Musings about the importance and impact of art and art education in the 21st century.

Finding Your Flow

♠ Posted by ArtMuse
Every once in awhile, when I feel overwhelmed by chores, stress, and the general anxiety sometimes brought about by everyday living, I turn to a good piece of literature to provide me with some solace. Being that I'm off the whole week of Christmas to New Year's I've taken it upon myself to read a book a day (or at least try). One of the books I just finished was entitled Finding Flow, after skimming the library shelves the name on the binding practically jumping off the shelf at me. From all outward appearances it seemed like the perfect inspirational/philosophical book to read for a quick holiday stress pick-me-up. Even though at 150 pages, it's a quick read, it wasn't disappointing.

Providing concise short theories on everything from sociology to spirituality, and Karl Marx to Sigmund Freud this short volume discussed the idea of using positive psychic (Not the ESP kind) focus and concentration as a way to achieve your goals and stop an 'entropy' of the mind brought about by boredom and the over pursuance of passive leisure activities. Even more interesting that the basic premises of the book, was its consistent use of 'the creative individual' as an exemplary model of a positive, proactive, useful, and most importantly, happy life. Now, telling an artist that the pursuit of a creative life is probably one of the best ways to find happiness is preaching to the choir, but for many self proclaimed 'uncreative' people, this may be a shock, and even an insurmountable challenge. For those of you who constitute the latter half of my milieu, perhaps these excerpts will help you to understand the 'artists' way of life, or at least their approach to it:

"When asked what has been the most difficult obstacle to overcome in his career, the novelist Richard Stern answered: I think it's that rubbishy part of myself, that part which is described by such words as vanity, pride, the sense of not being treated as I should be, comparison with others, and so on. I've tried rather hard to discipline that. And I've been lucky that there has been enough that's positive to enable me to counter a kind of biliousness and resentment...which I've seen paralyze colleagues of mine, peers who are more gifted than I. I've felt it in myself. And I've had to learn to counter that. I would say that the chief obstacle is-oneself. For each of us, the chief obstacle to a good life is oneself. Yet if we learn to live wit it, and like Ulysses find a way to resist the siren song of it's needs, the self can become a friend, a helper, a rock upon which to build a fulfilling life. Stern goes on to describe how as a writer, he can tame the unbridled ego and make it do creative work: Of course there are things in myself...which I know are bad, mean, twisted, weak, this, that, or the other thing. I can draw strength from that...I can transform them. They're sources of strength. And as I said earlier, the writer takes those, and they're his material. "

Another good excerpt from the book:

This attitude toward one's choices is well expressed in the concept of 'amor fati-or love of fate-a central concept in Nietzsche's philosophy. For instance, in discussing what it takes to live fully, he writes: My formula for greatness in a human being is amor fait; That one wants nothing to be different, not forward, not bakward, not in all eternity...Not merely bear what is necessary...but love it. And I want to learn more and ore to see as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who make things beautiful."

My best advice? read, read, read (anything and everything you want) and then pursue it, and in the words of a fellow blogger, "engage and persist"...and hopefully we will all find our flow!


♠ Posted by ArtMuse in

Here was my dilemma: How do I teach a meaningful printmaking lesson with practically no printmaking supplies? That's right, no brayers, no heavyweight paper, no printing inks, blocks, cutting tools, and as I'm sure you can see where this is going, of course, no press.

I had read a lesson on collography using mat board and pieces of cardboard/ oak tag glued on top of it. Aha! I thought, there's my starting point. I cut 5 x 7" pieces of mat board, then had the students use tacky glue with heavy weight watercolor paper cut outs to form the abstract shapes. I would have liked them to create images, but I figured this was a good starting point for them, especially since many of them never did printmaking before. Making do with the materials I did have we used very (VERY) cheap sponge and plastic brayers, the ones used in pre-k activities, which btw were terrible. Light weight white paper for printing on, tempera paints as printing inks (another ugh) and wooden blocks as pressing tools.

All things considered the lesson was pretty successfull! The kids loved the idea of rolling out a 'rainbow roll', creating their own ''plate, and using the printing method to create a new and different image every time they pressed it. However, I wouldn't reccomend tempera paints (ever!) and cheap sponge brayers (ever! ever!), but it's better than not doing the lesson at all. And on the up side? My real printing supplies should be arriving very shortly...and now that my students have some experience with printing, their results should be even better with the right supplies!

Peacocks Aplenty

♠ Posted by ArtMuse in

After having been inspired by these wonderful clay elephants (complete with oil pastel rendered rugs to stand on)
that I came across at the incredible art department website.

And then, on the other end of the spectrum, after seeing a mediocre bulletin board entitled 'Peacocks: the National Bird of India' rendering in oil pastels as well, at a school I sub in. I decided it was karma, and that it was time for me to create my own lesson on the whimsical and beautiful peacock.

As part of a unit based on the art of India that I'm working on, I decided to discuss with my students the symbolism used by countries of animals, or for that matter any other items, such as flowers, trees, and even the idea of flags. I asked them about symbols, why and how we use them and then we studied the symbolism of peacocks and how they pertain to India. We also learned a little about the animal itself, it's habitat, food, characteristics, etc. But the best part, as always, was the creation of them. After seeing the good...and the bad results from two different approaches to the idea I decided to go in a different direction. Instead of merely rendering them, which, even to me, would be a little overwhelming (they have sooo much damn detail!) I decided to use collage.

Initially I was going to intergrate the idea of complimentary colors, having the students create yellow/orange backgrounds to contrast with the blue of the bird, but when the kids got started they really wanted to chose their own background colors. Additionally, I was going to have them collage in the background using constrctuion paper and snippits of the same color magazine peices, but after doing one myself I found the background to be too complex and it detracted from the actual subject. So instead we used tissue paper. I let them chose a color family and work from there. Some chose pinks, purples, and teals. For the bird I let them chose any color in the blue/green family and told them that the tail feathers could be diamond shapes, circular, and tear drop, as long as the cut out shapes stayed consistent.

The results were really good. Here are 3 examples. One of them I'm even using for the cover of the art exhibit invitation in January. I'll post more finished peices when, well, more kids finish them. I was really excited at the results. It's nice when a lesson goes well, especially after putting in the time and effort to make it successfull!

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

♠ Posted by ArtMuse in

For the start of the Christmas season I was asked by my boss if I'd like to make Christmas tree ornaments for the Planting Fields Arboretum. Apparently this year we have a tree exclusively reserved for the Boys and Girls Club which will be on display in the main dining hall of the arboretum. So, rising to the occasion, ahem, like I always do...I came up with about 8 different ornament ideas consisting of felt, red and white paint, pipe cleaner, ribbon, glitter (of course), popsicle sticks, plastic lids, and pom poms. The majoriy of the decorations were done in red and white, because that's what the theme of the decorations are for the arboretum this year. There not the most innovative decorations you'll ever see, but since I was asked on Friday to have a whole trees worth of ornaments by the following Wedensday I thought I did a pretty good job. Actually to give credit where credit is deserved, the kids did a pretty good job!

Some of the ornaments include red felt Poinsettias, snowmen, snowflakes, wreaths, pipe cleaner flowers, candy canes, candy cane wreaths, and the occasional Santa Clause. Because of course, it wouldn't be Christmas without the big S.C.