Saturday, July 31, 2010

Officially August: Time for Teachers To Panic!

It is officially August (that's because I am up until 1am typing this!).  It is now time for all teachers to panic!  PANIC! There is really only about 2.5 weeks left of your summer break.  If you taught summer school like I did and attended a 3 credit, one week intensive class you really haven't started your summer break yet, but guess is nearly over.  What to do?  Should I start working on prepping for the school year or should I grab my sunscreen and head out to enjoy what's left?  Looks like I will do a bit of both.

I am teaching a few new things this year (new to me that is!).  One of these courses is Video Production.  It is not being taught from the art side of things, but rather from the Tech Ed side of things.  How is that different you might ask?  Well if I got to teach it as an art class we'd be doing experimental videos with recording unusual soundtracks and collage found and recycled film and video and studying the works of 1980s music video to present and looking at avant garde films too.  That's not what the course is about however.  Instead it is my task to teach the technical side of video production, how to use the cameras and how video production as a career in TV and broadcasting works.  This can be creative too, but there will be challenges.  The class sizes are large, but the video equipment is limited (26:3 ratio, not good).  The software is sweet, but confusing sometimes and isn't what I learned video on (iMovie 09 instead of iMovie HD). The lack of a sound booth means we will have to improvise to get quality sound (the library,  the bathroom, the closet).  I am ready for the challenge, but may also start to stress out and lose sleep.

I will be teaching Fashion this year too.  I haven't taught the course in several years.  It is a fun class, but very heavy on the paperwork.  It is my goal to reduce the paper and make it more interactive and 21st century.  This will require creativity, research and a lot of work on my part.  It is also a non-art class that I will be teaching for the Family and Consumer Ed department.  It isn't a Fashion Design class, but rather Fashion Analysis, where students learn about the industry of Fashion, the names of the different parts of clothing (is that a bishop sleeve or a cap sleeve?) and also about the trends in terms of color, designs and more.  Again it can be interesting, but again it requires a lot of PANIC!!

Lastly, I get to teach art.  Yes that is really what I do, but due to the large number of students who decided to take Mandarin Chinese and Sports Management instead of art I will be teaching in 3 departments instead of one.  I am not complaining since I know I am lucky to have a job.  It will just be a challenge after last year, which was a DREAM year for me.  I got to teach full time art in the media areas that I love Digital Photography, Animation, Drawing 1 and 2, Painting 1 and 2 and AP Art.  It will be challenging to have to spread myself thinner, when I am already intensely busy with the art department.  Teaching art is what I'm passionate about.  I LOVE IT!  This year also for the first time I will be the department chair.  This includes more responsibility and more demands on my time.

So now that it's August I think instead of PANIC I will go to the beach and lay in the sun and celebrate my birthday and least for a day or 2 more.

Monday, July 26, 2010

MIX Art Opening: What A Thrill to Be Part of This Group Exhibit!

This past Friday was Gallery Night in Milwaukee, WI and for the first time I was not just a viewer of art, but rather an artist with work being exhibited during the quarterly mass celebration in my city.  There are always many recommendations in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about where to go and who to see.  The exhibit I was part of was not recommended or even listed on the schedule of official stops, but that is part of the fun of Gallery Night as there are a lot of other exhibits that happen, some impromptu and some well planned that don't quite make the printed official list.  The exhibit called MIX at the Tenth Street Theatre was a well planned exhibit featuring work by artist, Thea Kovac and the many adult student artists who have studied under her tutelage.

I love Thea!  She is a great teacher and artist.  Since I spend the bulk of my time during the school year in the classroom being a teacher I can truly appreciate Thea's gifts for education.  She is a free thinker, nudging her students in many directions with fun and sometimes a bit wacky exercises that really do help the artist come out and play!  One of the better paintings I've done with Thea was the result of one of these exercises.  She had us don old glasses and then rubbed KY jelly or petroleum jelly can't remember which all over the lenses.  This view of the world is a lot like how I really see if I don't have my contacts in.  This blurry observation freed up your brain's preconceived notions and allowed you to see the colors and shadows while not sweating the nitty gritty details.  One of my better watercolors was the result.  No the Louvre isn't calling for it, but at least it is good enough to grace the walls of my dining room.

To be part of the Mix exhibit opening was great.  There are so many wonderful people who stopped in to see the exhibit, enjoy the fabulous hors d'oeuvres that the artists provided and of course look at the art work.  I believe only one painting sold, but that wasn't really the point.  It was a true mid-summer celebration of the artistic talents and spirit of those who have studied with Thea.  Several friends and my cousin stopped by and even one of my students.  This support was quite gratifying.  It is always worthwhile to note that while there is a great deal of enjoyment and pleasure taken from painting, having the works actually seen by people and looked at and enjoyed is a much richer experience.  I am proud to be part of the show, which runs through September 2nd.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Creativity Crisis In Children: Newsweek Article and My Reactions

I read the article entitled Creativity Crisis in Newsweek magazine.  The article discusses how creativity is measured and tested in a standardized format and the fact that the results of these tests show that American children's creative abilities have been testing lower and declining since the 1990s.  TV and video games are blamed for this decline in creativity.  They never mention any other factors, like the decline of arts programs in schools that started occurring with regularity back in the 90s and into the present era.  Nor do they mention that the 2000s is when we as a nation embraced the No Child Left Behind test, test, test mantra.

While I find the article interesting I also find it really frustrating.  The above deduction that creativity scores dropped off due to video games and TV only doesn't seem reasonable since children's lives have changed in so many other ways over the past 20 year.  Family structures changed greatly as more women went back to work.  Sure we became a more electronic people, but there are other factors that could be considered, such as the none stop testing and cutting of programs that support creative thinking and development.  Children learn through play and investigation.  The arts allow this kind of playful experimentation and problem solving and have always incorporated these sorts of skills.  The cutting of these classes in school settings to me is part of why the scores have declined.  Physical Education programs have also been cut.  Yet the article discusses how physical activity helps to stimulate creativity too.  Could it be that the very programs that keep getting cut might be some of the programming that had been helping children improve their creative skills?

The following quote causes me consternation:

Overwhelmed by curriculum standards, American teachers warn there’s no room in the day for a creativity class. Kids are fortunate if they get an art class once or twice a week. But to scientists, this is a non sequitur, borne out of what University of Georgia’s Mark Runco calls “art bias.” The age-old belief that the arts have a special claim to creativity is unfounded. When scholars gave creativity tasks to both engineering majors and music majors, their scores laid down on an identical spectrum, with the same high averages and standard deviations. Inside their brains, the same thing was happening—ideas were being generated and evaluated on the fly.

Of course the arts have a special claim on creativity.  It is what the arts teach and cause to happen.  The arts are the ultimate problem solving activity.  Yes engineers and others engage in creative thought processes, but it is the arts that foster this development.  The exact kind of brain activity the article praises is the what people engaged in the process of art making experience as well.  The point of the article of course wasn't to bash the arts, it was rather to illustrate how creativity can be tested and how all curricular areas can begin to learn to incorporate activities that will stimulate its development.   There was a quality discussion of the successes that project-based learning classrooms have experienced.  This seems to be a current trend in education.  I know my district is piloting a program at the middle school level.  Again, I can't help but think that art is already project based learning.  We investigate not only the media of the project, but all of the connecting strands of history, research and cross curricular connections while completing a work of art. 

There was definitely a push in this article for a non-specialist approach to education, that is a wholistic, cross curricular approach, where math might be taught as creatively as art.  Having taught as a regular ed classroom teacher before finding employment as an art educator,  I applaud this point of view and I certainly tried to utilize these techniques while teaching first and fifth grades and as an English teacher. I can't help but feel, however, again that this is yet another assault on the arts and arts education programming in schools.  We are being cut and cancelled at an alarming rate due to budget cuts and testing-crazy curricular demands.  In this test happy, assessment-based atmosphere I was enthused by the articles description of how creativity could be measured and tested.  I don't want my art classes to be tested, but maybe if we were on "the test" we'd be more valued. 

In conclusion it is vital that education be creative and teach students how to take risks, and critically solve problems.  But as we know students learn in different ways and the solution to the creativity crisis is not to remove arts education programs from our schools by divvying up what they used to teach to non-arts-certified educators, but rather to embrace the techniques and skills taught there.  We must continue to fund the arts and allow those specially trained individuals to continue to lead us to the paths of creative problem solving.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Camaraderie of Fellow Artist Educators

Today I spent a blissful, sort of muggy, but blissful none the less afternoon in the company of fellow artist educators from the Milwaukee Area Teachers of Art (MATA).  We came together for our midsummer "Luncheon on the Grass".  It was wonderful to relax and unwind, but also engage in stimulating conversation and art making.  Those present had the opportunity to create ATCs (Artist Trading Cards) and then exchange them at the end of the party.  It was a great way to while away the hot summer afternoon.

The breezes blew through the trees while we chatted, ate and created.  At one table there was a conversation about whether or not the images were Jungian or not.  One person didn't buy into Jung and the shared consciousness, while another did and had participated in a group that discusses dreams and Jung.  Another conversation was about the ramifications of cuts to the visual arts programs at local schools.  Who will still have a job?  Who may be forced out?  How many positions will just cease to exist as art educators retire?  These were some of the heavier conversations.  We also had lighter discussions such as one member sharing how she met her husband through the MATA group.  A much younger member then became interested.  Perhaps she is looking for a spouse or at least a boyfriend!  The food was lovely, as was the wine and water and desserts.  One person made a beautiful trifle that towered high in a cloud of mocha cream. 

After much eating, drinking and talking we finally engaged in the ATC making.  I always find it fascinating to create art and crafts in large groups.  Sometimes my inner anxiety gets the best of me and I find it difficult to work as I worry if my art is as good as the other people.  Other times I watch the group members because I learn a lot from watching their techniques.  How do they use paint or ink or fabric?  Why is she scratching and sanding that image?  How did he get that flower to stick?  Then finally I settle into my work and become engrossed and barely speak to the rest of the group.  I finish creating and instead of wondering if it is any good I get instant feedback from every body else as they wander by.  Art isn't supposed to be this competition, but somehow I always end up thinking this way.  For the ATC trade we drew numbers and each person went up to choose the card they wanted.  Instead of worrying that I wouldn't be chosen, which is normally my inner voice, I actually worried that other people would choose the ATC that I wanted!  Silly!!  It was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed seeing these miniature works of art and learning how others create.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Robert Bergman Exhibit at Minneapolis Institute of Art

I visited Minneapolis recently and saw the Minneapolis Institute of  Art for the first time.  I must say I didn't have time to visit every single collection so I hopped around and went to the things I knew I'd enjoy and appreciate most.  One of the most astonishing finds was the Robert Bergman Exhibit of large color photo portraits.  The exhibit blew me away and I think I spent easily an hour just looking and gazing and trying to see into the souls of these beautiful, ordinary, haggard grizzled people that were portrayed on the walls.  In many ways the photo portraits were like paintings.  The colors were soft and muted, the skin tones blended and lit from within.  Textures of clothing and buildings framed the people, many of whom were perhaps not the usual choice of portrait artists.  I felt transported trying to imagine the lives these people led and the ways that life had perhaps ground them down and spit them out and yet here there were portrayed with dignity, courage and beauty. I can't really choose a favorite, but instead encourage you to look at the exhibit yourself or follow some of the links here to learn more about Robert Bergman.  He was new to me although he's been shooting photos for a long time.  Here is a quote from an article about him and his thoughts on his process and portrait making:
You don’t want the photograph to be an escape and I don’t want to sentimentalize. I don’t want to objectify or deny emotion and I don’t want the photograph to document anything except if subliminally we may find out that they document a climate of our times but it wasn’t an intent. The last thing I want them to document is the artist’s intention.
For more check out the article or visit the exhibit! Here is an NPR article and story to listen to as well.