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Positive and Negative Space--Reflections of a First Year Teacher 1


Date: Wed Jun 20 2001 - 11:51:16 PDT

This was my first year teaching middle school art. I teach 6th, 7th, and 8th
grade students on a 9 week rotation basis. Art is required, so i teach every
student in the building over the course of the school year.

This spring, I had one exceptional 8th grade class. I had student taught at
this school, so I had had most of these kids in the sixth grade. We knew
each other fairly well and we felt comfortable working, learning and laughing

I teach figure drawing to my eighth grade classes, and that's usually when I
"preach". As they draw from a live model, i talk about looking for
shapes--positive and negative--, seeking out shadows and strong lines, and
getting the "big picture" right before honing in on details. I also talk
about the non-DBAE aspects of art--how art allows us to be individuals (in
fact, how it DEMANDS our individuality), how art requires an intensity of
mental energy, focus and discipline that is not unlike what is required of an
athlete or a musician, how one finds answers in art by looking inside oneself
and not always in a book. This is what makes art different from math,
science, grammar, social studies. This is also why, I believe, art (as well
as music and drama) is one of the things that makes school (and life)
meaningful). As i frequently tell my students, emotion doesn't register in a
Scantron bubble.

During this particular 8th Grade class, I was almost finished with this
"sermon", when I realized that the room was totally silent. I could hear the
ventilation fan running above the ceiling tiles and the scratching of
pencils, the tapping of charcoal, and nothing else. Every student in the
room was focused on the model and drawing with a fierce, but quiet intensity.
 I decided it was time to stop talking. 30 minutes later, my voice just
above a whisper, I told the students that class was almost over Quietly,
they got up , put away their supplies, wahsed their hands, glanced over each
others drawings and the class was over. Jay, the model, spoke to me after
class. Neither of us could believe what we just witnessed.

I don't have a "no talking" policy in my room. Quite the contrary. My room
is usually a dizzying maelstrom of activity and noise. My students chose
silence--complete silence.

Kathleen Norris (author of a wonderful book, Dakota) relates her experience
of a Quaker-style silent worship service. She describes the power of
silence, particularly the power of communal silence. In my own experience I
know that, in silence, I have felt a powerful connection (call it what you
will--spirit, energy . . .) among those gathered in the room and with a
higher power (once again, call it what you will . . .)

There was a part of this experience in my room that day. My students felt
it. Several told me they did. Kandinsky said that "the artist must train,
not only they eye, but also the spirit." Together, the students and I began
to get a sense of that.

Actually, i know that all of us had shared in that experience, whether or not
all of us realized it. The drawings--each one expceptional for the
individual who made it--spoke that truth loud and clear.

thanks for reading