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The TSA and Other Things on My Mind Today

  • Posted on January 31, 2014 at 12:46 pm

I think this is going to be a long day.  I have a stressed out dog, a curious cat, and a backache.  It is the middle of winter and I am getting a new roof.  My animals, especially my poor dog, seem confused by the noise and feel somewhat invaded.  It is early.  I know that this day is only going to get much worse.  Speaking of feeling invaded, I just read the article, “Dear America, I Saw You Naked and Yes, we were laughing. Confessions of an ex-TSA agent.” by Jason Edward Harrington over at  I have to say nothing in it surprised me but it sure reinforces many of the things I had been thinking about giving up our freedoms and all for the sake of safety.  Some of it is just to keep us in line, so to speak.  Nothing more but to make it look like someone is doing something to keep us safe.  The next time you are traveling and have to be personally checked in some way, you might think more about why it is you.  He even suggested there is a special code for attractive women, no real surprise there.  It sounds more like a Frat house party than what we should consider serious government business.

Poor Ann Romney is still whining about the fact that she won’t be FLOTUS.  I am not sure why but I did watch the Mitt movie on Netflix this week during our hiatus from school because of the chilling weather.  The movie was a great, big, warm, and fuzzy fluff piece for Mitt.  Aw shucks people, he is just one of us!  We just don’t really understand what a decent, caring individual he really is.  While I am sitting here trying to comfort my poor dog, I cannot help but think back to another dog that spent a treacherous time on the roof of Mitt’s automobile.  Maybe Mitt is one of us, one of those people that don’t understand those of us that treat our animals as if they are human.  Enough said, but don’t be surprised if Mitt doesn’t run again.  The movie made me think it was a setup for 2016!

While I was home, I also viewed those annoying videos all teachers have to view yearly about everything from blood borne pathogens and sexual harassment, to chemicals in the work place and what OSHA means to me.  I am not sure why I have to view these every year because my memory isn’t that bad.  However, it is just one of those things that some government official thinks we need to freshen up on yearly.  I always find the sexual harassment video interesting.  When I see the young female teacher sitting at her desk with the lecherous older teacher trying to persuade her to get on his team, I can only wonder what female teacher wears a top like that.  It has spaghetti straps and I think she is ready for a party.  I know many young, female teachers and I haven’t witnessed any of them dressed quite like that at school.  If they did, the boys would surely be having much better attendance rates than some of them do.

Last weekend I had the pleasure of attending an online art conference put on by the Art of Education.  It was an interesting day.  There were many technical problems for people as the video streaming had some issues.  Even though there were problems, I still had a great day.  It was nice to feel like I was part of something bigger as I viewed and participated in conversations with other art teachers from all over the world.  Of course, art is universal and it is truly, a language that all people can understand.  AOE gave us a password so we can view the videos for the next six months or so.  This is great as I remember many times coming back from a conference trying to remember all of the different presentations I attended.  At AOE, I can review the videos and maybe get even more from them.  While they didn’t present enough material at the high school level, I was able to get plenty of ideas that I will be using in my own classroom in the days and years to come.  I really can’t wait until the next one.  Therefore, if you are an art teacher, you might want to look into the Art of Education website for future reference.

Speaking of art and websites, I want to give a shout out to my favorite online art teacher, “The Helpful Art Teacher.”  Rachel Wintemberg teaches in New Jersey and has only had her blog for a bit over three years, but it is jam packed with great lesson plans.  She shares everything and researches whatever she is posting online.  While the site visually may look a little simplistic, it is far from it.  I can spend days perusing Rachel’s blog.  It is just a treasure.  If you are an art teacher, you really need to check it out.  It is really geared for the middle and high school crowd but it is awesome.  I have nominated her blog for the Art of Educations Art Ed Blog of the Year Award.  You are welcome to nominate her as well if you are so inclined.

While I am hearing a lot of pounding, my baby dog, Brodie, has seemed to settle in under my feet, so to speak.  He pipes up once in awhile but he seems to be appreciating my presence near him and is glad that I am calm and not freaking out by the noise.  The geek in me finds this product very interesting and it reminds me of a piece of sculpture.  It could be revolutionary and it is based on an old concept.  How cool is that?

I talked with one of my ten brothers the other night about farm subsidies.  I won’t get into the sum total of our conversation but it had something to do with the concept of socialism and how some people that despise the concept of socialism are the biggest socialists, so to speak, as they get subsidized. So of course, I had to go find the website for myself and it is interesting.  If you would like to know who is getting farm subsidies in your area, just plug in the zip code.  This is for the period of years from 1995 through 2012.  I always find these things interesting because so many people worry about the $133.85 some poor person might be receiving from SNAP.  Maybe we should be looking beyond to the people that really get the lion’s share of government money through special programs, lobbying efforts, and no bid contracts.  Don’t even get me started on those charitable organizations like churches that get government money for “helping” other people.  I always think it would be better if the government just gave the money right to the people.  Think about how the bankers were all bailed out, if the government had just sent that money out to us, we would have gotten the economy going, by spending it.  Instead, the bankers kept it and then made it more difficult for businesses to get the loans they needed.  I am not an economist but something stinks in our government.  We have two parties that get their seed money for their elections from businesses that lobby for special treatment.  The rest of us out in the real world just keep doing what we are supposed to be doing and keep on hoping that something different will be done.  President Obama was going to bring us change but that’s not happening.  Washington is more gridlocked than ever and controlled by special interests that have nothing to do with most of the American people.  The one percent is getting richer and the rest of us continue to hang on….hoping to see something constructive done by our government.  I won’t hold my breath.  I don’t see any real change in anything but education and that’s just because there is money to be made there.

I have had fun writing my little thoughts.  I hope someone finds me somewhat entertaining and perhaps I can get someone thinking, a simple thing this teacher would like to do.  You don’t have to agree with me on anything, but just think.  I’ll leave you with a picture of poor Brodie.  As you can see, he is frightened but sitting under my computer chair knowing I will save him from all that is evil!100_2107

Teaching, Testing, and Creativity

  • Posted on December 31, 2013 at 5:51 pm
Blue Angel Wings by Katherine Svoboda

I encourage creativity in my students. I cannot imagine a life without making something new.

Where I am teaching I see a high emphasis on test scores.  Since I teach in an area that we are not able to “score”, I find that the administrators and teachers don’t really understand the value or creative aspects of art.  Consequently, the course is treated by some as a “filler” so that they can have their planning periods.  If we are to educate children for the future, we will have to begin by first educating the educators. Since there hasn’t been a clear-cut way of gauging creativity, it has been grossly over looked in the schools.  Even the physical arrangement of our classrooms does not support creativity.  I sense that “learning for tomorrow” is learning how to be a creative individual that can handle a variety of situations, whether they be emotional, physical, mental, or whatever.

Strangely enough, I wrote these words way back in the early eighties when I was teaching at my first teaching job and attending graduate classes.  I recently came across an old notebook that I use to write in.  When I came across these words, I couldn’t believe it.  Test scores?  My how things don’t really change after all.  We are living in a high stakes time of testing but the push for testing has been going on as long as I have been teaching.  The thing I find frustrating is how unimportant creativity seems in all of this.

However, my perspective on creativity has never really changed.  I have always felt that the most important thing for learning is creativity.  Students need to have time to explore when they are learning.  This exploration needs to involve the student in ways that force him/her to create something new, to come up with new ideas, to think outside of the box.  Most people are not aware of the many known cases of creative people that were not recognized in regular school education, but somehow through their own creativity became successful.  Of course, Thomas Edison comes to mind right away.  However, are you aware that people like Ben Franklin, Bill Gates, Albert Einstein, Walt Disney, Richard Branson, John D. Rockefeller, George Burns, Colonel Sanders, Charles Dickens, Elton John, Harry Houdini, and Ringo Starr all quit their formal schooling at young ages?  Some went back to school, like Einstien, but others flourished by finding something they really were interested in doing.  I think the way we school students today we do not allow children to discover what truly interests them.   If you can find something that you are interested in doing and you spend countless hours perfecting your abilities at getting better at it, you may become an expert in that field.  I often think about the first time I threw a pot on a wheel.  Of course, I could hardly center the clay, let alone create a worthy piece of pottery.  It actually took years before I felt like I was somewhat of an expert, and even that meant that I could not necessarily throw huge pieces of clay.

Why have we, as parents, allowed schools and government to take our children and push two subjects at them as though that is all that is important?  It is reading or it is math.  These two areas count for everything these days.  Of course, I think these subjects are important and obviously, if you cannot read, your opportunities will be limited.  However, the next Einstien may be sitting in a classroom where a teacher thinks he is “slow” or dim witted because he doesn’t score well on government-mandated tests.  Seriously, we are messed up as a society, when all we care about are test scores.  As human beings, we are more than our last test score.  The measure of a man or a woman is not what they scored on their ACT or SAT but on how they live their life.  I worry about our society as we elevate the students that score well on tests and ignore the students that may be daydreamers or late bloomers.  We cannot discredit the different ways people learn and we should not treat students as a one size fits all mentality.  We should embrace their differences and encourage creativity and original thinking.  People that are willing to make mistakes and try something new will be willing to think outside the box and come up with new ideas.  Those new ideas may be the next invention or innovation of an old idea.  No one knows what the future is going to hold.  I didn’t have a clue almost thirty-five years ago when I wrote that paragraph about testing that it would hold true today as well.   As a society, we say we appreciate creative people but we try to put square pegs in round holes every opportunity we get when we ignore the natural creativity of children.  Ken Robinson explains in this video how our formal education system does everything it can to undermine children’s creativity.

In the end, we must teach our children to discover their interests and really follow their dreams.  What is it that is going to take to make them better people?  What is going to make them reach their full potential?  Should it be just about making money or is there something more?  What is going to make them truly happy?  We all want to produce something.  We want to feel joy and nurture our interests.  I have to agree with Alan Watts when he asked a simple question:  What do I desire?  What if money were no object?
As a society, what are we teaching our children to value?  Is it all about making money or is it about something more creative than just that?  How do we stand out in a world where we are asked to all conform to that square peg?  The artist in each of our children wants to stay an artist.  Why are we happy when our children put away what we deem to be “childish” things such as art?  Art is our humanity.  It is what differentiates us really from all other life forms. We should embrace our creativity, nurture it, and develop it.



Earth Without Art is Just “Eh”

  • Posted on September 8, 2013 at 4:48 pm

Sometime this last year, one of my previous art students, who is now in college, posted on Facebook:  Earth Without Art is Just “Eh”.  It made me laugh and think.  Ultimately, it became the inspiration for this painting, which I created for my art classroom this summer.

The "Earth" Without Art is Just "Eh"

With all of the emphasis on testing at my school and across the country, the arts tend to be ignored by educators and administrators trying to get students to pass a test.  However, art is an integral part of our world.  Art is all around us.  We cannot escape it.  We are constantly choosing the beauty we allow into our lives from the clothing we wear, to the home we live in, and to the car, we drive.  Color and beauty surrounds us and inspires us.  Life without some form of art, in my opinion, would be dull for most of us.  Most people are inspired by the performing arts, especially music.  We cannot wait to listen to music.  It can both soothe our soul on a tough day and motivate us to action on another.  We can view a painting and be mesmerized by both the detailed brushstroke or loose, fast, moving strokes.  I can remember seeing a Van Gogh painting back in my twenties that I swore the wheat was moving in.  Of course, it appeared as though the wind was blowing and it was just paint, but it was fascinating to me.

When I was young, I grew up in a very large family.  We really didn’t have time for art.  We worked hard and we just were not exposed to the arts in a way that many are today.  The fact that I became an art teacher is somewhat puzzling.  I didn’t have an art class all through my K-12 years.  I had a pencil and paper and I liked to draw.  I didn’t have room in my schedule in high school for an art class until my senior year because I was all college prep.  I didn’t take art.  I took choir.  I really like to sing but the truth is I figured I would be a failure in an art class.  I had never had art, so how could I possibly take art as a senior?  I knew I could sing a bit so I figured that was a safer bet.  However, during my senior year I remember staying up late and drawing.  One time I got out the encyclopedia and drew a picture of JFK.  Of course, I just happened to leave it on the kitchen table so my parents would see it in the morning.  I don’t remember their response but I did keep on drawing.  I went on to college as an undeclared major.  I loved college.  I took many different classes from psychology to philosophy and of course all of the other required courses and I kept on drawing.  Other students encouraged me to take an art course after seeing a drawing I did of Botticelli’s “Birth of Venus”.  I don’t even remember how I discovered that painting but I wanted to draw that beautiful girl.  I thought my friends were nuts, but somehow I found myself signing up for a drawing class.  I was scared to death.  When I went to my first class, the other students were talking about how stupid it was that they had to take this “dip shit” drawing course before they could take anything better.  I thought, “What the hell am I doing here?”  I talked to the professor after class and he asked me if I would faithfully come to class and do the assignments.  I told him I would.  He told me that I would be fine, not to drop out, and to watch as some of those students do drop out.  He was right.  When I took that first class, I knew I had found my home, my center, the place where I felt complete, like I never had before.  Art gave me courage.   Art gave me purpose.  Art made me feel I was part of something bigger in this world.

Even though I missed some early art training, I have never looked back.  I know I made the right choice for me.  I love making art and I love teaching art to my students.  I feel earth without art is just “eh” for sure.  After changing my major to art, I discovered clay.  Throwing on the wheel became a passion so I spent many years supporting myself with that passion.  I truthfully only went into teaching because of my parents.  My mom wanted me to have my teaching certificate to fall back on.  Both of my parents were teachers.  When I first graduated, I taught art at Fowler, Michigan and I loved it but I still wanted to make pottery.  When my husband took a job in Oklahoma, I gave up my job and focused on my pottery.  In a few years, he left and I had to make a living for my son and myself.  I did it with my pottery.  It was tough because I had to make a lot of pottery, not just the things that most inspired me.    However, I did well enough to move back to Michigan and buy a home.  When my son was in Kindergarten, I went up to the school with my pottery wheel and some clay for his class.  I had so much fun working with those little kids that I started thinking about going back to teaching.  It appeared that in order to do this I needed to update my teaching credentials, which meant more schooling.  I had taken courses in Oklahoma but they were all pottery courses with Montee Hoke.  They wouldn’t count towards that update.  It was going to cost about $6000, so I thought I can’t do that!  Of course, with parents like mine, that was not going to happen.  They said they would loan me the money.  When I told them, it had been awhile and I might not do well, my mom laughed and told me I was a good student and I would do fine.  Of course, she was right.  I went to Central Michigan University.  My son started second grade at Glen Lake and then went to CMU with me.  We lived in married housing, which he loved!  He loved it because it was a small apartment and other kids were there.  He ended the year back up at Glen Lake.  I’m lucky he was a smart kid and easily adjusted to the situation.  I remember telling him we were going on an adventure!

That was well over twenty years ago.  After CMU, I taught art at Manistee part time for a year.  Then I was hired at Sturgis.  I have taught twenty years at Sturgis.  What I find amazing is how excited the start of a new year remains for me.  I spent much of this summer working on classroom management, creating art for my classroom, and creating new lesson plans for my students.  I totally revamped my classroom and discipline plan.  I made art to inspire my students.  I have a passion for teaching art.  I want to inspire everyone I can with how important art is in our lives.  Art gives children an opportunity to express themselves.  It can make a child feel like a super star.  It can even do that for adults.  Art can transform people and even nations.  Art is a language that we all can understand.  It can speak to us in quiet ways or loud.  It can teach us to care.  It can help us understand each other.  The earth without art really is just “eh”.


Garage Sale Find: Old Poem

  • Posted on July 30, 2012 at 1:18 am

Blue Angel Wings by Katherine Svoboda

Last weekend my son helped me set up for a garage sale.  Many of you know that I used to be a full time potter.  I would go to art shows and sell my pottery.  I have many little books or journals that I tend to jot things down in.  I have also written little poems on scrap paper as well.  Josh picked up an old Anne Geddes journal and tossed it in the trash.  I quickly captured it from its pit of death and exclaimed that there might be something profound in it.  My son just laughed because I tend to keep many things that seem worthless to him!  I just want to share something that I wrote in that journal and if you have a piece of my pottery please think about me.

You take a piece of me home with you

Do you feel my presence in each piece you touch?

I am not plastic or cold like steel

But molded with love and God’s holy seal

The earth is my family

The fire is my friend

Mixed with humility and God’s tempered hand

I feel close to my maker as I lovingly drink from the cup of benevolence

And a bowl of fine wine

Drink and be merry with my pots so strong

Feel each loving stroke of God’s holy hand

Keep each piece close to you year after year

Remember the maker that brought you such cheer

Yes, I know.  It is truly a bit sappy but it was a moment I remember long ago when I was watching someone in my booth picking up my pottery and caressing it, trying to make a decision.  Just know when you are in any potter’s booth, there is a bit of the individual in each piece you touch!

Art Education and High Stakes Testing

  • Posted on July 16, 2012 at 9:07 pm

Above are artworks created by some of my middle school art students this year.  Keep all of this in mind as you read on about what I’m thinking about today!

It has been about a month since school was let out for the summer.  I have been busy working on curriculum for a new course I will be offering this year.  It is an animation/film class for seventh and eighth grade students.  I am very excited about the plans I am working on for the course and I have received much needed support from my principal.  However, as I sit here thinking about the excitement I will be creating and developing in this course, I wonder about all of the schools that have chosen to dismiss the arts in their curriculums to give more time for developing test taking strategies.  In the infinite wisdom of our federal and state legislators, the bottom line is how students perform  on a standards based test.  This test is basically a multiple choice test about information that the students will probably never use in the most important parts of their adult lives.  We have become a nation of test takers.

If we aren’t testing our children through these standardized tests then we are testing them for ADD and many other worrisome things to try and “fix” them.  Our children are being judged daily on their fitness.  They are told they are stupid and over weight.  The remedy seems to be to make school even more miserable for them!  In the high stakes environment of test taking our children are the human guinea pigs, chess pawns really, in the ever changing education system that tells them that they are failures on a continual basis.  With each test that tells them they are not proficient how does a child cope with this news?  Even in our adult lives we have become test takers.  For many adults this involves being urine tested in order to get a job.  Teachers take tests to prove that they are intelligent enough to become teachers even though they actually graduated from universities and colleges that gave their stamp  of approval.  We seem to be obsessed with testing.  Unfortunately, our adult compulsion is driving our children crazy.  What child wants to be stuck in a classroom where they are routinely told they are not measuring up?  It is a frustrating time in education.  I have said on many occasions that I am glad my child is not in school at this time.  I just want the insanity to stop!

What I know to be true is that creativity is very important for the development of the whole individual.  Frankly, if you are not able to think outside the box, you will not be able to invent and be innovative.  Our growth as a nation has depended on the innovation and inventiveness of its people.  If we teach our children that the only thing that is important is passing a test,  we do them a disservice.  I came across a document this past year called, “Critical Evidence…How the Arts Benefit Student Achievement”.  The document basically explains that testing has been done and there is proof that the arts, such as visual arts, music, dance, etc., help improve the SAT test scores of students that are consistently involved in them.  I just want to say, “Duh!”  However,  many people don’t understand the value of the arts in the thinking and learning process.  While the document stressed that No Child Left Behind treated the arts as important as the core subjects, the reality is that in order to achieve the adequate yearly progress required of NCLB many schools left the arts and made more time for drilling students to try and get them to “learn” the material.

We have been fortunate here in Sturgis as the arts have been an integral part of our students’ learning and have been supported by the administration, board members, teachers, and the community at large.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t feeling the pressure though.  I have had to become more than the visual arts teacher in recent years.  My evaluations will be based on student’s reading scores just like many core teachers’ evaluations.  It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me but after all I’m just one of those creative thinkers that tends to think outside the box of legislative opinion.  I do everything I can to help my students become better students, better people, and over all better equipped for their future but sadly what the legislative body wants to measure is what a student does on one particular day in one particular year of a student’s life to determine not only the student’s fitness and progress but also the teacher’s fitness and progress.  From my point of view I think this is just basically stupid.  I was at the 8th grade awards’ presentation last month.  I noticed that many students that I had taught that are very bright did not get an award for being proficient on the MEAP.  There has to be something wrong with this test when I see students that are top in their class walking away without that word “proficient” attached to their name.  They have been deemed not proficient.  How sad that we have labeled students in such a manner.  I think most people that are not in the education system might not be aware of everything that is going on in schools all across America.  Parents have been told that it’s the teachers fault that their child is doing poorly in school.  Teachers have targets on their backs and I feel it even on my back although I know how hard I work and how dedicated I am to my profession and my students.  From my point of view, the test making and test preparation companies are making a lot of money off education today.

I’m not saying that there aren’t problems in education today.  I just think that the future innovators and creatives in our community are at risk when we expect our children to just regurgitate information on a test without regard for the art and music of life’s challenges.  The divide I see in my classroom has more to do with the economic problems than anything else.  Let’s face facts; students that come from economically deprived families have a bigger struggle than students from the upper middle class and wealthy parts of society.  Over the past twenty years this has become even more apparent.  The answer to me seems to be in fixing the economy as well as always working to improve our education system.  Times have changed and with that change we should be embracing the technology of the 21st Century.  Teachers that do this will probably remain relevant.  Those that don’t may be kicked to the dustbins of the past.  In my own teaching, I have embraced technology in my classroom and in my life.  I think that living in today’s society is much more involved than just taking a state mandated test of proficiency.  We will not know what this grand experiment will reveal until the students of today are the adult citizens of tomorrow.  I do believe if we don’t change this high stakes testing we will create a world full of neurotic adults that will certainly keep the psychoanalyst’s sofa warmed up with their compulsions and obsessions and feelings of inadequacy.

Will all of these thoughts interrupt what I do in my classroom?  I will continue to work hard on my plans for all of my classes including my new animation/film course and I will remain fully engaged and thrilled to be working with the middle school students that I feel so privileged to teach.  However, this past year was extremely stressful for me.  It had nothing to do with the students and everything to do with this constant testing.  If I can feel it when I absolutely love being a teacher, think how the students are feeling when they are faced with stressed out teachers that are forced to jump through hoops to get their students to pass a test.  It is a sad state that we surely must change.

The Toledo Museum of Art and Thoughts of My Sister

  • Posted on April 6, 2012 at 1:52 pm

Yesterday was an absolutely beautiful day, the 5th of April, my sister’s birthday, had she survived the deadly cancer that raged through her body.  I’m currently on spring break.  While many have found ways to escape the stresses of daily life, I have found myself reliving a spring break six years ago when I went to visit my cancer stricken sister.  We celebrated her birthday on Thursday and she died by the end of the week.  My father followed her in death shortly after.  Thankfully, I decided to do something that would delight my senses rather than dwell on what could have been.  However, I am mixed with emotions of loss, love, and a sense that our country truly has turned into the two Americas that John Edwards always talked about.  There are the privileged and everyone else.  There are those like Dick Cheney, who have wonderful health care, and those like my sister, that didn’t and don’t.

There is an “America” in Toledo, Ohio where everyone can participate because it is free.  I drove to Toledo to visit the Toledo Museum of Art.  I had only been there once before and it was back in my twenties.  I can’t understand why I haven’t sought this gem out in the past thirty years.  I just have to say that if you are from Toledo, or the surrounding area, you are a fool if you are not visiting this museum.  I didn’t have time to make it over to the glass museum, so I’ll be going back this summer and devote more quality time to both.  The museum has many galleries loaded with unusual pieces of art and there is absolutely no cost to attend.  Imagine a quality museum with wonderful art and it only cost me $5.00 for parking.  That, in itself, is amazing!  When I went to Chicago and parked underground it was nearly $30 so I was thrilled to think that anyone can attend this museum, any day, for free!  I’m just going to touch on a few artworks that really stood out for me.  Art inspires me and this seemed like the best of days to get inspired!

Morrison Triptych

I was drawn to the Morrison Triptych because of its beauty and clarity.

The artist is unknown.  Morrison was the person that owned it last.  In the painting one can see great effort at every little detail from the feet, to the rug, and even the background that gives a feeling that it could go on forever.  When I was looking at all of the Christian art in the museum, I had a sense of how inspiring it must have been for people to see this artwork at the time it was created.  I could see how spending time where the art was at, say in a church, could be the most beautiful part of your day.  I’m sure the art was used to control people in some form or another through story telling with strong moral meaning.  Whatever the case, it is easy to see how people would be drawn to places of worship just for the inspiration that would be provided.  Today, religion needs more than a beautiful picture to inspire people to want to participate in daily devotion!

Paul Signac, Entrance to the Grand Canal

Another piece that I was drawn to was an artwork by Paul Signac, Entrance to the Grand Canal, Venice, 1905.  I have never paid much attention to the artwork of Seurat or Signac as tiny little dots just doesn’t really appeal to me.  They almost seem too painstaking for me to find them interesting.  I can appreciate them but I have always liked art that is faster and more expressionistic with quick brush strokes.  However, my perception has been changed by this delightfully colorful piece by Signac.  It is made up of rectangular brushstrokes of wonderful bits of color.  From a distance it reminded me of some of Monet’s work but up close it is much more colorful and less subdued.  My pictures were taken on my cell phone so they lack quality.  My battery had died in my little camera and I didn’t check it before I left home so I snapped some shots off my phone.  Here is a link on Flickr to a better shot so you can see the wonderful color and brushstrokes that I am writing about.

Louise Nevelson, Sky Presence I

Another piece that I found inspirational for its composition is a piece made out of wood by Louise Nevelson, Sky Presence I.  I loved the fact that she took scrap wood and made something so magically beautiful from it.  Each box alone is a wonderful composition but seeing them altogether is like different chapters to a book.  They each tell a little story.  It really made me wonder where she found all of the different shapes.  The way she composed each piece is interesting as she put curvy lines next to straight lines and they work harmoniously together on the whole when you see them as this huge piece of art.  It’s quite dramatic due to the black color and the size of the piece.

Juan Schnabel, Portrait of a Freedom Fighter

I also really enjoyed “Portrait of a Freedom Fighter” by Juan Schnabel.  It is an artwork created from broken ceramic plates and oil paint.  I was drawn to the three dimensional aspect of the piece and the broken fragments that up close just looked like a mess, but when I stepped back came into focus.  It served to remind me that things are not always what they seem to be whether it is with art or in life.  Some things need a closer inspection to fully understand.

The artwork, “The Salutation of Beatrice” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, was just beautiful in a romantic way.  It seems the artist was named after the poet, Dante.  This was a tribute to Dante and his unrequited love for Beatrice.  A portion of Dante’s poem is inscribed in both English and Italian on the frame.  It goes like this:

My lady looks so gentle and so pure / When yielding salutation by the way / That the tongue trembles and has naught to say / And the eyes, which fain would see, may not endure.

You can see the piece up close here.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The Salutation of Beatrice

The piece is beautiful but it is the look of longing in her eyes that really drew me into it.  I loved the softness of her pale skin and the way the fabric drapes around her almost as though she was an “angel”.  She just needs the wings and a halo.

An artwork by Paul Gauguin made me forgive him for leaving his family.  He really didn’t belong in the business world.  He had a gift for color and I am so pleased to have come across this image of a road that reminded me of the road he took which was so different from the road he was originally on!  The piece is called, “Street in Tahiti”.  It is full of color and a sense of a different world where people are at peace.  I loved the brushstrokes of the palm tree.  At the museum I could get right up to almost every painting.  There were no barrier lines around most of them.  You could breathe on them.  That was amazing for seeing the brushstrokes so closely.

Paul Gauguin, Street in Tahiti

Another artwork, or should I say artworks, that stood out for me was “The Party” by Marisol.  Here is a link to a Sotheby auction that says a bit about it.

This piece made me smile.  There was an artist statement about feeling alone even at a party.  What I could see was the many looks of party goers.  Some are looks of boredom, some of thoughtful reflection, like how can I escape?  Some looks seemed to mock the haughty “elite”.  I found this piece to be sophisticated and humorous and I loved the fact that Marisol said they scared her when she was working on them.  I kept picturing waking up in the night to these crazy life size pieces!  This is one reason I love art.  I can be inspired, laugh, and take from it what I want.  Art allows me to make my own interpretations.  They may be what the artist was thinking but often art just makes me think!  If you have the opportunity to visit an art museum in the near future, it just might make you think as well!

I will close with pictures from other artworks that I enjoyed on this fine day in April when I was thinking about my beautiful sister and missing her deeply.

Testing, Matt Damon, and Imagination

  • Posted on August 4, 2011 at 2:57 pm

This was painted by Annalisa, one of my students....being allowed to express herself!

As the summer winds down and I am spending time preparing for the new school year, I find myself thinking about my own potential as a teacher.  I feel blessed to be able to teach art in this 21st Century where politicians seem to think the only thing of value is math and science.  It boggles my mind when I think about my own potential as a child.  I have always felt that I had a deprived childhood because I didn’t have any art classes in my K-12 education.  It is truly remarkable that I have spent much of my adult life as an art teacher.  I would never have pursued art in college, if it hadn’t been for the student friends that happened to see my drawings.  They kept asking me why I wasn’t taking any art classes.  I remember drawing pictures and putting them up on my bulletin board.  I had no training.  I just liked to draw with a simple pencil and paper.

I grew up in a large family with 14 kids.  I have always felt that when you grow up in large families with little money you learn to be creative.  Maybe you have to find new ways to play because you don’t have that fancy toy your friend has or maybe you have to fix something because you don’t have the money to buy a new one.  Regardless of the reasons, I feel my family circumstance contributed to my creativity.  In addition to that is the fact that I had good parents.  They both were teachers, but they also were devoted to their family.  The family came first.  My parents would go without many things to provide for the big brood they had.  I can remember my mom coming home from teaching at the end of a long day.  She would lie down on the couch with a cold compress on her head.  She did this almost daily, but then she would always get up and make the family meal.  Everything would be from scratch.  We never went out to eat!

From very early on, I knew I was going to college.  I’m not sure why I knew this as my two older sisters weren’t as fortunate.  Maybe because I’m the youngest, I had a better opportunity as a girl to go on to college.  My oldest brothers all went on to college.  The four oldest each went on for their doctorates.  The fact that both of my parents even had gone to college was quite remarkable.  They didn’t come from wealthy families and they were born in 1909 and 1911.  Education, obviously, has always been important in my family!  This is one the reasons I find the current turmoil in education about standardized testing so ridiculous.  As I grew up in a family of 14 children, we were as different as the day is long.  We weren’t clones of each other.  We all had remarkably different personalities and interests.  Some of us were probably better “test takers” than others, but taking a test could never really determine who we became as adults! Some of us might have even been considered “late bloomers”.   I don’t think any of us ever would want to remember our K-12 experience in school as being about testing!  However, today students are spending much valuable time preparing for “important” tests.  Much of the school day is designed and structured around that yearly test.  Each school has to make adequate yearly progress.  This test taking business is just going to get worse.  Recently, here in Michigan, the governor signed a new bill into law that will eventually require 49% of a teacher’s evaluation to be tied to student test scores.  As a parent there is no way I would want my child subjected to this kind of education.

My son is 27, so he isn’t part of this craziness.  I look at my students much like my child.  Since I had my son so many years ago, I have always felt that I should treat my students the way I would want my son to be treated by a teacher.  I always wanted my child to dream big and be creative.  I wanted him to see possibilities and use his imagination.  I worry for the students of today.  Are we doing everything we can to make them into compliant little test takers?  Is that really what a teacher is supposed to be doing?  As an art teacher, I know my job is a big one in this high stakes testing time.  I have to give my students wings so they can access their creativity and play with their imagination.  So much of time in school is spent with the constant pressure in the back of everyone’s mind to improve test scores.  Now, it will even be elevated as teachers discover that their jobs may be on the line, if they can’t get their students to pass the state test!  Now, most of you reading my blog probably have some reservations about all of this test taking and what it really means for the future.  However, some of you may think teachers are just not doing their jobs today, because you keep hearing about how we have fallen behind in the world!  Truthfully, politicians have chosen to go after teachers because many of us belong to the last strong union standing.   Do you really think it’s the fault of the teacher if a student can’t pass a state test?  There are a lot of reasons students don’t pass tests.  One thing we know for sure is poverty plays a part in test taking.  At our school and probably many others we make sure students have a snack before they take the “big” test!  There are many factors that can affect test scores.  These are everything from poor nutrition, to lack of sleep, to inadequate test taking strategies (Yes there is a strategy for this!), attention problems, distractions, to even daydreaming!  Some days are also better than other days.  Maybe you just had a bad day that day.  Who knows what’s going on in a student’s head on any given day?  I remember a young lady that came into my art room that seemed out of sorts to me.  I asked her what was wrong.  She first said nothing and then she told me that she had been in an accident that morning.  The point I’m trying to make here is that teaching shouldn’t be about just taking a test and yet it seems like that is all the politicians care about.

This was painted by another student of mine, Cleanna. Shouldn't we be opening the door to imagination and creativity in our schools?

If you think back to your favorite teacher, I bet you don’t think about the fact that he or she taught you how to take a great test!  You probably think about the day when you felt special, like your teacher really cared about you!  I hope I make students feel special when they come into my art room.  I really do care about them.  The other day I was at the Three Rivers’ Meijer store shopping and an older woman was so upset because of some “screaming brats” in the store.  She thought she had an ally in me.  She thought the parents were terrible that couldn’t control their children!  She also thought they didn’t care that other people were annoyed by them.  I told her I was a middle school teacher.  It was obvious she wouldn’t want that job!  She told me she likes dogs but not kids.  She could tolerate her own children but even her grand children had better behave or she’d give them the boot!   I let her know that I like all of my students even the ones that frustrate me.  So many people that criticize teachers would not ever want to be stuck with thirty middle school students themselves.  Most of the teachers I know really care about their students just like I do.  We realize that at the middle school level students can bounce around with their behavior.  They have good and bad days.  They need adults around them that really care about them and can help them transition into adulthood.  If teachers are left worrying about test taking it gives less time for teachers to really spend caring about their students’ individual needs.  We are not all clones of each other and the students we teach are as different as my brothers and sisters were from me when I was growing up.  At the middle school I always think it’s interesting because there is no one student that can show us what a middle school student is, as they come in all different shapes and sizes, and interests!  So, I’m left asking myself the question why we have a government that insists on a test where one size fits all.  Matt Damon gets it and I really hope you take the time to listen to his full speech from last weekend.  It’s not that long but at one point he says, “None of these qualities that make me who I am can be tested.”  Truthfully, none of the qualities that I bring to my art classroom as a teacher can be determined and evaluated by a student test score either.

I am so excited about this new school year, not because my students will be great test takers, but because I can’t wait to work with my students and push their imaginations and creativity.  Just like any other year, I have a thousand things racing through my mind.  I’m filled with ideas for lesson plans for the new school year.  I can’t wait to share my ideas with my students, so they can take the seed of an idea that I begin and create something totally new and different from any other person.  As the government has us all “race to the top”, I’ll have my students all chart a new path for their own creativity and learning.  They will learn from each other.  They won’t run over each other racing for some golden imaginary ring devoted to test taking.  My students, for the brief time they are with me, will hopefully have an opportunity to access their imagination, creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills.  These are skills that will serve them well in this 21st Century!

Sturgis Middle School Art Show

  • Posted on May 13, 2011 at 9:39 pm

I have been ill this week and also very busy at school.  It’s been a difficult week.  I have many pressing things to do at the end of the school year.  I put up the Sturgis Middle School annual art show on Monday with four sixth grade volunteers.  I am so thankful to the young students that helped me as it would have been a nightmare to do on my own, especially feeling the way I do this week.  The art show will be up through the school day of May 23rd.  If you are in the Sturgis, Michigan area, check it out because it showcases some awesome talent!  I will also be putting more artwork on display at the middle school for this coming Monday when we have our sixth grade open house.   I am going to showcase the talent of my students on my blog today, so enjoy it.  Over the year we have done many different types and styles of art.  Students have worked with pastels, oil pastels, scratch art, papier mache, clay, collage pattern, line, color, watercolor, acrylic paint and mixed media.  They have had many different opportunities to work with art materials.  It is a pleasure to work with middle school students.  If you click on individual pictures, you can see the work in detail.

On Thursday my 8th grade class took a field trip to the Kalamazoo Institute of Art.  We had such a fun time.  Earlier in the week my students tie dyed t-shirts for the trip.  Don’t they look great?  We were able to take the trip because I was awarded a bus grant for this trip from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.

At the KIA we were able to see the West Michigan Area Art Show and it was fun to see all of the local artistic talent.  We also saw the Young Students of Kalamazoo County exhibit.  This was a K-8th grade exhibit.  If you are in the Kalamazoo area, you should check out the KIA.  We were greeted with such happiness by the KIA.  It’s a wonderful place to take students and visit!

Google, GAP and Art in My Life

  • Posted on February 4, 2011 at 4:46 pm

Google has partnered with some great art museums to create an online website where anyone can take a trip or tour around the world’s great art museums.  It’s called the “GAP” for short. It’s a wonderful site and I encourage everyone to check it out.

When I came across this website today I was taken back to my beginnings as an art student at Michigan State University.  It really is amazing that I even ended up remotely connected to the art world.  I never had an art class in all of my K-12 education experience.  This is one reason I so fervently believe in art education.  I feel like in many ways my young life was deprived because I missed out on the creative playfulness and unique perspective the arts provide in a world ruled by math and science.  The most interesting and intelligent people I have ever met are “creative” people.

I remember thinking I was going to college from around seventh grade on.  It seemed to be a “given” that I was planning on attending college, even though I came from such a large family.  My older sisters did not have that “given” in their minds but they were ten and twelve years older than me and times were tough.  I, being the youngest, had more opportunities than they did.  I think I probably knew I was going to college because many of my older brothers had gone to school.  I didn’t know what I wanted to do.  However, for a few years I wanted to be a veterinarian like my brother Joe.  I really looked up to him and I wanted to be like him I think.  Well, until I saw him go down to Ed and Jessie’s place up north and do something unspeakable to a cow.  That sure put a kibosh on the idea of becoming a veterinarian.  I never even thought about anything in the art world because I never even knew what it was.  Nobody in my family was connected to the arts.  You might be wondering how in the world I ended up involved in art.

Botticelli, The Birth of Venus

I liked to draw.  I didn’t obviously have any training and I simply used a pencil and whatever paper was around.  When I was a senior in high school I can remember not sleeping all that well and staying up late and drawing.  I remember drawing a picture of President John F. Kennedy from our “World Book” encyclopedia.  Of course I sort of left my pictures out for my parents to notice like any kid might do.  I remember them thinking they were nice.  There was no real encouragement to pursue art at any time in my life from anyone when I was young.  I took all college prep classes peppered with a lot of math and science.  I didn’t have any room in my course schedule for art until my senior year.  I had one free hour.  I chose choir because I like to sing and because I was afraid to take an art class.  I would have to take the beginning art class and be put in with freshman students which I didn’t want to do but really I was afraid that my secret would be out.  The secret was that I had never had an art course and felt inept!  Heaven forbid that I could take a course that I knew nothing about!  Isn’t that the point of an education?  To learn about things we don’t know?  Oh, well, I digress.

Botticelli, The Birth of Venus Detail

I moved on to college not knowing what I wanted to do.  I was an “undeclared major” college student.  I just wasn’t sure what I wanted to do possibly because I hadn’t been exposed to what my true passion would become.  Back in the seventies the first two years of most college education was liberal arts anyway, so I took a lot of different courses.  I took quite a few philosophy courses which is amazing because I don’t consider myself to be very logical in many ways.  You know the old “If, then phrases”?  They never made a lot of sense to me.  However, as time went on I continued to draw.  I remember putting up my drawings on my bulletin board in my dorm room.  One drawing I did I really remember well.  I don’t know how I was exposed to the picture, maybe it was through a humanities class.  However, I fell in love with the painting by Botticelli, the Birth of Venus.  I loved the face on Venus so I drew it on typing paper and put it up on my bulletin board.  That one drawing probably created a turning point in my mind to consider taking an art class.  Other students kept asking me why I wasn’t taking any art classes.  I started thinking maybe I should.  I still didn’t have the confidence to take an art course but it kept nagging at me.

During my sophomore year I finally got up enough nerve to take a beginning drawing class.  The first day of class I can remember sitting in the art room waiting for our instructor and listening to the other students.  Most of them were bemoaning the fact that they had to take this “dip shit” beginning drawing course before they could take anything good.  I was petrified.  I thought what have I got myself into.  I was looking for an exit.  The first class was just an introduction.  After class I went up and talked to the instructor and told him my dilemma and how the other students were obviously much more experienced and how maybe I thought I should drop the class.  He asked me if I was willing to do all the assignments and come to class.  I told him of course I would do that.  He encouraged me to stay in the class and he offered that some of those students would end up dropping out because they wouldn’t be willing to do the work.  His “pep talk” worked.  I stayed in the class and never looked back.  I went on to take many art courses, much more than I needed for my B.A. so I earned a B.F.A.

Most people that I know today in education don’t realize how precious I feel a well rounded education is to the development of the whole person.  I think art is crucial in my life and opened up my imagination in ways that never would have happened otherwise.  As a teacher I have high expectations and hopes for my students.  I want to share with them my love of art and creativity.  The feeling I get when I create something with my hands, brain and heart connected cannot be measured on a test.  The push to create something new and original is always in the back of my mind.  As a teacher, I try to help my students reach their full potential and hopefully see that there is more to life than just looking at things through the eyes of some test that they won’t remember thirty years later anyway.  I see the value of creativity.  In our world today people must be creative just to survive in the high stakes of unemployment.  The world of the future will depend on the innovation and creativity of our youth.

Technology today is a wonderful tool for art education.  There are so many resources online that it is amazing what can be learned about art.  Many people even openly share their knowledge on sites like YouTube.  You may have to watch a few bad videos to get to the good ones but it is all worth it.  Here is a man creating a Greek/Roman style vase on Youtube.  It really is exciting and educational to watch him work.

Art touches everyone.  Even people that profess to not care about art carefully pick out their car, clothes, jewelry and furniture.  We all live in a society where we want to be surrounded by some element of what we think is beautiful.  When I watch those “Hoarding” shows, I even see people collecting items that they think are beautiful.  The items may get lost in all the surrounding trash, but they are there.

I encourage everyone to get involved in the beauty of the world of art.  If you cannot leave your home, travel online all over the world and view art from your own private perspective.  If you have always wanted to take an art class but were afraid, go ahead and face that fear.  You might be surprised at how wonderful you catch yourself feeling when you create something with your own brain, hands and heart!  If you don’t have access to an art class, make your own class up.  Go on Youtube and learn something new.  Many people are sharing all of their wonderful artistic talents online.  You can learn about everything from drawing and painting to basket weaving.  The world we live in is amazing and shrinking in many ways.  FDR said the only thing to fear is fear itself.  Don’t be afraid to discover your creative side.  Your brain is more than willing to create new connections to learning as you discover the beauty of pushing your creativity beyond the scope of what you thought possible.  We are all creative beings even those people that profess to not be very creative.  Push yourself to discover all the beauty art has to offer.  You might be surprised to discover your hidden talents and when you do, it will be a wonderful feeling of mental self satisfaction and fulfillment.

Rabbit Proof Fence

  • Posted on December 29, 2010 at 2:47 pm

My son gave me “Roku” for Christmas.  It allows me to get Netflix, Amazon and other movie/TV services on my television.  I love it because I can watch movies I might not otherwise get to see.  Last night I watched “Rabbit Proof” Fence which is an Australian movie.  I must confess I don’t know a lot about Australian history, so this was a very interesting movie for me to see.

It was both horrific and inspirational and it was based on a true story.  Young ‘caste” children were taken from their families and put in orphanages.  Caste meant they were of mixed race between Whites and the Aborigines.  The policy was extremely racist.  If a child was “white enough”, they would send the child on to be educated.  If they were not white enough their life would be one of domestic service.  The story centers around three little girls and their struggle to get back home.  It’s an amazing journey and well worth watching.  This piece on cultural survival is a really interesting read.

The movie just reinforced for me the struggle that people of color have always had with white people that have taken over their lands and forced them into a submissive state.  It should not shock me that Australia, which was also settled by white Europeans much like our country, created this racist agenda.  However, it is shocking to think that this treatment lasted right up until the nineteen seventies.

I find this quote from Wikipedia very interesting:

At the same time, some settlers were quite aware they were usurping the Aborigines place in Australia. In 1845, settler Charles Griffiths sought to justify this, writing; “The question comes to this; which has the better right – the savage, born in a country, which he runs over but can scarcely be said to occupy…or the civilized man, who comes to introduce into this…unproductive country, the industry which supports life.”[23] In expressing this view, Griffiths was probably merely echoing opinions widely held by other colonists in Australia, South Africa, parts of South America and the United States.

This quote could be used by any corporate country today that is trying to impose its “rights” upon an endangered people.  Ultimately money talks and those that have it will win.  Isn’t this what we as Americans do?  We go to other countries pretty much to colonize them to do our will.  I’m just putting this in words that are easy to understand, so don’t be shocked by what I say.  I heard a Coca Cola executive talking the other day.  He said they have business in over 200 countries.  I was shocked because I didn’t know there were that many countries.  Looking it up, there might not be that many recognized countries and maybe he misspoke.

However, the Coca-Cola Company has a history of violence against unions.  It is interesting to see where they have been accused of their misdeeds.  Many of these countries are where people of color are the dominant race.  I just find all of this interesting especially after watching this Australian movie.

It makes me wonder about many of our corporations that have moved their business interests out of the country in search of higher profits.  This global effort seems to be creating a world of the super rich and the super poor.  When I saw this clip of Prince Charles and his wife caught in the middle of a riot, it got me thinking.  If you listen carefully you will hear someone scream, “Off with their heads.” It’s at the very end of the video and other videos I watched have been bleeped out.  The ruling classes of wealth better wise up or they may end up much like the Marie Antoinette!

People of color and the poor and middle classes are getting fed up with a system that allows such a juxtaposition of extreme wealth and extreme poverty to exist.  When is enough, enough?  It never seems like the wealthy can ever have enough.  They always seem to want more.

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