Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Abstract Express Yourself!

It has been said that Modern Art = "I could have made that" + "Yeah, but you didn't!" Sometimes innovations and new ideas are so incredibly simple that it may feel like it's invalid or cheating to those who didn't think of it.

Jackson Pollock grew up in the Southwestern U.S. but as a young adult, he moved to New York, where he studied art under famous muralist, Thomas Hart Benton.  Pollock found work as a Work Projects Administration (WPA) artist through Roosevelt's New Deal. He later broke barriers when he invented "drip painting," which consisted of throwing, dripping, and flicking paint across large canvases on his studio floor. Time Magazine launched him into celebrity when they wrote about him, and gave him the nickname, "Jack the Dripper."

His career peaked in the late 40's and early 50's-the start of the Cold War.  Soviet Era propaganda was full of solid looking figures and idealized landscapes. Meanwhile, The U.S. was producing Abstract Expressionists and the Congress for Cultural Freedom was parading the work of Pollock across Europe. His paintings were weapons of ideas used in the hands of the CIA to show the world the incredible freedom that American citizens had. In the U.S., artists were free to make art as crazy or ugly as they wanted and no one could stop them!

Every drip painting since Pollock has felt like an imitation, but that doesn't mean we can't try it out in the kitchen or classroom.  My students experimented with various colors of paper and paint, various viscosities, and a few different motions to come up with the combination of marks to make their Pollock-style expressionist painting.  And in a very tiny way, they were fighting Fascism.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

New (School) Year's Resolutions

I'm a teacher, so each time I start another school year, I think through what I want my life to look like during the next 12 months. This is when I write and draw my goals. I do this with a mind map to ensure that my life is balanced. Each year's mind map look a lot like the previous year's because I find my categories have been working for me and I want to maintain the traction I've gained.  There's nothing wrong with wanting to continue regular exercise and scripture study. It takes some effort to keep up good habits and I write some of these things down to remind myself that they are important to me. Some goals I want to make sure I get worked into the year, for example, I do a mile swim every summer to be sure that I can still do it. If it weren't for it being written down, it would be too easy to get out of doing it.

Other things, I still haven't gotten around to accomplishing, but I have to keep believing that this is the year that I am really going to make a will, lose ten pounds, and make that trip to Italy. I thought that this is the summer we'd be making a big road trip to the west, until the location for our family reunion was moved to the east coast.  Rather than trying to paint white over that big part of my mind map, I just use it as a reminder to be flexible. Because I check off the things that I do accomplish,  I can see that not getting around to everything isn't the end of the world. It's like they say: if you reach for the moon and miss, you're still among the stars.  Okay, I know the stars are much, much further than the moon, but you get the idea. Dream BIG, do your best, and don't beat yourself up.
It feels great to look back and see how far you've come.

Monday, July 22, 2019

The Myth of the Three Month Summer

My young summer camp students illustrate a song
As a kid, summer vacation lasted from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Since my parents were teachers, we could take a month to drive from Pennsylvania to grandparents in California every 4 years and still have a couple months to make thousands of mud pies and hone our tree climbing techniques. Now that I'm a teacher, with children of my own, however, I can barely find the summer hours for a single mud pie. Here's why.

My students graduate at the end of May and school usually starts about August 1st, which makes it sound like two solid months off, until you realize that the first week of June is post planning and the last week of July is pre-planning.  That gives us a month and a half, unless you teach the week-long summer program at the school, which I always do.

 High School Wesleyan fine arts campers on a gallery walk
And this summer I started working Wesleyan College's summer Fine Arts program which is also a week long.

Then there's the Masters of Education program and I love to help teach the Creativity in the Classroom class every summer.

My graduate students learn how to teach math through art
Toss in my friend's grandma-camp art lesson for two of her cuties and I find myself teaching most of the summer.

I hope I can keep coming back to teach these two each summer
I'm not complaining, there's not a single summer teaching gig that I want to give up. If anything I'd give up the 20 plus appointments to doctors, dentists, orthodontists and orthopedics, but then again, I'd rather concentrate all the family check-ups and minor procedures than have to take off work once the school year starts. And I don't want to give up the home-improvement and scrapbooking projects. I need to make sure my daughter gets to her camps, and my boys get enough hours in for their summer jobs, but everyone needs a break to keep from going crazy.

My family in Pennsylvania Dutch Country last week

That's why I strongly believe in getting out of town and away from endless to-do lists at some point during the summer. My week in Pennsylvania this summer did the trick with lots of chances to visit with my parents, siblings, nieces and nephews. I tried to balance rest (conversations, board games, naps, reading) with day trips to National parks, historic sites and museums.  All of the activities either help me recharge for the school year or they will feed into my curriculum at some point.

Teaching isn't like a job that I can clock out for the day or the summer because for those of us, who have heard the calling to become teachers, it is not only about what we do...it is who we are.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Kid Weaving Project 101

You know you're on the right track when the school's occupational therapist walks into your classroom and says, "I love this project!" The little fingers of my elementary students are not used to performing the small motor skills needed to weave, so it was a struggle to get them started. But after about 45 minutes of struggling, some were able to figure it out and work independently. It takes practice and practice takes time, but that's about all it took since we already had the materials handy.

 A paper or styrofoam plate with an odd number of half inch slits around the edge is how we got started. I made 13 slits. I had to do the prep work for most of my students by wrapping yarn across the plate and up the next slit to go across the front again. Because we needed an odd number of slits, I poked a hole in the center of the plate and pushed the yarn through the hole after the final slit, before tying the ends together.  Then we threaded yarn in a big plastic needle, although the fat yarn didn't need a needle, and started in the center and tying the two ends together on the back. "Under, over, under over" little voices said quietly as they tried to push the yarn under a cross thread and pull it out the other side.

Students with multiple complex needs obviously weren't ready for weaving, but they could manage to wrap the yarn around the plates and with some help, pull them into the slits. It's important to differentiate by ability levels so that children don't become overwhelmed, while maintaining high standards and expecting them to keep trying.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Cindy Sherman Project and Stereotypes in Photography

It's not my job, as a teacher, to tell students what to think. It is my job to show my students HOW to think, and then let, or require rather, them to think for themselves.  The thing about good art is that it opens the door to higher order thinking skills through engaging conversation.  In enters, Cindy Sherman.

Cindy Sherman, Untitled Film Still #21, 1973
Cindy Sherman is a photographer, who is known for her self portraits. In the 70's she'd dress up in costumes and pose as though she were a character in a movie. Each black and white piece had titles such as Film Still # 21 or Film Still #15.  There was no film, of course, but it made the viewer wonder what had happened before and what would happen after the moment portrayed.  She doesn't beat you over the head with a message, but some of her work is considered to be feminist because her pieces show women in stereotypical roles, as reactionary, rather than the source of action. Others see it as empowering, since she was able to reinvent herself many times.

When I talked to my students about common stereotypes today, I got some interesting responses, especially when asking about the stereotypes people have of them.  "People think teenagers are troublemakers. That we drink and do drugs and are violent."  "People think that rednecks are racists. That's no true. I'm a redneck and look at who my best friends are." "People think that Blind people can't do anything." I was surprised how often students complained about people confusing their disability with deafness. I know some teachers at the Academy for the Blind have people, when they find out where they work, say, "So you must know sign language." And one of my students had someone ask him if he could teach him American Sign Language.  "I don't know it. I have a visual impairment, but I'm not Deaf."

One student in a wheelchair said people who don't know him, won't approach him, but instead talk to the teacher or parent who is with him. "What would he like the drink?" restaurant servers will ask. "I don't know," the companion will say. "Why don't you ask him."  For his stunning, and somewhat disturbing portrait, he chose to have his eyes and mouth covered because that's how he feels some people see him.

Similarly, another student said, "People think that introverts don't talk.  I talk. I just don't like to be around a lot of people." He taped his mouth for his portrait, showing the viewer how silly people are for imposing a stereotype on him.

Other students took a completely different approach, one posing with a a spatula and frying pan, to prove that just because she is blind doesn't mean she can't cook. Another used a cap and diploma to show all those, who didn't think it was possible, that she can graduate from high school. In fact, she will this month!

I was surprised at how many of my students who are mildly intellectually disabled (MID), seemed immune to negative stereotypes.  "If someone who had never met you, saw you on the street and all they knew about you was that you were a black teenager, what might they assume about you?" I asked one student.

He answered, "That I'm smart and that I'm cute." And when I ran down a list of superficial characteristics, for them to respond with first thoughts, they were pleasantly nonjudgemental. Each student could, however find a time when they  misjudged someone and they vowed to be more careful in the future.

All of us unfairly judge others from time to time. Sadly, even many bright adults make the mistake of believing every thought that comes into their mind. If racial/,cultural, and ideological diversity or, at the very least, critical thinking skills were taught at an earlier age, we might all be more comfortable with people who are different than ourselves.

My goal in introducing my students to the art of Cindy Sherman, and having them do this project, is to help them be more careful in their thinking and to be able to more effectively self advocate.

Tuesday, May 7, 2019

Japanese Relief Prints and Haiku Lesson

Printmaking and Japan are both very dear to my heart, which is why I was surprised when I realized that I hadn't taught this lesson on Hiroshige wood cuts for five years. I read my favorite Japanese counting book, "One Leaf Rides the Wind" as a way to introduce my students to haikus and Japanese culture. I lead a slide discussion and offered students artifacts from Japan to handle before letting them dress up in a kimono and posing in front of a backdrop of a rock garden, Mount Fuji, and cherry blossoms. Then we looked at the 180 year old ukiyo-e (floating world pictures) .  Edo (now Tokyo) was becoming a growing city as merchants were moving up in class and had money to spend on night life. Hiroshige documented women in kimonos, koi fish wind socks, and fireworks in his well composed wood cuts.

I used hot glue to make the reproductions tactile.  One student thought a geisha was wearing roller skates instead of okobo shoes.

I passed around large block of carved wood, brayer, and ink before doing a demonstration of a relief print.  We drew into foam for our prints, but the idea is the same: ink sticks to the top part and the printed image is a mirror of the original. After students wrote (and Brailled) haikus, created and printed several of their own images, these were mounted and shared.  One student, who is about to graduate, is missing a friend who would have been in this graduating class had she survived cancer as a middle school student. She reflected on that friend for her project.  This poem and print will be framed and placed on an empty chair at graduation in a couple weeks to remember LaStacia. Her mother will then take it home and hopefully understand that we remember their family at this time. This is the power of fine arts: they make it possible to teach so many subjects (ie. social studies and language arts) while also allowing for personal expression and a means to touch the hearts of others. 

Thursday, May 2, 2019

Smile and Nod!

I usually enjoy public speaking but a couple weeks ago I had the terrifying experience of giving a speech in front of a small group of thirty-odd strangers, half of whom were either judging me (literally with judging sheets and a stopwatch) or competing with me for Georgia Teacher of the Year. The thing that frightened me more than anything was the three-minute time limit. It is nearly impossible for me to fit a biography, teaching philosophy, moving story, and a bunch of statistics into less than five minutes, without feeling rushed and anxious.  As soon as I started talking, however, I saw a small woman sitting behind a name tag that said, "Ann."  She looked at me, smiled broadly, and nodded constantly, as I spoke, as if to say, "Yes! Yes, children learn best with hands on projects! I agree; creativity belongs in school!" Nothing is more calming than a friendly reassuring presence in the audience. And it wasn't just for me; she smiled and nodded for every speaker, including the Georgia Power executive who welcomed everyone to the luncheon.

The moment I sat down, I decided to be like Ann for the speakers that followed me, so I made a conscious effort to use my body language to cheer each competitor and help them feel at ease. When the speeches were finished I tapped Ann on the shoulder to thank her, but before I could say a word, she turned to give me, a stranger, a big hug and tell me what a great job I'd done.

In a world where hyper-criticism is hyper-present, we need more Anns:  accepting, reassuring, radiating beams of positive energy in human forms. We can be that light for those in our lives, even those in our lives for a brief moment on a stressful afternoon.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

Visions of Inspiration exhibition at Macon Little Theatre!

Who inspires you? That's the question I asked each of my students to prepare for our Visions of Inspiration exhibit. They wrote a paragraph about someone who makes them want to be a better person then drew something that represented that hero.  One student chose Jim Henson and drew a bunch of puppets, another choose Little Cesar and drew pizza slices.

Matthew Forrest of Georgia College, used grant money for most of the frames and created silk screens from these drawings, which were printed onto paper silhouettes of the students.  Then the students used watercolors, crayon or colored pencil to enhance the prints. We mounted and framed the prints and viola! A show was born.

My rendition of Anne Sullivan and the magic word
The most moving pieces included a middle schooler whose "Papa" died a month earlier. He drew all the tools that the two of them used to work on cars together.  Another student talked about the time he flatlined as an ten year old.  He wrote about being taken to a blue room by Jesus and looking out the window back to earth, where he could see surgeons working on him, and his parents crying in the waiting room.

One student chose Helen Keller as her inspiration, and I chose Annie Sullivan, her teacher.  This worked out perfectly because we were asked to have an art show at Macon Little Theatre during their production of "Miracle Worker" which tells the story of Annie and Helen.

Student work with special symbols to represent their inspiration. Helen Keller is represented by roses. Hugs and kisses for mom, brushes and bats for a cousin who is missing an arm, coins for a grandma who taught the artist how to count change, and monsters for Jim Henson.
Matt had the student's stories printed  on a banner and my media specialist friend, Kim Smith embossed sticky plastic with Braille, which  my students helped me attach.

I made the title cards for each piece on print (glued to foam board) and Braille.
But attaching it to the carpeted wall was going to be a trick until someone gave me a tip to use velcro.  The prickly side of velcro worked perfectly!

"Annie Sullivan" and I at the dress rehearsal
 The director was kind enough to invite the school to see a dress rehearsal of the Miracle Worker! It was completely wonderful! All the students were engaged and the time flew! If you get a chance, go see it. It runs from May 3rd-12, 2019 at Macon Little Theatre.

 The two adult collaborators, Matthew Forrest and myself lead the way with student work to follow

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Earth Works Art Project

Student project: spectrum of colored stones

My husband and I visiting Spiral Jetty, 2015
There's something about Earthworks (aka Land Art) that make my heart sing!  After spending so much time teaching Pop Art, which is so much about consumerism and mass production, it was nice to take a week and ask the question: Is it a good idea? Does endless consumption make us happier?  It is not a coincidence that the year Robert Smithson created Spiral Jetty on Salt Lake (1970) is also the first year that Earth Day was celebrated. The Cuyahoga River caught on fire in 1969. No joke! This prompted a lot of activism that led to the Clean Air Act of 1970 and Clean Water Act of 1972. A couple weeks ago marked 40 years of the partial meltdown of Nuclear Plant Three Mile Island, which was close to my childhood home. So there's a lot to be said about people, including artists, being connected to the natural world.

I showed my class the "Rivers and Tides" a documentary on the work of Andy Goldsworthy. It's a beautiful film (that required a lot of audio description on my part for my students who are blind), but it is also packed with life lessons about noticing things, working intuitively, embracing impermanence, and not losing your cool when everything falls apart.  As a class, we strolled the campus looking for dandelions, purple leaves, and subtle rock colors before arranging them in places that might surprise someone passing by.

Student project: meandering purple leaf river

Saturday, April 13, 2019

Knuffle bunny Art Lesson

Student drawings in marker of robots collaged onto a a magazine picture of a safe.
Illustrator Mo Williems has a very simple style of illustration, and flat but expressive. In his Caldecott award winning book Knuffle Bunny, these characters are imposed onto black and white photographs, giving us a detailed feel for the New York setting.

My students loved the book and enjoyed the group exercise of developing characters based on their gender, age, family placement, time, place, what they wanted, and what was keeping them from getting what they wanted.  After a couple of group characters, each student created their own list of characteristics and a drawing of their character. These were then placed onto a background (magazine image) via collage. The students were fascinated by the illustration process and ticked to get to introduce their creation to their classmates.

Student drawing in colored pencil of a green figure with red eyes on a whimsical magazine illustration

Friday, April 5, 2019

Prom: Big Night in the Big Apple

I started thinking about this prom a week after last year's prom, and now that this year's prom is over, I can start thinking about next year's prom. Our high school seniors voted on a New York City Prom and so I tried to make a huge impact with what totaled $120 in new decorations (mostly paint, and one large piece of birch and a couple hinges). I wanted enough skylines to fill the space.

I started by projecting a skyline that included the empire state building onto four 8' panels, and outlined it in black for students to paint the large silhouettes of buildings. And I taped out windows for them to paint yellow. (I had also screen printed some windows, but wanted students to take part. It took a couple layers of yellow to cover the black). An arched gateway for Central Park framed a park bench with ferns for a photo spot.

I used black paper to cut skylines and glued them to glass vases and painted no.10 cans. I filled these with glass pebbles to hold mini street signs. The signs were printed and the posts were painted wooden dowel or cardboard tubes.  The day of prom I made corsages and the leftover flowers were placed in the glass vases. Building shaped cardboard was painted black and slits were used so that two shapes could create a 3D set of sky scrapers with yellow foam rectangles for windows. One sheet of sticky craft foam made about 12 table toppers.

Longer pieces of cardboard (from frame boxes) were used to make skylines that zig zagged along serving tables. 

Very large refrigerator boxes were painted black for skylines that sat on the floor for a divider between the dance floor and the refreshment tables. Yellow masking tape was used for the windows.  Blue tulle was hung with a dozen strings of blue lights to create a sky background to the divider. We cut star shoes from paper and spray painted them gold. Small gold squares sandwiched hot glue and string for star garlands. These were hung on the divider (mostly because at this point I was too tired to get a ladder and hang them from the ceiling lights.

I cut black bulletin board paper into long strip, and halved the width of yellow masking tape to make divided streets as table runners. You can tell which parts are done by my students who are completely blind because they're a little more wobbly, but that adds to the charm.

I also cut large skylines from black bulletin paper to run the length of the windows on either side of the room.  Yellow chalk windows were drawn on those skylines and ice-cycle lights hung above.

A large piece of plywood (leftover from a play), was used to make a taxi cab. An 8'X4' piece of birch was cut in half and hinged to make a statue of liberty and Chrysler building back drop.

I painted a large piece of cardboard to make two sides and a wheel for a hotdog cart. Then I attached the cardboard and my beach umbrella to a library cart using Duck tape. Our paper mâché art projects of New York foods (hot dog, soft pretzel, pizza) became photo props.
A colleague donated her parking meter and fire hydrant to the city scape. (She just had them lying around!) We used microphone stands as sign posts for larger street signs than the table toppers. 

My husband and two of my kids came to enjoy prom last night, and had a great time watching my students enjoy the magic of youth!

Now that all of the decorations are out of my classroom it feels a little empty, much the way the house feels bigger, cleaner, and less festive after all the Christmas decorations are put away for the year. Speaking of next year....I can hardly wait for the class of 2020 to pick their prom theme so I can get busy!

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Yarn Contour Drawings

After giving a slide lecture on the element of design:  LINE, I had my elementary students create contour drawings from yarn.  Some students just did clumps or strands of yarn, while others attempted to represent horses or figures with long  hair.  The piece above started out as a still life of fruit, but once this 4th grader stepped back and looked at the banana, he decided to make it into a smile, making a banana mouthed man with yarn frayed hair.  I told him I loved it so much that I would share it with all of you!