is IT, you are in IT, no other bridge to cross.” – “Surprises. That’s the medium we work in. ”
With sincere affection & gratitude & apologies for the absolute inability to sum you up in a few sparse sentences.
Danielle Hayes – later wrote this letter in the school paper
Pier is not easily satisfied, but he is always there for students. As he said in my first class: “I am like a grain of sand that will keep irritating you in order for you produce a pearl.” Pier’s method inspired me and made me think outside the box + recent e-mail: You’re one of best teachers I have ever had (and not just because you taught a course about something I was already interested in). You challenged us and inspired us at the same time. It was always thought-provoking and stimulating. I also felt (and know) that you care about us personally and you made every effort to guide us in the creation of our projects.
Abigail Prade – from Holland
Excerpts from a recent letter:
so much passion and experience… I respect you. It’s hard to find people who really care about what they are doing.
If someone ever asks me what’s the best thing happened during my one year exchange here, I would say it’s that I took your class. Without this class I would never really understand how hard it is to create a movie. It’s your way of teaching and your personality that amazed me. I have never had so much tension for a class (whether that’s good or bad.) You don’t talk so much, but every word you say hits people.
I think you are a GREAT teacher, if not the best. I may appear silent in and outside of class but I pay attention to everything you say and I am so inspired.
Best Wishes, (I really mean it when I type it, not some random “how are you doing?”).
Dian Song – Chinese exchange student through Waseda University, Tokyo – M.A. Candidate, School of Public Policy & Management, Heinz College, Carnegie Mellon University
Since moving to Los Angeles after graduation. I’ve picked up numerous freelance editing gigs, produced a short film and six episodes of a web series and directed a music video. I would not have been able to work on any of these projects had it not been for what I learned from Pier Marton. The skills learned in Pier’s classes are of real world value for any student wishing to pursue a career in the entertainment industry.
Pier is a professor who genuinely cares about his students and their projects. He could easily take a student who isn’t giving enough effort and slap on the project and move on. But, he doesn’t: he pushes the student until the best possible project is put forth. Pier wants everyone to succeed and is readily available at all times in order to see that success through. There were times a problem arose at 11 p.m. while I worked on a project. I’d shoot an email to Pier expecting to get an answer the next day. But sure enough, five minutes later I’d have a response with an answer to my problem. At other times, I got answers at 5 a.m. I remember thinking, “Does Pier ever sleep?” He is literally always available.
Two and half years after graduation, Pier is still there for me. He’s told me numerous times, “If you ever need a confidence boost, just call on me.”
From Washington University’s Website