Yeah... So, today the amazing people at PAFA gave our small group of art educators a tour of the storage area - aka the basement. There are 4 main "vaults" and a print room. As you may suspect, this behind the scenes glimpse into the life of art objects is thrilling and emotionally charged. PAFA has some awesome work stored in the basement!
Each vault has a series of racks made of chain link. These racks slide in and out to view and access the works hung on the links. In the last vault the registrar had 3 large Warhol prints leaning against the cage racks. I was carefully walking around the Warhol to peak into a stowed rack of early American paintings and accidentally nudged the Warhol's ground support with my foot. It tipped ever so slightly and I thought it was going to fall. Thankfully, it did not.
Needless to say, I kept my distance from that point on. I'll tie this post to my teaching practice by saying I will have a bit more understanding in the future when a student breaks something of little value in the art room.
All in all, the PAFA summer program was a refreshing and inspiring week of professional development. I can't stress enough how valuable time like this is to my teaching practice and to my sanity.
Despite being extremely tired and leaving the house late, I managed to get to PAFA early for Thursday’s session. I found myself alone, with my self. Well, self portrait that is…
I saw a resemblance of me in the image, but somehow older and more frail. Was this some sort of psychological message I was sending about my “self” or had I screwed up the image in some subtle, yet meaningful, way that produced the aged, fragile appearance? I got down to business measuring my face and comparing those measurements to the image using a pencil, a mirror, and my thumb. Turns out, though there may be some deep hidden psychological truth in my decrepit representation of self, I had actually drawn my nose way too long. This simple and relatively small mistake altered the entire image in a significant way.
This was not a difficult fix – technically speaking. However, taking an eraser to a basically complete drawing that didn’t look horrible was a bigger emotional challenge than I had expected. I felt a strong sense of empathy for my students as I began erasing my hard work to make corrections. This is one of the greatest challenges in the art room – realizing that fixing it is more important that being done with it… and also, realizing that it is worth the time to make those corrections – not only for that image, but for future images as well.
I am so thankful that I took these W.I.P. shots so I can see and remember the changes that were made to create the final image. Having this collection of progress shots will also be helpful to share the transformation of this drawing with my students. Realizing that my nose was too long was only the tip of the lesson I learned from today’s drawing,
Today began with more ecorche carving. As we finished our work, we discussed how knowledge and understanding of the musculature of the face improves portraiture. We were instructed to begin work on a self portrait from observation using our knowledge of facial muscles.
Now, let me say this: I do not enjoy drawing portraits, and more specifically, I loathe drawing SELF portraits. I'm not sure where my displeasure with this task started but my main complaint is the difficulty - portraits are not easy.
My experience today was very different. I felt like I was building my face in the drawing by focusing on the planes created by the muscles below the skin. This approach to portraiture has changed my thoughts on this genre of art and I feel strongly that there will be talk of facial musculature in my lessons this year.
Our morning was spent with the museum's conservator on Tuesday. This behind the scenes look at art preservation and conservation was a rare treat for any art lover. In the afternoon we went back to the studios to begin work on a plaster ecorche carving. We were each given a plaster cast of a face and asked to carve away the excess material to show the muscular structure of the face. I chose to split my face in two - depicting the skeletal structure on the left and the muscular structure on the right. This traditional academic assignment allows students to gain a deeper understanding of how the face is constructed and why light hits the surfaces int he way it does. This activity will be completed on Wednesday morning.
Over the years I have made it a priority to reinvest in my teaching practice by attending workshops, seminars, conferences and classes that relate to art education. Sometimes these professional development opportunities are theoretical and other times they are materials based.
This week, I am attending the Summer Academy for Teachers at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (PAFA). If you are unfamiliar with PAFA and their offerings, I urge you to visit their website for more information. The focus of this year's program revolves around the museum's collection of historical American paintings. I saw this as a chance to learn some new approaches to teaching art history, collaborate with other art educators, and spend some time being inspired and making art (the program leans heavily on art making - yay!). I also felt this was a great opportunity to expand my knowledge of this genre of art history - our 8th grade Social Studies Curriculum focuses on American History and I try to collaborate within my building as much as possible.
Today we started the day with a brief tour of the museum. Our guide refreshed our understanding of Visual Thinking Strategies (VST) using Benjamin West's monumental painting, Death on the Pale Horse. VST is a great technique for looking at art with children because there are no wrong answers. VST is also an invaluable tool for today's learner as it helps to increase visual literacy. We also spent some time comparing and contrasting two of the museum's portraits of George Washington.
In the afternoon, we visited the studios and began work on a grid enlargement drawing. This may sound odd and you may be asking yourself, "what art teacher doesn't know how to do this?" Well, you are correct, and I would bet that ALL art teachers know how to do this and have taught their students using grid enlargement at some point during their career. However, PAFA's summer academy is open to any TEACHER, thus not all of the participants are working as art educators.
I chose to work from Modigliani's La femme a l'eventail. Having three hours of uninterrupted time to draw was glorious. This is a luxury I do not often allow myself and I found the experience to be refreshing and inspiring. I'm not quite finished, but you can see the progress and the resemblance. I increased the image size by 2.5 - the drawing is 15 by 23.75 inches.
Let's face it, we are all easily distracted by the pace of the 21st century. On a day to day basis, I am bombarded with information almost constantly. I find this overload of content can dull my senses, leaving my brain a bit cluttered, dusty even! If I do not consciously stop to be inspired by the world around me, I can see my creativity dwindle.
I spend most of my days in a middle school art room, so my goal here is to take a moment each day to dust off my soul and reflect on the moments that made me stop and think about the art that is being made in my classroom and how those experiences can inspire my life.
What I hope to do:
Write an observation of and document my response to an event from each day in my art room. Some days this may be a big event, like an artistic breakthrough with a troubled student. Other days, this may be a challenge that I struggle to overcome in my teaching practice. After 12 years as a middle school art educator I can guarantee this: you NEVER know what can happen in the art room.
To become more observant of the little things that may inspire my life (or my own artwork) while I am teaching.
To pay closer attention to my daily life.
To dust off my soul and my mind so that my creativity can have a fair chance in this busy world.
To learn from my triumphs and stop repeating my mistakes.
To grow as an art educator, as a writer, and as a person.
Middle School Art Educator. Adjunct Art Education Professor. Non-Profit Arts Organization Board Member. Artist. Arts Advocate. Dog-Mom. CrossFit Enthusiast.
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