Society and the art educator
Society places certain expectations on those of us who choose to become educators. Whether those expectations are fair or reasonable is a very sensitive topic. Some expectations are, in my opinion, reasonable - but those tend to fall into the category of being a generally decent human being and nothing that goes into an individual's personal life.
Lately, I feel like society wants to judge me for my beliefs and activities as an artist. There are people who cannot understand that an art educator is still an artist, and thus may participate in activities that are not always mainstream. For instance, figurative drawing; despite the historical evidence supporting the role of figure drawing/painting in the study of art, the thought that a "teacher" would draw from a nude model horrifies some individuals. The broad association of nudity with sexuality taints this traditional part of artistic study for society, causing many to get their panties in a bunch over the thought of a person who teaches children participating in such practice. And heaven forbid the art teacher participate in the act of modeling for a studio of artists!
Another topic that ruffles the feathers of society is the study of anatomy and the use of carcasses to do so. I cannot tell you how many of my fellow educators have questioned me about the appropriateness of my recent work - still life paintings containing dead rabbits. "What you are doing is just so gross." "Why are you so morbid?" "How is that art?" I'm on the defensive at all times, armed with the names and dates of artists who used dead animals as part of their still life compositions.
You might ask, how do these people even know about the work? And I would say, SOCIAL MEDIA. What a mess! I made a FaceBook page linking to my personal/professional website to showcase my work and hopefully make some meaningful connections - both for professional development as an artist and for potential marketing of my work to galleries and curators. Friends start to "like" my page, and then their friends "like" the page, and before you know it through "likes" and "shares", the uber traditional folks see the work. Lovely. Just what I wanted; exposure - but this exposure wasn't quite what I had in mind.
I'm left wondering, would society prefer that its teachers are uninvolved in the subject they teach? Should I stop painting because I am a teacher? Should I not try to market my work as an artist because I am a teacher? Should I only explore work that is socially neutral and safe? Should I lose my passion for art and become just like "them"? Is this what would make society accept me? And really, do I even care if I fit society's norms?
I believe that an art educator should be a person who makes art. I believe that to be an art educator one MUST be passionate about art, whatever that art may be. I believe that all art educators should be encouraged, not discouraged, to pursue activities that tie him or her to the professional art world. These ties give the art educator opportunities to connect his or her classroom to the real world - and isn't that what teaching is all about? Aren't we supposed to make learning applicable and relevant to the life of the student?
If you are an art educator and you make art that is socially acceptable, great! If you don't, WHY IS THAT WRONG? Don't misunderstand me, there are boundaries in the classroom. I don't believe in sharing "inappropriate" art with students. But what I do in my free time, as a professional, as an artist has nothing to do with my classroom or with my ability to share my passion for art with students.
Oh, and one last thing... WHAT I DO IS NOT INAPPROPRIATE!
Sitting in an auditorium full of amazing people who are all excited from a few days at the WDS (World Domination Summit) can give even the most skeptical person a sense of grandeur and hope... That seminar in Portland, Oregon was where the idea for my daily teaching blog began. It is unfortunate that six months later the excitement and desire has dwindled. The truth is, I don't have time for this. Beyond the time issues, I've come to find that I do not I actually have much to say! Teaching is my passion, and art is the subject I love to teach. Please take note, writing about teaching is not my passion.
So, for now, here ends "The dust of daily life. I'd rather spend time painting daily and posting that work rather than searching my mind for an event worth writing about. Please be sure to check out the other art education blogs I have linked. Those people have something to say and say it much more frequently than I.
Do you ever wonder...
I wonder all the time.
My mind is always turning and I am always thinking about why things are the way they are and what could be done to improve various situations that are dysfunctional...
Right now, I wonder why I bother. Mind you, I realize I am writing this to no one...
I've been really frustrated with systematic things lately - things that I can not change on my own. I get consumed with wondering why I bother going out of my way when so few care.
But that's just it - I CARE. I place value in the reflection process I go through to write this blog. I place value on the opportunities I pursue for my students. I place value on the big projects that shape my practice even if the people who sign my check don't bother to notice. I place value on my involvement with the larger arts community.
I believe in reflection. I believe in promoting student art programs. I believe in public art projects. I believe in the impact the arts can have on the community. These beliefs are part of my identity. They are part of who I am as an educator and who I am as a person.
I have to remember this because I will not let a dysfunctional system change who I am.
Let's start with middle school.
I have finally seen all of my students and everyone has started on the first "project" - building sketchbooks. The start of school is always so disjointed - shortened class periods, assemblies and student schedule changes make it hard to get all of the classes started and on the same page. Add the day one / day two set up for 7th graders and it is easy to have one class way ahead (or way behind) the rest.
For the past 3 or 4 years I have started with the construction of a sketchbook in all grade levels. The 7th graders build a simple 3-hole bound "book" using 11X17 paper and a standard 2-pocket folder. The either graders use a more advanced binding technique with multiple signatures, tapes and hard covers. Both "books" are fairly easy to construct and hold up to the abuse of middle school students relatively well. I use sketchbooks with my students in two different ways depending on the grade level. For 7th graders, the sketchbook is just that - a place to sketch or take notes during class and plan projects. The 8th graders also use the sketchbook for drawing assignments which are graded monthly. I made a new list of sketch prompts this year and I am looking forward to seeing what the students create.
During the construction of the 8th grade sketchbooks I was really pleased with the more advanced students willingness to help students who had differing ability levels. One student in particular took on the role of mentor to a classmate and really helped that child to be successful in the construction process. I don't often utilize the students in class who finish early as assistants but I feel that this group of 8th graders is going to change that. They are very kind and patient and I believe the entire class will benefit from a more collaborative learning environment.
I set a goal early in the week to get on top of the paperwork situation and for the most part have achieved that goal. I have even completed the Student Growth Objective paperwork and submitted for approval - over a month EARLY! I'm still not sure how this is all going to work out, but I am definitely curious to see the results. My supervisor and building principal are both pleased with what I wrote and even asked to share my plan with some of the art teachers who are having issues with the concept.
Also in the paperwork category, I wrote up and distributed my QR code permission slips. I'm pleased with the letter to parents and my principal is on board with the idea but I don't think I sold it as well as I could have to the kids. So far, of the 24 slips I distributed, I got back 3. This could be because kids don't take things home and don't turn things back in without being poked about it repeatedly...or they are not interested and I didn't sell it right. I think I will take the class on a tour on Monday or Tuesday and discuss the QR codes that are near the public art projects in the building. That way, they can experience the "magic" (oh brother...) of these little black and white patterns first hand and get excited.
Lastly, the college class... I cannot believe that I filled 4 hours. 4 hours without art making. That is just mind boggling. What is even more mind boggling is that the students were engaged for that whole time. What a difference - teaching a course that is filler to teaching a course that relates to your chosen profession... I could get used to this.
Change of plans...
When I first created this blog I had big hopes. I saw myself posting daily about events in my classroom and about my life as an art teacher in both middle school and college. This was easy to envision during the summer months when all I had to do was think up big ideas to fill my days and nights. Now school is in, college has started, I still want to find time to paint, and I am already fried.
Here's my new goal: This month, I will post once a week about school. I will pick both a high point and a low point to share and reflect upon. Reflection is key. I will aim to post on Friday evening - while the week is still fresh in my head. If all goes well and I can get into a groove with school, I will post twice a week during October and try to increase from there.
I'm sure no one is going to cry over this change in plans. And I'm sure that all the teachers out there get it - September is tough. There is so much prep to get the year rolling smoothly along the roller coaster's path. And even though this is year 13 for me, it hasn't gott
I always think that things will be different when we start a new school year... that the technology issues will be solved, that the supplies will arrive on time, that the course offerings will be equal from day to day and the class lists will be balanced from period to period.
I don't know why I think this.
I have to accept that I cannot change the system in which I work. I have to accept that I cannot fix the issues that plague a large district. I have to adapt to changing technology that doesn't always work. If I don't do these things, and do them quickly, I am bound to have a miserable year.
A few bright notes... My school desk top computer is now functional and connected to the Internet. It is also updated with a version of java that will run PowerSchool - our new "system" for everything pupil related. The PTA fed us a nice lunch. I have all my student handouts, forms, and presentations ready to go for tomorrow. None of the art supplies have been delivered which means that none of the art supplies need to be unpacked and put away...
I'm going to make an effort to choose a better attitude for tomorrow and focus my energy on the things I can have an impact on - my students and my
24 hours from now, I will be able to say I survived my first day as a college art education instructor. At this moment, I am both excited and anxious about what tomorrow will hold. Getting to know the course site 36 hours before the start of the course has really helped to fuel my anxiety. Falling out of a doorway onto the concrete on my way to the campus library didn't do much for my ego. However, reviewing the material we will cover on day one has been a nice reminder of why I want to help future art educators along their path.
Week one's readings include Daichendt's (2009) article on George Wallis where he discusses the idea of artist-teachers. I believe strongly in, not only the idea, but the reality of being an artist/educator. I believe it is important for students to see their teacher as a practicing artist. When students see their teacher as not only a source of information but also a producer of creativity, the dynamic in the classroom can change from one of resource to inspiration. As an artist/educator, I am constantly helping to renew my teaching practice by developing my artistic skills and knowledge. Art is a field where change is constant and remaining current is essential.
Tomorrow is the beginning of a new journey for me in art education and I can't wait to start down this path. Wish me luck!
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,
Portraits at PAFA
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.
Middle School Art Educator. Adjunct Art Education Professor. Non-Profit Arts Organization Board Member. Artist. Arts Advocate. Dog-Mom. CrossFit Enthusiast.
Other BLogging Art Educators
The Art of Education
The Luminous Page
The Teaching Palette
That Little Art Teacher
Art Teachers Hate Glitter
Adventures of an Art Teacher
Mrs. Art Teacher
Art with Mr. E
Art is Basic
Art Makes Kids Smart
And, if you want more... visit Artists in Blogland for a full directory of art teacher blogs!