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Re: [art_education] Wipe out

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From: Larry Seiler (lseiler_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sun Feb 08 2004 - 07:44:10 PST


> I have been in a classroom lately where the "trained" art professional
> (actually, she is an art teacher) has kids copy her own art. Every kids
> art is GORGEOUS, and they all look the same. So SAD! Even trained
> people need to be able to let go of the extreme power trips that they
> can find themselves on. She has no qualms about showing anyone who
> comes in "her art" and takes pride in showing off the kids' work that is
> just like hers. Unbelievable. They are trained in only one way that I
> can see...technically. To miss the point that kids can be trained
> technically and have their own creativity nurtured is a travesty.

 Well...life is a bit of a continuum and is often like a book with many
chapters. A book is not defined by one chapter but by its beginning, its
middle and frankly, its end. Depending upon where one jumps into the
book...one can get an impression that really hasn't a grasp on the whole
picture.

I submit that should other art teachers walk into my room during the first
chapter I took over at this present school, about four chapters in...or
'till now, all would assume various things. I would be praised at once for
one thing...and castasized, flogged and tarred and feathered for another.

If there is one thing I've learned to appreciate teaching K-12 is that over
time you begin to really see what things of neglect have done prior to your
coming, where kids are presently at and why...and that it is in your power,
(if need be) to take a year or two to correct things in order that you might
empower the students to get back on track.

I don't wish to bring embarrassment to the former teacher because he is at a
nearby school...but I saw very little development in the kids. I heard
stories from students of the various grades that all they did was draw
hands, and as goes ceramics most made a clay shoe. I had my first year 5th
graders thanking me for letting them paint with tempera. "Letting?" I was
aghast. Evidently...mixing the paint, the ordered disorder that such an
environment can invite was more than this person wanted to deal with.

I have my kids painting as early as kindergarden now.

My kids did not understand shapes, lines, nothing about painting. (the
teacher himself admittedly is a poor draftsman and painter...interested at
one point in lessons from me afield painting plein air to learn more about
color). Since I've been in the conference, he has moved beyond and is
branching out at his own district...so, in fairness more power to him.

My seniors my first year had never heard of Vincent Van Gogh...! The
Michael Jordan of painting, as far as I'm concerned. I knew my work was cut
out for me!

Then...being a logging community...there seems to be very little opportunity
for kids to what their future holds. Some could care less about grades
because in their estimation they will end up behind a chain saw someday.
Others envision themselves leaving going elsewhere. However...in a town of
1000 people and 13 bars with 12 more bars within a 15 minute's drive...there
is a lot of broken homes and families. Those in similar situations
understand that we are like parents as teachers to many of these kids. If
they get discipline at all...it will necessarily come from us just to manage
our classrooms!

Often kids coming from broken homes are themselves broken. They lack
confidence.

Now...one could attempt strategically to build what I think my be a false
self-confidence by throwing all ideas of idealism, creative excellence and
so forth out the window thereby applauding everything done...but I think
kids here are on to that one. For one, the only form of entertainment here
is sports. Everyone makes the team in a small school district. For
football our students join with another local highschool or they would not
have enough to field a team.

The kids are willing to put forth a great deal of effort to do something
with their sports opportunities. Its the one thing that brings people out
of their snowbound homes together as a social event. The cheering and
accolade are its reward.

By the same token...a losing season will see half the numbers show up to
support.

Okay...we might want to change priorities and attitudes that people are
deserving of love and acceptance without performance...but that is chapter
16, not possible from what I see here at chapter five or so.

Kids have dropped out of the band program entirely because the last two band
teachers were very very good at what they did, and demanded practice.
Practice that would cut into their sports time and homework. The teachers
couldn't just float along on a mediocre ride...so, kids began dropping out.
Besides, the community didn't show up as much in force to applaud their
music efforts. Better to focus on sports to gain one's identity. Now we
have the elementary/middle school music teacher teaching a few band
instrument lessons. Perhaps in time we'll recover, but for now we have no
band.

What this all comes to is that there are many dynamics at play for which is
not always visible to the observing impressionable professional's eye.

I have taken on a role where I see myself somewhat as an aesthetic
paramedic. I assessed the situation, had the unfavorable task of assigning
triage to the most severely wounded...and am in a recovery mode.

I have been building an art history video collection, every Friday is video
or art history day...(not to mention imbedded in my projects throughout the
week), to help students connect to the past, appreciate the present in hope
of the future.

While I was teaching my 2nd graders the basic colorwheel, my 3rd graders
complementaries and value studies...I was teaching the high school (what
should be advanced) classes the VERY SAME STUPID THINGS!

It was such that my youngest of kids knew as much as my oldest.

So, for the first couple years my high school was somewhat a wash.
Introduce new experiences and let them enjoy self-discovery. Don't expect
much, as it proved to only frustrate them.

I turned my attention to build and re-build a program.

My younger students were absolutely totally paralyzed. They could not draw
without having to have an eraser right there. Some would refuse to draw for
fear of what others would think...would shut down, cry...have tantrums.

They needed a cheerleader. Someone that would believe for them what they
could not believe.

I tried the self-exploration creative just let them have fun approach for
awhile, but they were not used to a disciplined room to begin with...and art
was a chance for a couple grades (say 2 first grade classes) to come
together and PAR TEEE!

I had to develop an atmosphere that was educational. A sense that we
accomplish things here and that we work. Furthermore...I needed outside
affirmation in such a way that the kids would be applauded (like their
sports) for their efforts. The community in the far north is not what I
would call aesthetically cultured...and while they won't applaud creative
efforts they do not understand, they will show grandma...uncle Bob and even
bring a drawing to a basketball stands to show it off to others if the image
is recognizable and well done.

So...with my budget cut $3000 this year, I have resolved in this chapter of
MY program to fix things that can be fixed under the restraints of a lack of
supplies that I have. I hope the money situation will improve...and we can
move on. I am already thinking of projects to move on to next year.

I did many creative free exploring medium experimentation things the first
few years and saw kids that lacked structure in their lives, lacked
fundamental acceptand and discipline, lacked loving adults absolutely unable
to flow in that kind of freedom.

This year, in the current chapter of my life's book...I am Mr "SAD"...I fit
this description of draw what I draw! "Draw like me"

If I deserve disdain, tar and feathers...throw away, I'm a big boy. I can
take it. Frankly....I am seeing transitions in the kids. I am seeing
confidence restored. I am seeing kids excited to come into art and excited
even more to take what they've done with them. I've had board members come
into the room and report in the community that given time people should
visit the art room and look around. These are the positive things that
mimic the success and viability of the sports program that I want for my art
program.

I have been using thick fat clumsy red lumber crayons with my students to
draw the geometric shape foundations of an image, then reverting to
permanent black markers. Emphasis is to look at the original resource and
not just copy the under effort sketch, but refine with line families. From
there emphasis is on coloring. Attaining proper values. An opportunity to
learn what warm and cool color will do to make a difference in rendering
form and achieving depth.

Personally...I think my kids are growing. Finally......yes, finally...kids
have ceased asking and demanding erasers. They are learning a process.
Mistakes made in the sketch are not final or devestating because by the time
the marker and coloring is finished those mistakes account to nothing.

The result is the kids are becoming confident. With that confidence is
coming self-esteem and a higher appraisal of what art can mean for them.
Art is providing some sense of belonging where these broken kids suffer
most. These kids thrive on winning approval, and they carefully calculate
the risk of rejection. My "follow-me" current year, current chapter method
is guiding them...sorta like Gollum thru the wetland did with the hobbits,
thru the land of woundings and hurtful things. Finding themselves having
arrived safely is in my estimation a more important strategy than
championing some cause of art to prove my professionalism.

Now...least one stop by my room and observe to assess that I am doing a
disservice, I revert back to my book metaphor. This year is not the final
chapter. WE are in a recovery. I have not read the whole book myself. I
anticipate its writing and direction. Having been here now five years, I
have seen a breaking free and a breaking forth with my high school students.
With those students I am seeing great confidence to create...wonderful off
the wall crazy ideas with energy to bring them about. Each year...a sense
of this confidence trickles down.

Seeing the output of those older kids...the younger ones anticipate and say,
"when can we do THAT!!!!!!" and each year...as their confidence and
foundations grow stronger there is a trickle down effect. I anticipate that
within the next 2-3 years...I will never have to do the stand up and
demonstrate thing with my kids again. Perhaps with the youngest just to
show shapes and line.

I would encourage judgments not be made too quickly, at least if you come
around my neck of the woods....unless one is willing to stay the duration to
help undo the previous things. Btw...while the band program has been cut
and changes made...I have made a lasting impression amongst the community
and administration.

Sometimes a direction to go ideally has to be first won with former things
before later things can be practically carried out.

Should some be interested...I actually have posted my crayonings and the
work of a number of my students on Wetcanvas. Look on...make judgments. IF
I understand the tone here...my nicely done pictures will likely sadden some
of you...but, you know that old saying right? "Walk a mile in my
shoes....."

http://www.wetcanvas.com/forums/showthread.php?t=158530

Larry

My websites-
http://www.artlandishconcepts.org
http://www.absolutearts.com/portfolios/l/lseiler/

Member of NAPPAP- "National Academy of Professional Plein Air Painters"
http://nappap.org

"Painting is easy when you don't know how, but very difficult when you do!"
Edgar Degas

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