Based on left brained and right brained studies...it would appear the left
brain throws out and embraces distraction in order to hold and dominate
control. Laughing, giggling...and mindless chatter unfortunately works to
keep the left brained side of students in a steady state of prevailance,
control, AND skepticism. Skepticism to that student's potential to improve
in right brained activities such as the arts...willing for self to talk self
right out of learning, right out of believing in one's possible talents.
Logic would seem to presume that wanting our students to have a more
productive greater creative experience, we would need to provide the impetus
for the right brain half to have every opportunity possible for it to be
freed from the tendency of left brained distraction. Thus, we would
gravitate toward an ideal environment and protect every student's right to
learn and develop.
I painted instudio for near 17 years, but the past seven years or so...90%
of my own personal work is done outdoors with a French easel standing knee
deep in nature. I am also a musician, song writer and performer. This
weekend, I am playing at the Prairie Dog Blues festival in Prairie Du Chien,
Wisconsin. This whole summer has been a blur of activity for me. For those
17 years, music was a nice background fill and distraction. After all...I
would spend up to ten hours or more a day working in my studio. In a way,
the music helped to cover the distraction of other disturbing noises such as
the television in another part of the house, or outside road traffic, etc;
My focus on painting instudio allowed for a work to come together gradually,
thus accomodated distraction much better. Outdoors however, I have found
that the sun dictates another demand and energy entirely. The constant
threat of weather fronts, clouds, etc., taking the existing sunlight away or
shifting enough to move dramatic shadows demands haste, incredible focus,
such that the artist must get into the aesthetic groove near immediately.
Initially, the ambiance of nature's song grabs you. The breeze, the song of
birds, the constant gurgle of a stream's flow. However, when in that
groove...everything gets tuned out. I found the demand of working outdoors
in a small window of time such that distractions such as talking, music,
etc., might be quite frustrating. Yet, I've also painted plein airs at
music festivals of 60,000 people, with 40 people watching at any one time.
Twenty some stages playing music at once. Its an interesting contemplation
We can either look at the short time slot of one class period a student is
in art class, and compare it to standing there before the sun out of doors
with limited opportunity. Or we can view the accumulative possibilities of
many short time slot classes, year after year as something to compare with
long days in a studio. It really has a lot with how we as professionals
view the situation.
However...the bottom line for the art maker is the motives at heart. My
intent is to focus and produce. I have the disciplines and acquired skills
to do so, and can push myself to get into that groove apparently at will.
Our students are another issue. Do they really want to learn? What is
their motivation for taking art? How strong are their existing disciplines
over their emotions?
We've had three band teachers in the high school in the past ten years come
and go, now on our fourth. A small community school that has its attitudes.
Kids find their acceptance in the community in a long history of
participation in sports. Kids required to take instruments home to practice
when they have sports and homework is going to stir an uprising against the
newer band teacher. Without question, an "excellent" program dictates that
the instruments have to become known, and skills have to be
acquired...however, the teacher learns they may have to adjust their
expectations and see the greater good they can influence by being in that
classroom over the long haul than the immediate; cut back on their demands
a tad, seeing their program as a crusade...and try to ascertain new
So, we are discussing what an "ideal" is versus the practicality of other
factors. What kind of support kids get at home as well as discipline. What
the pop culture and social culture has dictated as acceptable or norm.
I find that fighting to crusade for art means really "winning over" the
students, the faculty, adminstrators and the community. It takes a careful
path of NOT being like others they held disdain for, but by one's own
example allowing others to witness principles and ideas that may make a
thing ideal. For example, my students so far are quite impressionable with
work that I produce, and my administration is very supportive of my having
my own works in progress where students can see. There are times when I get
to work for about 15 minutes on a painting...when all other students are
working...(this does not happen often, and I do most my work after the day
is done)... and I will draw attention to my practice and disciplines. When
students get chatty, I'll ask students if they observed how much I had been
talking over the past 10-15 minutes? Someone always invariably answers and
says, "you haven't been talking!"
I will use that to enlighten students, spend a few minutes reminding them
what demands making art has for an artist.
See...these kids are not accustomed to seeing "artists" work other than A&E
videos we show, etc; the vast majority 90%, of the students are not artists
and are not going to be...though, they can have productive creative hobbies
someday. YET, our task is to teach in addition to art history, criticism,
etc., "ART APPRECIATION!" In the name of "art appreciation" I will give
the kids particular experiences to help them appreciate what "being" an
artist would demand.
When students are struggling with the difficulty of mixing a color, I do not
immediately rescue them. In fact, I often smile yet encourage for them to
keep with the struggle. Eventually, I may come over and in a few seconds
mix the color up. They often respond with shaking their heads...and
"HEH...HOW'D YOU MIX THAT SO FAST?"
Well...that struggle, and then seeing it done by another so easily sets the
student up to experience reason FOR an "appreciation" of the art or artists.
Like witnessing a slam dunk from an NBA player while they are yet trying to
develop fundamentals in the sport.
I will require moments of complete silence. Perhaps I have simply had it
with their endless chatter which has little to do with the task at hand.
But always, always, always...just before I demand the room go quiet, I
remind them of the exercises we had done which made them familiar with the
polarities of their left and right brain...and how it is the nature and
tendency of the left brain to pro-offer distraction. Thus, in such a manner
the kids see my insistence attached to an artistic interest rather than a
typical angry adult that simply wants control. I want them to see my
frustration with them at such moments as the frustration of an adult artist
wanting them to learn what is required to learn and make good art.
Bit by bit...I am trying to win the kids over. Its not as easy as simply
having a rule that rules out all talking, which would assume kids were dying
to get into my room and learn in the first place. Since we teach an
elective, it does not take long for kids to inform other kids that taking
art is no fun and Mr. "So 'N So" is hard and mean.
If I had a room full of young and intermediate artists paying for an
artist's workshop...it would be reasonable to assume full cooperation
because of the motives and intent of the students.
Thus, I allow talking until it gets out of hand....then I TEACH or interject
when "out of hand" is interferring with the right brain's abilities to
produce. I will demand moments of absolutely silence...to offset. Nothing
is set in concrete though....and as a professional, I believe one of my
tasks is to try and read my students, my school, and my community. To
ascertain just how much of my crusade for art will be tolerated, and scale a
more reasonable timeline of when I can hope to mold everyone to my way of
thinking and teaching. It is my hope in years to come, that talking will be
very minimal; music will be a background thing for which I have control
over, and that joy or fun will be discovered in the "making" of art...and
not just taking art to get out of other more difficult classes. Each year,
I work to gain a bit more of that.
I'm not here to crank out future artists, but I want the students to know
what "being" an artist would be like; what disciplines life would demand.
To me, that is teaching "art appreciation" which will help them when
standing as a viewer before works of art as adults.