Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Francesca Woodman-Discovering A New-Old Powerful Female Voice in Photography

I subscribe to the weekend New York Times to keep up with the arts. I am often thrilled with the articles therein and this weekend was no exception as I read the article about Francesca Woodman, whom I'd never heard of before. Turns out she is now one of my favorite photographers.
I won't go into details about her tragic suicide. The article discusses her parents' role in fostering her career as an artist-photographer after her death. What intrigued me about her was the profound visual metaphors her work displays. She is constantly looking at herself or the idea of the self and often is hidden, distorted or vanishing in the picture frame. This intrigues me as so many of the teen age students I teach have these mixed feelings about who they are and what they look like and how they might interpret that.
I found this wikipedia article about Woodman and thought it was also very helpful and had links to many of her images. Here are just a few of the images I found amazing.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Community Service and the Art Department

Late August is the time of year that educators start to reflect on how they will make an impact this year. How will it be different for their students? What can I do to make this the best year. A colleague I follow on Twitter, Matt Cauthron (@imagemonki)asked the question, anyone got any good service projects? It made me start thinking about the role of the Art Department in community service. To me community service is a great way to make an impact and make each year the best that students can remember. The arts in particular can take the lead on doing this by actively involving students in connections and service.

As the Visual Art Department Chair and director of Art Club at my school I believe very strongly in my role to connect to the school community and the greater Milwaukee Community. My students live somewhat sheltered lives out in the suburbs and I really want them to experience all that the rich and diverse community of Milwaukee has to offer. I used to be the Community Outreach and Education Director for the Betty Brinn Children's Museum in Milwaukee. The three years I spent there really taught me the importance of connecting in mutually beneficial ways. Community service and outreach should be good not just for the recipients, but also for the people providing the this case me and my students! It should be the proverbial "win-win" situation.

In the past Art Club has connected to the community on many levels. We started out small by doing projects in school. Just as in child development, baby steps requiring focusing on yourself first and then branching out to think of others. So we painted the gallery walls and created an entry-way mural for the school. Both projects were well received and benefited the art students since their work was hanging in the gallery on a regular basis. From there the art club grew from a few members to a strong core of 15-20 students who were very devoted to the idea of hanging out, making art and providing service to the community.

We were now ready to take on the world, or at least our little suburban world. We were asked to work on a project for River Hills Nursing Home to help them create a new room for their Alzheimer's wing. This project provided students with the opportunity to meet residents, see their work hung in a public place and see how profoundly happy a simple painting could make people. We developed a garden-themed mural and also helped with ideas on how to transform the drab room into a garden room. The Nursing Home staff painted the room a soothing sage green and added lattice work, a faux fence and a garden bench along with potted plants. They hosted a reception for my students, their parents and the principal of the school. We met with staff and saw residents as well. It was a very positive experience for all.

We have done other service including a community art making fund raiser called "Tile-A-Mile". This event was started three years ago because there was no scholarship money for Visual Art students at our school. We host an event yearly to raise funds for a scholarship, but it is also an art-making opportunity. Community members buy a tile and paint it for $10.00. At the event they also have the opportunity to get their faces painted, see artists demonstrate their craft (wheel throwing, jazz ensembles and foil embossing have been a few), and also bid on raffle and silent auction items donated by the community. This event is a lot of fun for the students of art club who do all the planning and run the various events. It connected me to their parents and in turn to other community members including local businesses. This positive experience for the sake of art is again another win-win community service idea. The tiles that participants create are framed and displayed throughout the school, with the goal of someday having "a mile of tiles". The community is given an opportunity to be entertained, fed and maybe even win a raffle item, while the students benefit by gaining scholarship funds and the experience of leadership opportunities.

Last year I didn't do as much community service. The Educator community was under attack in the state of Wisconsin where I live. It was hard to focus on anything other than keeping my job and hoping all the scary things being threatened didn't come true. We did manage to do some local service projects including decorations and murals for homecoming and winter ball. We also provided art work for a local business this past summer. Students helped mat the work and get it ready for display. The exhibit was part of a business mixer for local businesses to meet and mingle. The art work was a big hit and the business ended up giving us a donation for our scholarship fund.

This is one of the hidden values of Community Outreach and service. You raise the visibility of your program in the community. Businesses become aware of you and the students you serve. Another type of service is more of a partnership really. I developed a program where my students provided art work to 3 local businesses to display in their new office spaces. The businesses in turn made substantial donations to our scholarship fund. The students whose work was chosen to be displayed received a stipend. One of the businesses came back the next year and offered several of my students jobs at their site in a production/digital photography capacity. This never would have happened if we hadn't made the initial connection.

So this year try a bit of community service. Think beyond your classroom and connect with a local business or group that will benefit your program, your students and the community. So many valuable skills can be learned through service and outreach. Best of luck with back to school 2011!

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Milwaukee Area Teachers of Art Spring Membership Exhibit 2011

There is nothing quite like the camaraderie of fellow teachers. Tonight was a fantastic celebration of art and the work that we all do as artist educators. As president of the Milwaukee Area Teachers of Art (MATA) I was so proud of the exhibit and the wonderful reception that we held this evening. The MATA board pitched in and made the evening run smoothly. The quality of the show was really high. Many commented that this was the best exhibit we've shown. This was the opening of the 2011 MATA Spring Membership Exhibit at the Marceil Plutorak Atrium Gallery at Carroll University in Waukesha,WI.

There was also a record number of members, family and friends who came to the reception to help celebrate. Over 60 people joined us for the dinner following the reception in the Humphrey Chapel at Carroll University. Eddee Daniel won best in show with his work called Facade. It was one of many strong works in the exhibit. I will post more and possibly a slide show of the winning pieces. Congrats to all exhibiting artists.

This year has been especially challenging for teachers with the current political climate of cuts and general disrespect for what we do. It was especially invigorating to celebrate the positive work that we do as artist educators. We have suffered through a lot of insults and attacks as a profession. This night was about the talented, creative educators who make up the Milwaukee Area Teachers of Art. Their students are so lucky to have them. Let's hope the schools continue to employ them!

Enjoy the slideshow of images from the reception and of some of the works submitted by artists.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

2011 Pewaukee School District Barnes and Noble Art Exhibit

These are photos from the 2011 Pewaukee School District-Wide Art exhibit held at the Barnes and Noble. It is a show I coordinate and love as it gives my students the opportunity to exhibit their work to a larger audience. It also give them a chance to be part of the bigger community beyond the high school. It is always an invigorating experience.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Photojournalism and the WI Protests: Is This Art?

There are 3 sets of photo collections on my account that illustrate where I have been spending most of my free time lately-MADISON, WI. That's right I've been protesting for my rights as an educator and joining the fray so to speak. It really has all been very peaceful and actually quite empowering and invigorating. So my question to you who read this blog...(anyone?) is this ART?

I used to have aspirations to become a photo journalist, but I decided I wasn't aggressive enough to pursue this career. I still have a great love for photography and a great respect for journalism. I think a photograph can communicate the story so much more vividly than the words attempting to portray it. The point of view of the journalist is less obvious and in some ways more objective. The photographer records what she sees. Through cropping and printing and color choices some of the feelings or viewpoints of the photographer may come through, but the image is primarily an objective representation.

During the protests I have found myself shoving my camera in total strangers' faces and capturing their expressions, moods and signs. To me the signs have been this moving global art exhibit of creative thoughts. Some are well crafted, but most have been very clever in their wording and graphic representation of what their makers believe. So are my photos of these signs and these people art?

I am considering doing more with these images, perhaps creating a quilt of printed imagery on fabric, perhaps printing them as cyanotypes, perhaps developing them into posters, not sure yet. It feels like there is so much raw potential here. Some of the images to me can stand alone as outstanding photographs. We'll see where these go, but let me know what you think. Are these art?

Here are 3 slideshows of my images. I think it is interesting to see the desperation in the images from the Thursday that the bill passed. The images from February seem more carnival like. The images from the tractor rally show the seriousness of people's attitudes, this is less about a party and more about our lives. Let me know what you think...

Big Tractor Rally and More...Welcome Back Fab 14

The Day the Bill Passed

February When All This Started

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Impending Deadline of An Art Show

I have an April 2nd deadline coming up for entering work into the MATA Spring Membership exhibit. So here I am on March 9th with not even a glimmer of an idea what I will create. Each night I come home from school around 5:00 and crash on the couch and watch back to back Bones episodes and just stare. I am the ultimate definition of a couch potato.

I could blame this melancholy and lethargy on winter or the budget crisis or my job, but the truth is that I am being just purely lazy. I know that some of it is exhaustion, but as I proved when pursuing a Masters degree in art a few years back there is so much more time in your schedule than you realize. Staying up late to make art is rewarding. Turning the TV off allows one to paint or draw or knit or dream or read. I know this, like I know a lower fat diet and fruits and veggies and exercise are good for me, yet I make poor choices. Claiming to be too, tired. The truth is that many nights as I stare at the TV I fall asleep and wake up an hour later with contact lens crusted to my eyes and the feeling I forgot to do something. Then I go to bed and get up and do it all over again.

So where does the spark, the initiative to make art after the 9-10 hour work day giving your heart and soul to your students come from? How do you avoid being a couch potato? I used to go exercise after school and it made me feel more energetic, but it also meant I got home a lot later and got started on my free time even later. How do you find the energy, the creativity to CREATE.

I know it is discipline, drive, will power... I seem to lack all of these right now. The budget crisis and attack on teachers hasn't helped I know that. The conversation has been so demoralizing and negative. I have really begun to wonder if what I do really matters. It has been hard to say the least.

I think I need to make a loose, expressionistic painting that is therapeutic, non-judgmental and perhaps just for me, not for the art competition. What would be the worse thing that happens? I feel better and make some art. Now where are my canvas and paints?