Friday, October 8, 2010

Show at Upper Crust Bakery

Two of twelve coming for a December show at Upper Crust, downtown Chico.

Totally revised that first one.  Hated it.  Been busy on the rest.

Reta Rickmers, my show mate and art teacher extraordinare, and I will be opening our show Dec. 1st with a reception Dec. 10 from 5:30-7 at Upper Crust Bakery in Chico, 130 Main Street.  (All this is to be updated.)

You are invited!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

I am an atheist. Finally.

I'm ready to write about an intriguing teaching experience I recently completed.  It has taken me this last month to process it all, and while I was teaching, all of one period of art a day, I was nearly overwhelmed with my own processing of the... the... experience is all I can call it.

I was offered a job (desperate in that school started the next day) at a local Christian high school.  I must declare early in this treatise that I am not a Christian, nor do I subscribe to any faith of any color, although up till now I considered myself the yuppie version of "spiritual," ambivalent to landing on any particular "side."  I was told I didn't have to go to Chapel each Wednesday, for which I was clumsily grateful.  I did bow my head in prayer at the opening and closing of faculty meetings, staff of seven, and I did go to Play, Pray and Praise day and help run relays.  I presented really cool stuff at back to school night.  And all along I kept my philosophies and attitudes to myself, as I'd professionally done for the previous 33 years of teaching at a public high school.

I was stoked excited to be in a classroom again.  I started the year with my typical gusto and pizzazz... went shopping for supplies YAY!!  (had to have more than old Crayola color pencils, had to have some paper, and had to have some watercolor paint pans.   Indeed the room was a white room with 35 desks.  Period.  Not a thing more.)   Things were coming along swimmingly.  The kids were excited and challenged, the classroom was filling up with creative type stuff, art was on the walls, and we were considering an AP elective!  And then I got the teaching contract.

I was asked to sign a teaching contract and a statement of faith. I guess the contract was in there somewhere.  I couldn't sign it.  I couldn't betray my core beliefs, I couldn't lie, and I couldn't sacrifice my belief in absolute freedom of speech and thought.  I handed it back unsigned, markless.

I came home that night not so much in a quandary as, yeah, maybe... in a quandary.  I'd been asked what I believe.  On my feet, I said I believed in the power of compassion in a classroom, in education as being the "savior" of the human race, and in professionalism.  But I knew I believed way more than that.  I came home and voluntarily wrote an agonizing couple pages of "core beliefs."  It was so hard!  I sent it to the principal, the vice principal, and I'd like to think it was forwarded to the the board of directors.  I received no reply.

A week later, five weeks into the semester, I wrote a letter of resignation and submitted it at the same meeting during which I was released.  The root reason was "precedence."

During this fascinating adventure, I was challenged, appalled, and learned that there was nothing "spiritual" about me, thank god.  haHA!!  Clarification had rained down on me!  I embrace the words of critic and curmudgeon Christopher Hitchens, in his book God is Not Great, when he compares atheists to Christians:

We [atheists and Christians] may differ on many things, but what we [as atheists] respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness, and the pursuit of ideas for their own sake....  We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books.  Literature, not scripture, sustains the mind and- since there is no other metaphor- also the soul.  

Although I hate the title of his book, Hitchens' (hit and miss) eloquence rocks my world.  Great book.  My thinking is finding a resting place.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art

The absolute highlight to our trip to Japan this September was our visit to the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art.  On display was a group of works called The Avant-Garde of Nihonga: 1938-1949 from the museum’s collection. I was most fascinated by the break with the formal Japanese art forms I’d seen and studied in the past.  

From the museum pamphlet, and what we English speakers were provided in entirety was this, copy and pasted (sorry.  It's all I have!):
Shinoda Toko
Hokuto Tamamura
Traditional aesthetics in "Nihonga" used to be depicting beautiful scenery of nature on the earth. However, an artists' group,"the Rekitei Bijutsu Kyokai" established in 1938, started developing a new art form in the world of "Nihonga" against the creation of traditional aesthetics. Although the activity did not move forward smoothly due to the expansion of the World War 2, they tried to associate with western-style painters and add the elements of abstract expression, surrealism and compositions introduced by the Bauhause to "Nihonga". After the war, they established "Pan Real" as a re-birth of the Rekitei Bijutsu Kyokai, and continued to pursue new expressions.
Insho Domoto
Yamaoka Ryobun
That the contemporary Japanese painters  were looking to the west, not just Europe but to America also for inspiration sent me spinnin'!  The work I saw was incredible.  Lines and blends had serenity and sensitivity of past Japanese sumi painting, but now with new composition and subjects.  Impossible to describe nor photograph; I bought the collection book which so typically sadly lacks the richness of brush strokes, color blending, line....  So off I am on a new learning venture and oh, what a challenge!  It is so hard to find reference to these artists; indeed I can barely find them on the web but for a few of their images.  I'll be working to search them out.

I'm totally stealing some of these images from around the net, but perhaps you may enjoy them as I continue to, and as I research this generation of Nihonga painters further.

OMG.  I just found The New Modernism: Japanese Modernist and Avant-Garde Poetry, Translations, Explorations, a blog.  Shoot me now.  Can I possibly reconcile this stuff with the Modernist novelist I just finished reading (in Japan)-Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle?  (Recommended reading!)  My head is hurting simply in that it's ALL so wonderful.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thick but mind tweaking blog about art and art education.

I post this blog, "Thoughts on Art and Teaching," for me to go back to, to read and reflect upon.  You are welcome to join me.  I don't want to forget these conversations in my retirement.

Mr. Hamlyn's last post loosely discusses the disconnect between the theoretical approach to teaching art as taught in University, and the teaching of art according to the standards in our public schools (and my experience that private and charter schools are worse).  I heard this same disconnect when attending grad school, but also discovered that an art teacher has so much personal influence in the way he or she approaches the teaching of art.  University clarified for me something I'd discovered in my final years of teaching- that classroom teaching can become less explicit in terms of elements and principles, and more holistic in terms of interpretation and social justice.  Foundational skills in art are relatively simple to teach and learn in the context of teaching those hermeneutic skills of interpretation and meaning, dontcha think?  (I'd heard an art academy instructor once suggest that the meaning and appreciation of art is essential to learn before college, particularly in those elementary classes and that "one" required art class most students take before h.s. graduation; that continuing art students will study value with the necessary depth they need at the university level.  The mastering of value or texture is NOT important to students who are not to become artists.  Interesting concept here.)

With attention and compassion, I believe art education can be all we, as good educators, can make it.  Mandatory testing, Explicit Direct Instruction, and schools designated as failing- the labels and demands made by the state of education in the nation today- haven't quite wheedled their ways through the closed doors of art classrooms yet; the art room may be the last vestige of teaching thinking.  Good art educators need to grasp the power they have, albeit with sly and sneak, with every last inkling of hope that the state of education will turn around soon.