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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”.



  • Posted on July 22, 2010 at 3:52 pm

This July 11th on a beautiful Sunday my friend, Ellen, and I went to the St. Joseph Art Fair.  I know it’s a tough show to get into, so I wanted to see what it was like since I had never attended this show as an exhibitor.  I drove about an hour and a half to see what it is all about.  I wasn’t disappointed.  Every artist brought something different to the show with their unique selection of art.

When we first got there it was a bit difficult to find parking as parking was limited and it was compounded by the many exhibitors’ vehicles.  We paid ten dollars to park in a commercial lot.  As we walked down to the art show we were greeted by many cheerfully painted dogs!

Moving on to the show we came upon a wide selection of two and three dimensional artwork.  Ellen and I both made several purchases through out the day and had many interesting conversations with artists that came from all over the United States.  I want to showcase a few of the artists here today.

One of the first artists’ artwork we came across was Michelle Mardis.  Her artwork is reminiscent of Andy Warhol with its pop art colors of large portraits of animals. I really enjoyed her large piece titled “Fetch”.

She wasn’t at the show at the time we went through as she wasn’t feeling well.  It is interesting to note that these art shows go on through all kinds of weather and even if the artist isn’t feeling well.  Just like in “show biz”, the show must go on!  There is quite an investment involved with doing an art show.  There is the entry fee, travel, the cost to produce and even display the art at the show.  This is why every artist designs their own booth to best showcase their style of artwork.  Some people attend art shows for something to do as entertainment.  I advise people to attend art shows and purchase from these artists as this, for many of them, is their sole source of employment.  Their art is not only their life but their livelihood.  You wouldn’t go to a movie without expecting to spend some money for your entertainment so it should also be with these art shows.  Many people spend the day perusing the exhibits and eating the food but may not ever think to buy from these fine artists.  However, if people don’t buy many of those traveling the longer distances will not be inclined to return to the show another year.

Many of the artists at the show were obviously influenced by the art of famous artists.  While Mardi must have been drawn to the art of Andy Warhol, Penny French-Deal was obviously influenced by the art of the Impressionists and especially “Monet”. Ellen and I had stopped to have a quick lunch and upon walking back to the exhibits we were drawn in by a picture of two cows.  They were meticulously painted but when we got up close to them, the brushstrokes were really loose and large.  Her art was some what blurry upon close inspection.  There was a softness to it that revealed some inner feelings from the artist.

Another artist, Larry Smith, obviously favored the art of Vincent Van Gogh. I bought a print from him and he told me much information about Van Gogh and the artwork that I purchased.  He obviously knew a lot about Vincent’s art and greatly admired it.  In his own artwork he used complementary colors such as red and green next to each other to create the vibrant effect of movement.  I genuinely enjoyed Larry’s personality and the obvious joy instilled in his art.

I ran across a potter that really impressed me with his cut out piercing work.  While it may seem very simple to most people as it is simple in color with its white, pearly surface, it is masterfully carved and pierced.  The work is porcelain fired at cone 10 which is around 2300 degrees Fahrenheit.  Artwork fired to this level has to be flawless.  In order to create a porcelain bowl pierced on the edge such as this is truly a masterful skill.  I’ve worked with porcelain for years.  If a large bowl has so much as a small hairline crack, its flaw will be huge after a cone 10 firing.  This bowl was priced at $1200.  I didn’t find that shocking because I figured he lost many bowls to create this one unique piece of art. Unfortunately, I can’t seem to find a card from this artist, so I don’t know his name.

Another clay artist, Scott Causey, has very unique sculptural artwork.  He won the non-functional clay award at this show.  He makes these large pieces out of very colorful glazes.  They can be frogs, salamanders and even monkeys.  He makes them and then bisque fires them and then breaks them apart.  He does this so he can glaze the different parts at different temperatures to get the special effects.  Some of his glazes are luster glazes that give off a pearly, iridescent quality.

When I went to his website he is very proud of the fact that Al Gore has a piece of his artwork.  The story about how Al got the frog is here.

I bought a mug from two potters because they are working with cone 6 glazes and their work was well made and conceived.  I am interested in maybe lowering my reduction gas firing temperature to save the time and cost of firing to cone 10.  These guys called themselves the “Pottery Boys” and they live in Illinois.

Some of the artwork was silly and whimsical and just plain fun.  This art was artwork created to just inspire people with fun sayings and happy colors.  Some of the artists that fall under this category are Susan Kline, Anne Leuck Feldhaus, Holly Sue Foss, and Patricia Statzer.  I had so much fun reading the sayings and looking at the colors in these booths.

Another inspirational artist I met was Tres Taylor from Alabama.  He paints on tar paper.  Ellen recognized the material as it is common roofing material.  She said they used to put it on the windows when she was a kid to keep out the cold.  Tres is a man that embraced his artistic side later in life and rejected his previous occupation as a biochemist.  His story is so interesting.  His artwork reminded me of Modigliani with its elongated features for the people.  There are also hints of Paul Klee and even Picasso in his shapes and faces.  His work is probably considered a sophisticated form of primitive art.  You can check out more of his artwork at his website. I highly suggest reading this article and viewing his installation artwork.

It is just amazing in its concept and story as well as the many children that he has obviously touched through this installation process through art.

It was fun talking to Tres.  I would be thrilled if my students could have the opportunity to work with him and see his installation artwork.

Another artist that I really enjoyed is Pat Custer Denison. Her artwork is created with ceramic tile and wood.  She is a painter and printmaker that studied at the University of Michigan.  She lives in Honor, Michigan so I’m hoping to stop by her studio when I visit the Traverse City, Maple City area.  Many artists live, as I used to, up in the Grand Traverse area.  It’s a great place to produce art as you are surrounded by all the beauty Michigan has to offer.  Her artwork is very fun and whimsical.  Some of the pieces are quite large.  She inserts commercial clay tiles into large cut out wood shapes.  Her artwork tends to have many colorful characters that seem to tell a story upon close inspection.  She screen prints some of the design on the clay tiles to reproduce the image more than once.  I found this process interesting as I have never silk screened on any of my artwork.  I have seen this done in books but have never actually met an artist using this method.

Two of the artists work in very traditional materials that I feel are almost like a lost art.  The first is Jane Bowers who creates “Pysanky” eggs.  These are the very colorful and skillfully designed eggs that are reminiscent of Easter but are so much more involved than a typical Easter egg.  Making pysanky has always been a part of her life as this tradition was passed down through her Ukrainian family for many generations.  On a trip to the Ukraine she had the honor of presenting one of her eggs to President Leonid Kuchma.  Jane was so open with me about how to create these eggs.  She wanted to help me as a teacher to pass on the beauty of this tradition.  I loved talking with Jane and many of the artists as they were all so open to me when they found out that I am a middle school art teacher.  Artists are great teachers and generally want to share their knowledge as long as you aren’t some “copy cat artist” just trying to steal their designs.

The other artist working in a highly traditional almost “lost” type art is Brian T. Keller.  Brian works with traditional egg tempera.  He mixes his own paints much like Van Dyke or other great artists of the past did.  This involves getting commercial pigments and using egg yokes.  Of course he doesn’t have to grind the pigments like the artists of the past might have done but this was still amazing to me as there are so many different types of art materials and paints that could be used today.  He works in a very highly detailed fashion.  Just looking at the detail in his wood grain floors is truly amazing.  Brian is highly skilled.  I just loved his artwork.  He told me that the he works in layers and that the egg tempera dries quickly.

As you can see by all that I’ve shared with you today I truly enjoyed this art exhibit not just for the art but for the many intriguing conversations I had with the artists.  It was fun going to an art show as a viewer and not a participant.  I loved hearing about the different stories each of these artists had in the story of their own art.  Only two artists didn’t want to be photographed.  The rest were happy to indulge me with the many pictures I took.  I ended the day being inspired by these wonderful people.  They are all gifted with amazing talents and they were more than willing to share their time and knowledge with me.  I ended up buying small pieces from several of the artists I spoke with as did Ellen.  We had a great day and we lucked out with beautiful weather.  I would definitely love to go back to St. Joseph again for this art show and to see the wonderful city nestled on the shores of Lake Michigan.  I will end by sharing some additional pictures from many other fine artists.  If you haven’t been to an art show lately get out there and meet some artists.  The Ann Arbor Art Street Fair is going on right now.  It’s a four day event so you still have plenty of time to visit through Saturday.

Bravo’s Work of Art

  • Posted on May 22, 2010 at 8:11 pm

As if we needed another reality show!  Okay, so we might, if it involves art.  I love the concept of an art contest in the manner of “Project Runway”.  I don’t know what the artist wins exactly, maybe a special exhibit somewhere.  As an art teacher I know it is hard to tame the creative mind and lump it into a time frame for anything.  Creativity isn’t something that switches on necessarily at will.  I have a student right now in my advanced 8th grade class that is super talented.  She probably wouldn’t do well under this kind of pressure as she has a hard time meeting deadlines with her artwork.  How will these artists be challenged to create art and who will be judging the criteria for great art?  Those are the two questions that I have in my mind.  Don’t worry as I’ll be tuning in to see what happens with this show.  I hope it truly is creative and not some “staged” creativity that feeds the masses what they think art is all about.  Today art can be almost anything from realism to true fantasy to the fatally ugly.  Making a statement in art isn’t always beautiful and sometimes is political and at others it merely mocks reality.  I haven’t a clue what kind of art this show will have produced for it.  I find it mildly interesting that it is being produced by Sarah Jessica Parker.  I haven’t a clue what qualifies her for this.  Is she an art lover?  Is painting her secret passion?  I know she’s been featured lately on some shows like that ancestors, genealogy thing.  I really don’t care why she’s involved but I’m wondering why it’s being played at eleven at night.  I’ll still have one more day of school but knowing me, I’ll probably watch it and suffer through that last day!  I’m going to get my art on and have my art fix.  I hope this show pumps up the volume and pushes the envelope on creativity.

Sturgis Middle School Annual Art Show

  • Posted on May 12, 2010 at 10:29 pm

Another school year is almost finished and I’m busy with the end of the year art activities.  We recently had 6th grade orientation for next year’s sixth graders.  I put up an art display for that.  I’m putting up another display for the board meeting and orchestra concert on the 18th.  The show that I really look forward to is the annual art show at the Sturges Young Civic Auditorium.  I just set up that show Monday night.  Two of my students helped me set it up.  Every year I always think about how I’m going to put this together and every year I am filled with excitement at the talent my students exhibit.  This year was no exception.  I always think I don’t have enough variety of quality work to fill the show and of course I end up with enough to fill two shows.

There are about 140 artworks in the show by around 90 students.  Both two dimensional and three dimensional works are represented.  There are pencil drawings, colored pencil, watercolor, acrylic paintings, collage work, sumi-e painting, scratch art, sculpture, pottery and both oil and chalk pastel.  This is but a few of the shots that I took.

The show will be up through May 24th.  I encourage anyone that is in the Sturgis area to stop in and see it.  Here are some more three dimensional artworks.

As I said these are just some of the many artworks in the show.  Be inspired by the young people with artwork represented here.  I am.  I love working with these young students.  It is a thrill to see them develop their artwork under my tutelage.  I take great pride in what they accomplish and great ownership in the work that I do to get them to this level of development.  As I have said in past posts, “You got to have art!”  I can’t imagine my life never having explored the field of art and art education.

Kalamazoo Art Institue, West Michigan Show and 8th Grade Art Students, What a Thrill!

  • Posted on May 2, 2010 at 12:13 pm

The artwork above received the Grand Prize.  It is Michele Shelton, A Moment to Remember, paper, fabric, metal, beads.  This picture is credited to the Kalamazoo Institute of Art website.

I am inspired.  Thursday I took my advanced eighth grade art class to the Kalamazoo Institute of Art.  None of my students had ever been there before.  We had a great time.  On exhibit was the “West Michigan Area Show”.  It is what inspired me and my students.  We were all blown away by the diverse collection of art in the show.

The exhibit was selected by Chicago artist Gladys Nilsson.  Her selection showed much diversity from realism to abstraction.  Many pieces were an explosion of color but all seemed so unique and able to stand on their own let alone be part of this wonderful exhibit.  Many pieces begged discussion and wonderment as to what drove the artist.  Gladys Nilsson’s art really explains how she was able to select such a wonderful show.  Her artwork is full of color and while it is representational in its subject matter it is full of elongated shapes, disproportions that create whimsy and a sense of borderline abstraction.  Her work reminds me of Marc Chagall although there really isn’t a connection.  I love the rhythmic way her work is full of movement.  She uses color to saturate ones mind as though one is standing outside in a warm mist of color filled rain.

It is no wonder that this talented artist was able to select such an interesting exhibit for the West Michigan Show.

When I went home I marveled at the awesome ability of these west Michigan artists.  I thought that many of them probably benefited from a great public school education.  It is this creativity that has to be nurtured in our schools today.  In out effort to become the best we can be in our schools with test scores we sometimes lose sight of this much needed creativity.  It is the creativity in our country that develops new products that forces us to think outside of our limited boxes that we put ourselves in.  We must nurture this creativity through the arts.  Whether it be the visual arts, music or drama all of the arts nurture that creativity that is so necessary to the continuation of our own humanity.  It is this spirit of creation that drives us all to be unique enough to not blend into the sea of humanity that just goes with the flow.  These are the people that just continue to follow whatever they are told to do like mindless sheep.  The spirit of creativity makes us stop and think about what we are doing and how we can make improvements to our lives.  It is this spirit that I believe built our country and made it strong.

I enjoyed this show even more than some of the exhibits I’ve seen of famous artists.  This exhibit inspired me and my students to come back and make art.  I know my students are now anxious to get to their final painting that they will do this year.  Many found inspiration in the colors and shapes and subject matter they saw in the show.  The hour of our tour zoomed by and the students were very curious and inquisitive.  When I talked with them individually I know they were excited about what they saw.  This was a visual treat for all them and myself.  I hope anyone that reads this that has an opportunity to see this exhibit will attend the show.  It is well worth the drive.  You will be inspired and you will go away feeling like you participated in something special.  I say, “Kudos” to the Kalamazoo Institute of Art for bringing such a wonderful exhibit to the public and finding sponsors to make it free to the public.

The State of Michigan Needs Inspiration

  • Posted on March 30, 2010 at 10:00 pm

This is the time of year when schools look at their budgets and program offerings for the coming school year.  At Sturgis Middle school we recently found out about our MEAP scores.  Each year we hold our collective breath waiting for the results.  The MEAP doesn’t follow an individual class through their time in school but focuses on grade level.  This means that scores can go up and down sometimes based on the type of class that is currently being taught.  It has been my experience that some years we have classes that are challenging, usually behavior issues are the problem, and some years we have classes that are exceptional both in their behavior and their ability to pass the MEAP.  This year we all have let out our collective breath with a big “Hooray!” as our scores were very good.  We can only hope these scores will continue to be high in the coming years.  I know that everyone at our school is part of the team to help students pass these tests.  This year students, that needed extra time, were given extra “lab” time with their core teachers.  This was accomplished through much effort by the exploratory teachers.  Exploratory teachers were asked to develop a “split” time class in which they would have students for 25 minutes out of 50 minute period.  This has been a difficult thing to accomplish but exploratory teachers rose to the moment and did what was necessary to help make this program a reality.  Most days classes were normal but some days individual students were kept back for more lab time in math, science, etc.  This can be very challenging for any exploratory teacher working with project based media as the student can fall behind in that class and other students will get bored if they spend too much time waiting for the behind students to catch up.  There are often times teachers are pitted against each other based on being a “core” teacher or an “exploratory” teacher.  Core teachers always get the respect from everyone simply because they are teaching what most people see as being necessary for an education, “reading, writing, and arithmetic.”  Some core teachers see themselves as above exploratory teachers by virtue of their placement of importance in the system.   In my nearly seventeen years of teaching at Sturgis a well rounded education has been of utmost importance to Sturgis school district.  Unfortunately, with the current money problems I think many schools are being forced to make cuts to their programs.  Whether it is art, music, drama or extra curricular programs all will be judged regardless of their merits.  At Sturgis we have been able to maintain our programs.  I believe it helps us with the “school of choice” program but as people flee Michigan for other states where they hope to get a job, the outlook for our school is also dim.  The funding coming from the state is less and less each year while the costs for everything from staff to energy continue to rise.  This is forcing larger class sizes and the reduction of services just like what is happening to our state government.  It’s time for our state to develop some new ideas for funding and for surviving our current crisis in our schools as well as all other aspects of our lives.

Our state is in a crisis that can and has to be fixed.  We need more revenue coming into the state to fix these problems.  Either we must create more employment through industry of some type or we must raise taxes on those that are still here working.  The fact is we are going to see a reduction in services across our state in our schools, road work, police, secretary of state’s offices, and anything else that the state touches, if we don’t do something now.  Many people are tired of being taxed and feel it’s gone far enough but many don’t realize the perilous position the state of Michigan is in.  We have such a beautiful state.  I personally think it’s ridiculous that our state should be in such bad shape.  We have natural resources that are the envy of other states.  We have great universities where people come from all over the world to get their education from.  We have terrific hospitals across our state.  We have so much to offer for recreation all through the year from the lakes in the summer to the skiing in the winter.  Unfortunately, for many years we put all of our eggs in that one basket of the automobile industry.  It’s time for new industry to grow and prosper in Michigan.  I love our state.  I think it is an absolutely beautiful state.  We need to develop our commodities to attract people to the state.  We hear about the problems in Detroit but it isn’t just Detroit.  The problem is all across our state.  If you go to the thumb area it is just as depressed as Detroit.  It’s just a smaller population.  Here is Sturgis we too have lost business and of course the people that work in those businesses.  Yet, we have a beautiful little city that could be doing more to get people to stop and shop here and build our local community.  I find myself running to Coldwater and Three Rivers to get things because we don’t have the stores that those communities have to offer.  I’d like to keep my money local but I’m not willing to shop at the loss of choices in products.

Our current government continues to use the same old tactics and behaviors that they have been exhibiting for the past sixty years.  That is the Republicans want to argue about cutting programs and lower taxes and the Democrats want to maintain programs but don’t have the where with all to create the funding for them.  Neither of these approaches really seems to be working.  We need something new and daring to happen.  The same old politics just isn’t working.  Geoffrey Fieger was on a local television program and he was talking about being “inspired”.  He said, “We need someone that will inspire us.”   I couldn’t remember the last time a politician actually inspired me.  Maybe when I was a kid and learned all about John F. Kennedy I felt inspired.  As an art teacher I know that inspiration can lead to all kinds of wonderful thinking and problem solving.  I think maybe our politicians need to be inspirational to bring out the best in their constituents.  My sister is always talking about the “genius among us”.  These are every day people that come up with fantastic ideas and solutions to problems.  Many of them are over looked as being “kooks” or just flatly ignored but there may be somebody out there with great ideas for our state that is just being ignored and overlooked.  I think maybe our current government needs to go to the people for fresh, new ideas.  We need a suggestion box for the government just like those old suggestion boxes we used to see at restaurants.  Someone in Michigan has a great idea for this state and how to turn it around.  I just don’t think it’s a politician.  He or she may be sitting next to us with a wonderful imagination and a desire for change but not the where with all to make it happen.  The state of Michigan needs to set out the suggestion box to get this conversation moving.  Enough of the fighting over budgets and everything else, it’s time for new ideas for funding this state and developing it to its fullest potential.

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