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thoughts on being a pack rat


From: Patricia Knott (pknott_at_TeacherArtExchange)
Date: Sat Feb 26 2005 - 13:53:07 PST

> my art ed. professor keeps saying i need to build a resource file that
> i can use when i teach. he wants me to collect as much junk as
> possible (old magazine, wallpaper scraps, old clothes, etc.) i am not
> a pack rat like he is i dont want to collect a bunch of junk that i
> probably wont use. any suggestions about what sort of things i should
> be collecting now? is this even important?

I am the world's best pack rat ( and that probably came from depression
era parents who learned how to turn anything into everything). I can
hardly let anything go into the trash because I see something else in
But this week I had to make some reasonable decisions on what was worth
keeping and what is truly trash. I moved to new building this week-- I
had one day to pack. I found myself making choices about the things I'm
drawn to and the things the kids are and I left behind a lot of
stuff that I value but they do not.

They love old magazines, They love to cut from old magazines. So I
kept them.
I had files and files of old posters and references that they never
refer to - the internet takes care of that - so out they went.
they like old clothes, and old toys and mechanical parts
all my traditional still life stuff became trash. I've been thinking a
lot about still life stuff. What is historically important as still
life and what is important today? They don't care about drawing bottles
and bicycles, etc. Have them bring in what they want to draw for a
still life and then get rid of it.

I think what I found in this move is that I was doing a lot of
pack-ratting for me and all the potential I saw in the crap, they
just don't see or care about. I'm going to pay better attention to what
they care about and not fill my shelves and cabinets with stuff that
will get passed on to the teacher who replaces me. Some stuff I was
unpacking this week was in this school when I was a student 35 years
ago. ( yes, I have a department of rat packers who put all the ratty
things into boxes. Some stuff so ratty I'm scared to touch it.)
We have too much stuff.
And although I will always be the artist that takes the stuff and
converts it to something else, I'm not sure I am the teacher that
conveys that message. I think that the gift of seeing something else
in the junk is a special talent
  ( and very personal) and that hanging on to all the junk is not worth
the space. From now on I will apply the same rule to my school junk
as I do to my personal closet --- if I haven't worn it in 2 years
then out it goes.

There will always be stuff I can't let go. Since September the
electrical contractors have been living in my room. They have given me
hundreds of yards of wire they were going to trash. I will never have
to buy wire again. That's good trash.
What is useful is a process of selection.
  "Rat " stuff that will serve you and the kids and let them have some
choices in the "ratting."

I find the kids are very drawn to "tactile" stuff. That may be a
curious research project-- why do they like to feel and touch stuff
that has surface texture? Could it be that all they feel and touch
are keyboards and buttons?
Be imaginative and creative in your collections of junk. Give them
something to feel that is not smooth. Disrupt their comfort and
they will make art.

If I was a new teacher just starting and trying to make a collection
of resources I would think to what is so easily discarded and turn it
to keeping through manipulation and transformation and asking some
serious questions about what we keep.
I've never been sure of what anybody does with wall paper scraps????

Let the kids be part of the process, understand what they want to work
with and work with them. Teach the "big ideas" but let them know
that their habits are as important as yours and give them choices.
My junk is not always their treasure.
  I need to find their treasure and work with what they value. And
softly introduce my values...

Everything in the art catalogues offers so many easy easy solutions,
way too many gimmickry stuff for me. I always think my job is to teach
how to invent the gimmicks. And that is where I find the value in the
junk ... what can you do with this? Not how can you reproduce
something that has been done?

I whittled my junk. and I morn it's passing. But pass is what we do
and we art teachers have to find some balance between the old and
comfortable and the fast paced. I don't think there is much care and
concern about "holding on" like some of us older ones do. So who has to