Saturday, October 19, 2019

Terezin Artists Lesson

Art encompasses the entire human experience. It can be about and affected by anything. We pretend that economics, philosophy, technology, race, weather, politics, environment, religion, personal relationships are all separate things, but in fact, they are intimately related and intertwined. This month I have tried to show my students that Art created the 1930's, 40's, and 50's were influenced by world events and world events were influenced by art. In the last couple of months we have talked about The Great Migration & Harlem Renaissance (1920's and 30's),  The Great Depression and WPA as well as the Bauhaus School of Art during the 30's, World War II's influence on the Art of Europe and how it legitimized the Abstract Expressionism and New York School of the 1950's

A painting by Hitler proved too safe for Germany,  a Modern Art center for the world in the early 1900's
How would the world be different today if Hitler had gotten into art school as an 18 year old? How did Germany go from being a capitol of Modern Art to a propaganda machine? Why would the Nazi's plan their invasions based on the location of the world's masterpieces?  Why did president Eisenhower order soldiers to use precision and avoid monuments while bombing Europe?

I asked questions like these before showing my students the enlightening documentary "The Rape of Europa." This film shows how painstaking it was to evacuate the art from 8 miles of corridors of the Louvre museum in order to protect it from the Nazis. It shows how the museum in Leningrad, (which had four times the number of pieces than the Louvre), had half of its work stolen, while the other half was being stored and guarded by thousands of people under the museum. There was no heat. There was little food. Some burned candles while others ate them. Dozens died, and their corpses remained frozen throughout the winter. But protecting art was a priority and gave a reason to live.

Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, Art teacher
My trip a year ago to The Czech Republic included a sacred day in the Terezin Concentration Camp and Jewish Ghetto. There, during World War II, 18,000 people died from sickness and malnourishment, while many others were held until they were shipped off to death camps like Auschwitz. Art was an escape for many of the Jewish prisoners living in Terezin. I was touched by the music, costumes, drawings and paintings created by the people who took instruments and art supplies in the small amount of luggage they were allowed to bring to Terezin. The urge to create increases in times of destruction. One twelve year old girl, painted a picture of a snowman and had it secretly delivered to her father, since families were separated. He responded that she should, "draw what she sees."  At the end of the week, I had my students draw, not from their imagination, but from their experiences.
Art teacher, Friedl Dicker-Brandeis, also helped children document their surroundings and process their emotions through art-making. Many of the images of the children, and adult artists are on display today.
In The Living Quarters of Terezin's Jewish ghetto, illustrate the horrible and cramped living conditions during World War II.

My students drew things like their bedroom, classroom, or lunch tray. Nothing was as well executed or horrific as the art made in Terezin, but their every day life is still worth documenting and I hope they recognize that other people documenting their personal lives, through good and bad times, also have value and are all are part of the human experience.

POSB and APH awards

'Tis the season to attend conferences!  Yesterday,
I finished my third conference in two weeks. Because the job of a Teacher for the Visually Impaired (TVI) can be a lonely job, it is important to come together and share ideas with your colleagues from around the country or state, and to recognize achievements of those who often go unnoticed.

I had the humbling experience last week of receiving such a recognition when I became the recipient of the 2019 Outstanding Teacher of Students who are Blind and Visually Impaired. I flew to Louisville for a banquet during the  Principals of Schools for the Blind (POSB) and Council of Schools of the Blind (COSB) conference, and spoke on the importance of education in helping our students live as independently as possible.

The next evening a couple of my colleagues/ friends brought some students out to meet me and receive their awards from the American Printing House for the Blind. We took them to see thousands of jack-o-lanterns that night.

You tell him Helen!

The upper gallery at the KY Museum of Art and Craft
The next day we all toured the American Printing House for the Blind where my students tried out the latest in assisted technology, saw the room where their Braille books are made, the recording studio where their audio books are recorded, and the museum that contained treasures such as Louis Braille's book, Stevie Wonder's school piano, and Helen Keller's desk and letters, such as this one she wrote to Hitler, in which she essentially told him that you can't kill ideas by burning our books. Dummy. (She was more articulate than me).  Then we went to the Kentucky Museum of Art and Craft for a descriptive tour of the their show of contemporary artists, before playing at the science museum next door.

Students had the chance, on this trip to practice their Orientation & Mobility skills, by walking through the city,  riding on a plane, airport trains, van, school bus, charter bus, escalators and elevators!
elevator and escalator practice all day long!

Time to teach students which of their four fork to use.
That night, was the big event of the APH Insights Art Exhibition and awards banquet.  We had seven students get work into the show, all of whom sold their work and five of whom came. (There were also 3 friends, 3 sets of grandparents, and a couple parents to support our artists). This moments of students feeling like what we do in the classroom matters in the real world, are real perks in my career.

This week was the Georgia Vision Educators State-wide Training. I gave a presentation on how to use art to teach core subject matter (science, math, language arts, and social studies). I brought examples of tactile artwork my students have made, and hope that the attendees were able to generate ideas on how to apply these tools to their students.  Learning is a fun, life-long journey and we each have something to gain from the ideas of our colleagues.

Image may contain: Kristen Applebee, smiling, standing and indoor
Art is for everyone, including students with visual impairments!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Harlem Renaissance Lesson

The Great Migration of African Americans to the northern cities such as Chicago, St. Louis, and New York happened from about 1918 to the early 1930s. These were the days of Jim Crow laws. These were also the roaring 20's when Harlem became a hot spot for some of the best art, literature and music in the world. Can you imagine a community of talents such as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Langston Hughes, Aaron Douglas, Lois Mailou Day, and Romare Bearden? When I look back on the creative movements in history, I am impressed at the power of friendships between creative people. It is not the hermit who becomes part of a major art movement, but groups of people who inspire each other, learn from each other and bounce ideas off one another.

 My students each picked a Harlem Renaissance artist to study and write about. Then they created an image using the style and medium of their artist.   All of my 5th period students happened to choose Romare Bearden as their artist. He was a philosopher, art historian, author, painter, collage artist and jazz musician: a true Renaissance man! The great problem he set out to solve was how to tell the story of his people from the rural south to the urban north, and still adhere to the formal issues of modern art. His work was wonky and relevant and had all the good stuff like symbolism, scale, and strong color relationships.  More than one time, while my students were gluing parts of magazine images onto a background, I found myself saying, "It's not weird enough, yet!"

I highly suggest putting on some big band jazz, cutting up old magazines, and making some funky, Bearden-inspired collages as a pick-up on a rainy day afternoon. It's good for the soul!

Bus Safety Poster Assignment

October is Bus Safety month. There are too many contests and exhibition opportunities to do them all, but since my students have to learn bus safety anyway, a bus safety contest seemed like a good time to talk about how graphic designers use images to communicate a message. I wish I had been able to spend a day discussing typography and composition, but we did have a good discussion about the importance of making your idea stand out from the rest. Sometimes,  more limitations require more creativity. 

And for students who are just trying to figure out what a bus looks like, given their lack of vision, there is room for learning that as well. Be safe everyone, and remember that the red lights mean STOP! Just because you can see a student, it doesn't mean they can see you.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

9 Ways to Be a Uniter in Divisive Times

Divisiveness destroys friendships, families, communities, and nations. There may be that coworker who constantly gossips, or relative who insists on bringing up the most controversial topics at Thanksgiving, but that doesn’t mean you can’t stop using divisive language yourself and do your part to build bridges.

The “Why?” of Division-Making

There are several things that motivate people to use divisive language, such as power, money, and pride.  Hitler’s tactic of creating “otherness” was to use of the ugliest of all tricks: dehumanize humans. He classified Jews, Blacks, Slavs, gays, and Modern artists as subhuman. Once you close the doors to humanity and brotherhood, you open the doors to discrimination and violence. Unfortunately this type of propaganda is still proving to be effective, as huge groups of people are demeaned and because of their race, religion, status, or ideologies.

Money can be another major motivator to divide. There are people who make a living inciting anger and closing minds. Producers and hosts of certain reality TV shows and talk shows are selling contention and we are buying it! Name calling and chair throwing can boost ratings. Political analysts that treat people with different opinions as stupid, out of touch, or down right evil “enemies” are stirring the pot. There are trolling factories in Russia, in which bots and full time employees write contentious posts on controversial topics. Senator Lankford on the House Intelligence Committee has said, “What Russia seems to want is divisiveness everywhere else, and they try to get a competitive advantage by destabilizing every country around them.” * 

Why do we buy into the discord? Does it make us any happier? Does it bring us peace? No, we, who aren’t gaining prestige and monetary gain, like the idea of being right. Too often, we’d rather be right than be good. We take pride in thinking we know better and see clearly, while those in the other group, are confused. We want to think they are the problem and we are the solution, whether it is true or not. 

How to Combat Divisiveness:

Culture humility in yourself
Ego can be our downfall. The idea that you can only be right if someone else is wrong is prideful. There’s a chance that you are wrong. You can’t believe everything you think. In fact, half of intense memories of 9/11 turned out to be false memories just one year after the event.  You can choose not to be offended when someone bashes one of your beliefs, or even when they bash you and your people. 

Make friends 
You don’t know what you don’t know. Try to find someone who is very different from you: a different race, a different religion, a different political party, maybe someone with a disability, and learn something from them. Befriend them. Invite them to lunch. Be polite and open minded. My son has befriended a homeless man. He takes him out to dinner and they talk about the man’s previous career in I.T. Empathy is one of the noblest and underrated virtues. You can’t obtain this virtue without exposing yourself to ideas and situations that are outside your normal experience.

Find sources that are as unbiased as possible
Too many of us are living in an echo chamber and unaware that our algorithms are keeping us from seeing the whole picture. Look for the least biased sources you can find and be completely honest with yourself. A source that shares your bias doesn’t mean it is impartial. Also, when trying to learn about an organization, go directly to that organization. Don’t believe articles about what NASA says; go to NASA’s website. Differentiate between fact and opinion, between informative and persuasive writings on current events. 

Look for common ground
My immediate family is very politically diverse. There were six of us growing up together and during the last presidential election each of my three closest siblings (by age), voted for a different candidate. If you were to see my siblings and I at the last family reunion, you would have seen us visiting from early morning until late at night, without a shadow of contention. Interesting people have varied interests and there are an infinite number of topics to discuss besides the hot button topics. There is so much all of us, as humans, have in common and not just on a superficial level. Actively seek to find ways to connect. 

Don’t feel pressure to form an opinion
Being comfortable with ambiguity is an important skill in these days of knee-jerk reactions, when people feel they are supposed to have a strong opinion on a subject the moment they finish reading a headline.  Wise is the man or woman who hears a statement and says, “I will need to learn a lot more about that before I have anything to say about it.” There would be less division if there were more tolerance for unknowns.

Keep your mouth closed
Granted, not everything needs a lot of research for you to have an opinion about it. It is OK for you to think tattoos are ugly, but that doesn’t mean it’s OK to go around telling people you think their tattoos are ugly. Divisiveness often comes from self-righteousness and feeling the need to go around forcing your opinion on others. Lao Tzu said, “Those who know do not speak. Those who speak do not know.”

There are rare exceptions to this rule, however, such as when someone is being bullied or slandered. In these moments, when you must  speak in order to maintain your integrity, use a tone of civility and let your comment reveal a truth. Recently, I told an acquaintance, “Just so you know, every time you make blanket insults of members of a political party, any major party, you are insulting someone I love.” She seemed to understand.

Stop reading the comments
There will always be those who can’t keep their mouths closed for even a moment, but you don’t have to expose yourself to their toxic spew. Don’t waste your time and ruin your day by reading the comments under an article or posted on a friend’s Facebook page by their friends. Haters are gonna hate and you don’t have to get sucked into convincing strangers or even friends that they’re wrong. Research says they’ll dig their heels in and become even more convinced that their position is right.

Put others first
As popular as it may seem to put yourself before your spouse, party before country, and country before world, I believe that the happiest life is a selfless life. Self-centeredness causes you to isolate yourself from people who could make your life better. Systemic nationalism, sexism, and racism separates groups that could be serving each other. By reaching out, even to help someone who seems like an opponent is not self defeating. The connections you make will likely turn out to be mutually beneficial.

Safeguard yourself against hypocrisy:
My mom told me that whenever she sees a person doing something that really annoys her, she asks herself, “Do I ever do that?” and the answer is “yes” 100% of the time. The same can be done with groups of people. Does my party ever engage in corruption? Yes, yes they do. My dad, who is extremely tolerant and a friend to all, has said to me, “A racist is the last one to know. Am I racist? You tell me.” That courage to self-reflect is the only way to grow as a human being and a human race.

The world is a big place. Big enough for lots of types of people and lots of kinds of ideas. The world is also a small space, and we need to learn to get along, not only to survive, but to thrive. A little kindness can go a long way to bridge differences and unite us as a people.

* “Russian Trolls are flooding Social Media with Messages, Meant to Increase Tensions in the U.S.” is the title of a February 21, 2018 NPR all things considered interview with 

Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Worry Dolls Craft

The legend behind Guatemalan worry dolls is one of a princess who was magically endowed with great wisdom to solve problems. Tradition says that if you carry a worry doll, or put one under your pillow, you can give your worries and troubles to the princess and things will work out. Too many children have stress that can sometimes feel daunting given their limited resources and abilities. I like the idea of my students being able to make their own tiny doll to tell their troubles to, not as a magical device or idol, but as a reminder that they don't have to carry their problems alone.

You can make a worry doll by bending a pipe cleaner in half, wrapping it around a finger and twisting a time or two for the neck. Hold the two ends out to the side and fold them back on themselves to make arms. Make another twist for the waist, and bend up the ends to make feet. The little wire body can then be wrapped in fabric scraps, embroidery floss or yarn with the ends glued to hold them down.  Children can enjoy the process of creating, and then use the dolls for play, or tie them to a backpack for decoration. Stop worrying! Things will work out.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

The Paul Klee Way

Student painting of moon sitting atop of Klee-style sky-line
wonky towers of color
Paul Klee was a Swiss-German artist, who created 10,000 paintings, drawings, and etchings during his life. He was a member of the Blue Rider group of artists then became a Bauhaus teacher and his notes on color are still relevant. Klee fled Germany for Switzerland when Nazi pressure in the 1930's caused the Bauhaus to close. Germany had been a world hot spot for Modern Art, until Hitler, who hated it, caused thousands of of innovative paintings and drawings to be burned. Other pieces (including those by Paul Klee) were labeled and exhibited as "degenerate art." 

shaded colors frame tinted colors
Klee began life as a musician. As a child, he was able to play the violin at symphony level. His love for color caused him to become a painter, but I can see musicality in his visual art. The tones and rhythm, give a pleasurable experience to the viewer.  My respect for Klee grew when one of my favorite art professors showed us a Klee watercolor and called it "perfect," making the impossible, possible in my mind. His transfer drawings inspired much of my graduate school artwork, and it turns out, I wasn't the only one in my family with an appreciation for the artist. My sister gave her first son "Klee" as a middle name.

Bold lines created by student with visual impairment
My students were given the task of choosing one of several styles that Klee used. He made some paintings just of boxes of color. Others, were geometric shapes to create buildings and cities. He used subtle color shifts and bold lines for later work. And he did some figurative work with large, stylized features.  Some students had enough time to try out a couple styles and all the students seemed to enjoy channeling his ideas. Paul Klee may have died in 1940, but his art lives on!

The windows and doors in this building remind me of a pallet of make up or paint. The fact that the roof looks more like a spire is part of the charm.