Welcome to my blog..

Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up. ~Pablo Picasso

Thoughts for the Teaching Artist is devoted to an ongoing exploration of the role of the arts in education. I believe that the arts are an integral, essential part of every person's education. Arts education develops 21st Century Learning Skills, supports all core subjects, creates empathy & builds bridges, and helps develop voice & vision.

The views expressed in Thoughts for the Teaching Artist are mine alone and do not represent the views of my employer or any other persons or organization.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Daily Thoughts

December 6-10, 2010

A high station in life is earned by the gallantry with which appalling experiences are survived with grace. ~Tennessee Williams

Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. ~C. S. Lewis

I see little of more importance to the future of our country and of civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist. If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him. ~Pauline Kael

Artists can color the sky red because they know it's blue. Those of us who aren't artists must color things the way they really are or people might think we're stupid. ~Jules Feiffer

The structure of a play is always the story of how the birds came home to roost. ~Arthur Miller

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Daily Thoughts

November 15-November 19, 2010

When I say artist I mean the man who is building things – creating, molding the earth - whether it be the plains of the west - or the iron ore of Penn. It's all a big game of construction - some with a brush - some with a shovel - some choose a pen. ~Jackson Pollock

To me, a building - if it's beautiful - is the love of one man, he's made it out of his love for space, materials, things like that. ~Martha Graham

You don't take a photograph, you make it. ~Ansel Adams

Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom.”-Soren Kierkegaard

The way to know life is to love many things. ~Vincent Van Gogh

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Blessings of a Missed Entrance

“Isn’t wonderful how the show just comes together at the end!” The curtain has fallen, and someone’s mom, or grandma, or doting auntie is all smiles. Congratulations are certainly due to the student actors and crew members, and although I always smile and nod, my inner monologue is expressing anything but agreement.

As every Teaching Artist knows, there is little left to chance in any arts education experience. It takes a great deal of strategic thinking, careful planning and plain hard work to achieve the desired outcome, especially an outcome that looks like it all just “comes together at the end.”

Like most arts educators, I work very hard to keep the focus on the students’ process throughout the rehearsal period and let the final product take care of itself. However, to do that requires a strict daily rehearsal plan, a willingness to accept imperfection along the way and the constant reminder that adult egos have no place in arts education. When Teaching Artists focus on the quality of students’ works as validation of their own worth as artists, the students are no longer being served.

Theatre is my particular discipline, and I certainly love a good show as much as the next person. I want my students to have a great experience during the rehearsal process, culminating in a production in which they can be genuinely proud of what they have accomplished. I am focused on student success every moment of every rehearsal. I use every teaching skill and performance trick I have accumulated over many years as an actor, director, writer and teacher. I explain, encourage, cajole, insist, cheerlead, demonstrate and inspire. I do whatever it takes to get the best performance from every member of the cast. But ultimately, they must be allowed to fail.

This is the secret weapon of the first dress rehearsal. By allowing students to fail while still in the protected environment of rehearsal, we are giving them the greatest educational opportunity possible. Through a myriad of mistakes, dropped lines, misplaced props, mangled dances and the inevitable missed entrance, students are forced to take responsibility for their own work. It is through these “mistakes” that the greatest learning happens. The student who misses his entrance, and accepts personal responsibility for doing so, will never miss that entrance again.

If there is truly magic in the theatre, it happens somewhere between the first tech/dress rehearsal and opening night. Grounded in hours of preparation, student actors are finally prepared to enter the crucible of live performance. If I have done my job well, they will be able to do so with confidence and joy. But ultimately, they must take the final steps on their own.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Daily Thoughts

October 25-29, 2010

Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get — only what you are expecting to give — which is everything. What you will receive in return varies. But it really has no connection with what you give. You give because you love and cannot help giving. - Katharine Hepburn

The things we fear most in organizations—fluctuations, disturbances, imbalances—are the primary sources of creativity. — Margaret J. Wheatley

I love criticism just so long as it's unqualified praise. ~Noel Coward

Trifles make perfection, and perfection is no trifle. ~Michelangelo

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. - George Bernard Shaw

Friday, October 15, 2010

Daily Thoughts

October 11-15, 2010

An artist is a dreamer consenting to dream of the actual world. ~George Santayana

Poetry surrounds us everywhere, but putting it on paper is, alas, not so easy as looking at it. ~Vincent Van Gogh

If I cannot overwhelm with my quality, I will overwhelm with my quantity. ~Emile Zola

It's discouraging to think how many people are shocked by honesty and how few by deceit.~
Noel Coward

In a real dark night of the soul it is always three o'clock in the morning, day after day. ~F. Scott Fitzgerald

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Daily Thoughts

October 4 - October 8, 2010

There are two men inside the artist, the poet and the craftsman. One is born a poet. One becomes a craftsman. ~Emile Zola

Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness. ~Maya Angelou

I love acting. It is so much more real than life. ~Oscar Wilde

One good thing about music, when it hits you, you feel no pain. ~Bob Marley

Seek the lofty by reading, hearing and seeing great work at some moment every day. ~Thornton Wilder

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Sisyphus at the Precipice

Outside, the rain is falling. The long days of summer live only in memory, and for those Teaching Artists who work in schools, the initial fervor of the new school year has faded into the daily grind of classes, rehearsals, assessments and grades.

We stand at the precipice of danger. The vast bulk of the school year stretches ahead, and even now some may feel that there is more work to be done than ever. Like Sisyphus, we already feel the weight of rolling that boulder up the hill of another year.

Rarely does that boulder have anything to do with our students. Far from it; as Teaching Artists we draw our energy and our satisfaction from our time with our students. Rather, the boulder we push valiantly against seems more often to be made of administrative duties, budget realities, inadequate facilities and colleagues who don’t always understand or value what we do. We are in danger of letting that boulder roll right back over us, leaving us flattened in its path.

We can’t escape the boulder entirely, but we can lighten it to a less unwieldy weight. We can begin by practicing the presumption of good will. The moment we begin to presume the best, the boulder gets, if not smaller, at least far more manageable.

Here are a few suggestions:

To practice the presumption of good will, I must strive to:

o Believe that all of my colleagues, both in the arts and throughout the school community, are acting in good faith.
o Listen.
o Not assume I know all the issues factored into any given decision.
o Not assume I know what other people think.
o Not base my opinion of any group-students, parents, colleagues- on the most critical, disgruntled or loudest 20%.
o Believe that the success of others does not diminish me.

As Teaching Artists, we can endeavor to be resilient in the face of adversity, cheerful when challenged, and strive to positively impact our community because we believe in our work. We believe in our students. We know that art matters.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Daily Thoughts

September 28-October 1, 2010

He who would travel happily must travel light. ~Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Humanity can be quite cold to those whose eyes see the world differently.~Eric A. Burns

Living is a form of not being sure, not knowing what next or how. The moment you know how, you begin to die a little. ~Agnes de Mille

This world is but a canvas to our imagination. ~Henry David Thoreau

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Daily Thoughts

September 20-24, 2010

Think of the magic of that foot, comparatively small, upon which your whole weight rests. It's a miracle, and the dance is a celebration of that miracle. ~Martha Graham

A man who has no imagination has no wings.~-Muhammad Ali

One forges one's style on the terrible anvil of daily deadlines. ~Emile Zola

Music is well said to be the speech of angels. ~Thomas Carlyle

Sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast. ~Lewis Carroll

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Daily Thoughts

September 13-17, 2010

I am not afraid. I was born to do this. ~Joan of Arc

First I have a think, and then I put a line around it. ~ Roger Fry

The lack of emotional security of our American young people is due, I believe, to their isolation from the larger family unit. No two people - no mere father and mother - as I have often said, are enough to provide emotional security for a child. He needs to feel himself one in a world of kinfolk, persons of variety in age and temperament, and yet allied to himself by an indissoluble bond which he cannot break if he could, for nature has welded him into it before he was born. ~Pearl S. Buck

I am an artist... I am here to live out loud. ~Emile Zola

I see drawings and pictures in the poorest of huts and the dirtiest of corners. ~Vincent Van Gogh

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Daily Thoughts

September 7-September 10, 2010

I can't go back to yesterday - because I was a different person then. ~Lewis Carroll

The most repeated commandment in the Bible is “Do not fear.” It’s in there over two hundred times. ~ Donald Miller, A Million Miles in a Thousand Years.

Learn by practice. ~Martha Graham

Since love grows within you, so beauty grows. For love is the beauty of the soul. ~Saint Augustine

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010


I spent three hours yesterday with a bunch of amateurs.  Sweaty, nervous amateurs.  Not a single SAG, AFTRA or AEA card in the bunch.   And the craft service table featured only bananas and cheese sticks.

It was awesome.

Yesterday was the first round of auditions for my school's fall play.  Forty kids showed up.  These are students with very full lives. They have family obligations, sports practices, demanding classes and lots and lots and lots of homework.  But they are at this audition for one reason only.  They are amateurs.

Amateur in the true etymological sense of the word; a person who does something for love.  These young amateurs arrive at this audition with varying degrees of experience, confidence and training.  They are all over the developmental map.  But the one thing they all have in common is love: a love for theatre, a love for making music, a love for dancing.  They exude joy.

As Teaching Artists, we strive to instill in our students a level of professionalism, a respect for our individual artistic disciplines, and a tangible toolbox full of skills for their own artistic journey.  And yet, as we impart the values of professionalism, let us be careful to leave their love of the art intact.  Let them remain amateurs; let them do it all for love.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Daily Thoughts

August 30-September 3, 2010

Vision is the art of seeing what is invisible to others. ~Jonathan Swift

Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. ~ Goethe

In my beginning is my end. ~T. S. Eliot

You begin with the possibilities of the material.~ Robert Rauschenberg

Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue.~Plato

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Begin Again

Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop. ~Lewis Carroll

The first day of school is here.  For Teaching Artists who work in schools, the early rhythms established by our own school days come back to us with ease. We who spend our lives in schools have the satisfaction of completing one year, with all its triumphs and disappointments, tying it up in the neat bow of commencement and putting it on the shelf.  Another year behind us.  A great year, a not-so-great year, it really doesn't matter, for whether we are sorry or thrilled to see it end nothing can make it last a moment longer.

Some might then have a summer of rest, or move on to other work for a season.  Perhaps we travel, or putter at home, or dive into our own artistic projects with enthusiasm.  But at the end of that season, the old familiar feelings return. It's time for another year. Another crop of students.  New ideas are born and old assumptions challenged.  The real new year arrives, not with the false gaity of New Year's Eve champagne and party hats, but with the serious business of books and lectures and brown bag lunches.

The first day of school is here, and it is time to begin again.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Daily Thoughts

August 23-27, 2010

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking, and don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart,…you’ll know when you find it.~ Steve Jobs

Art is the only way to run away without leaving home. ~Twyla Tharp

If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. ~Antoine De Saint Exupery

What art offers is space - a certain breathing room for the spirit. ~John Updike

It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see. ~ Henry David Thoreau

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Perfect vs. The Good

Don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good.- Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

As artists, many of us have devoted a considerable amount of our lives to the pursuit of the perfect.  One more brushstroke, one more run-through, one more edit, one more "I'll give you four for nothing, ah five-six-seven-eight!"  Yet if we are honest, perfection has always remained out of reach.  It is easy to look at a classic work of art, and see perfection.  But chances are, Da Vinci probably had some second thoughts about the Mona Lisa.

As Teaching Artists,  we not only have to fight our own unmet needs for perfection, but we also need to stop expecting it from our students.  This doesn't mean we should not have high expectations for our students.  In fact, we do our students a disservice by failing to believe they are capable of producing high quality work.  But we should be careful to always emphasize the process over the product.  The acquisition of skills and discovery of process will last longer than any final project.  This becomes an especially important balancing act in a school environment where regular assessments are the order of the day.  Meaningful assessments in arts education should always be based upon individual student growth and measurable skill acquisition, never upon that mysterious thing we call "talent."

At some point, the student must take ownership of his own work.  No matter the level of skill or sophistication, real artistic growth occurs when the student realizes that ultimately, his own art belongs only to him.  This individuation of the student artist from the Teaching Artist only occurs when the the teacher steps back, gives his final critique and lets the student claim the work as his own.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Daily Thoughts

August 16-20, 2010

To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts. ~Henry David Thoreau

The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.~Aristotle

You never know what is enough unless you know what is more than enough. ~William Blake

To avoid criticism say nothing, do nothing, be nothing.~ Aristotle

As a cure for worrying, work is better than whiskey.~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

If you wish to receive these daily thoughts as an email every Monday through Friday, please send me an email at artistthoughts@gmail.com and I will add you to my distribution list.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Artists Supporting Artists

As Teaching Artists, we are responsible for teaching our students the skills and techniques they need to practice our particular disciplines.  As important as teaching the skills to create art is our responsibility to teach students to respect other artists and to work successfully with other artists.  The best way we can do this is by modeling appropriate behavior among ourselves.  In a school environment, that modeling can take place in the following ways:

o Support one another as teaching artists: practice cooperation not competition

o Share our students

o Attend events across all disciplines

o Encourage our students to support one another as artists through our example

Ultimately, modeling this behavior is one way that we work toward earning greater respect for ourselves, not only from one another and our students, but from the larger community as well.  We became Teaching Artists because we share a passionate belief that art matters.  So if we aren’t the audience, who is? If we don’t care, who will?

Monday, August 2, 2010

The Power of Enactment

I regard the theatre as the greatest of all art forms, the most immediate way in which a human being can share with another the sense of what it is to be a human being. ~Oscar Wilde

What makes theatre such a powerful tool for teaching? To begin with, at the most fundamental human level, "acting it out" changes everything.  There's a reason that early man put on animal skins and danced around the fire to tell the story of a successful hunt.  Almost any story becomes more compelling to an audience when it has been brought to life by human beings who re-enact the tale as if it is happening in front of our eyes at this very moment-not a story that happened in the past, once upon a time.

Beyond the audience, the actors who are presenting the story experience it very differently.  One way of thinking about this is that "acting it out" provides an opportunity for differentiated instruction that can be very effective for certain students to learn any subject, depending on their particular learning style.

But the tremendous power of enactment goes far beyond the entertainment of the audience or the performers' learning of curricular material.  As humans, our emotional connection to the material being presented in live theatre becomes far deeper and more complex than simply reading words on a page.  Perhaps in part this emotional connection is based on our understanding that we are watching real, live people who exist in the same space with us and breathe the same air.  The tightrope-walk of live performance can connect both the audience and the actors to the story in ways they may not fully understand.

The possibility of this deep emotional connection must not be discounted, especially when working with children.  Educational theatre is not psychodrama. Certainly theatre is an excellent method for teaching and learning about any number of difficult issues. Creating and watching characters who are different from us builds empathy and understanding.  But as Teaching Artists, we must be sensitive to the particular capacity for self-identification that theatre holds. Sometimes a character's backstory may be uncomfortably close to the student-actor's personal history. When this backstory involves painful issues such as divorce or death of a parent, the theatre educator should be especially vigilent it choosing who will be playing such characters.

When a young actor begins work on a character, he begins to draw parallels and connections between himself and the characater.  Some questions the actor asks:  How am I like this character?  How am I different?  If I met this character, would we be friends?  How has this character's life so far been like mine?  How has his life been different?

As the student actor digs into the text, he brings to his performance character traits and behaviors observed in others, as well as drawn from within himself. In the best scenario, this self-identifcation can lead students to both a greater understanding of others, and deeper knowledge of themselves.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

The Artist and His Ego

What the world needs is more geniuses with humility, there are so few of us left. ~Oscar Levant

Artists have egos, just like attorneys, heart surgeons and auto mechanics.  This is not to say they have over sized egos; in fact, it has been my personal experience that people who are actively engaged in the pursuit of any artistic discipline tend toward the more emotionally healthy end of the spectrum. It does not seem to matter if they are professional artists, or if their work is purely avocational (I won't use the detested word "amateur." That's a subject for another post.) Suffice to say that creating art feeds the ego, or the soul, depending on your spiritual leanings.  That's a good thing.

So what are the implications for the Teaching Artist?  First of all, when you are in the role of the Teaching Artist, there is an immediate shift in your priorities.  This occurs whether you are an acclaimed professional who takes a day away from the studio to teach a master class, or if you have spent most of your life in the classroom.  During your time as a Teaching Artist, you are putting aside your personal artistic journey for a time to focus on your students.  These students may be very young children discovering water colors, or teens sweating their way thorough a jazz combination, or senior citizens in a journaling workshop.  During your time with your students the artistic journey belongs to them.

 This shift is not always made easily. Many of us have grown up saying to the world at large "Hey everybody, look at me!  Look at what I can do!  Look at this bright, shiny wonderful thing I have made!" We may have been rewarded for our art, comforted by our art, and even in many ways, defined by our art. But in the role of the Teaching Artist, we are no longer defined by our own art; instead, we are defined by our students' experiences.  Note that I am not saying we are defined by their work; their work is what it is, at whatever their stage of development. They are responsible for their own work.  Your job is to teach skills, provide context, guide,connect and inspire. In an experientially based arts class, the most important thing a student takes away from a teacher is the confidence to take the next step.

None of this is to suggest that we should abandon our own art. Far from it! The best Teaching Artists are those who are actively pursuing their own artistic work outside of their teaching time.  Those who let their own artistic journey end and become only teachers, rather than Teaching Artists,  are subject to disillusionment, burnout and bitterness.

So continue with your own journey.  Find joy in your own process that you can share with your students.  Make discoveries that you can bring to the classroom.  But when we are with our students, we must say to the world "Hey everybody, look!  Look! Look at what these kids can do!"

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Skin of Our Teeth

I know that every good and excellent thing in the world stands moment by moment on the razor-edge of danger and must be fought for. ~ Thornton Wilder, The Skin of Our Teeth

The world is a scary place. We read newspapers, watch TV, and consume web media voraciously with the hope that given enough information, somehow we will understand the threats that seem to surround us. But reading about wars in far-away places, environmental disasters close to home, and endless political infighting often leaves us feeling even more helpless to understand. Surely things have never been this bad before?

Audiences on October 15, 1942 may well have shared that sentiment.  Less than a year after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Thornton Wilder dared to open a play that was described by the New York Time's Brooks Atkinson as "one of the wisest and friskiest comedies written in a long time."  The subject matter?  Nothing less than life, death and the end of the world.

Act One of The Skin of Our Teeth finds the four members of the  Antrobus family facing impending environmental disaster in the form of freakishly cold weather in July.  An enormous wall of ice is moving toward their suburban home in Excelsior New Jersey. By the end of the act, Mrs. Antrobus is imploring the audience members to pass up their seat cushions to be used as fuel to keep the home fires burning. Act Two finds the family still alive and intact on the boardwalk in Atlantic City, but this time the threat to the family comes from within, in the form of a gold-digging beauty queen who has her eye on Mr. Antrobus.  But before her plan comes to fruition, an epic storm arrives to destroy all living creatures on earth; fortunately the Antrobus family takes refuge on a large boat, along with a whole lot of animals. Act Three finds the family split apart at the end of a long-running war that appears to have engulfed the entire US, splitting Americans into warring factions, with Mr. Antrobus and his son on opposing sides. And yet, by the end of the play, the Antrobus family has been reunited, and Mr. Antrobus vows to begin once again to rebuild the world.

In 2010, The Skin of Our Teeth strikes me as eerily prescient. Written in the midst of World War II, Wilder manages to capture the broad range of threats to humankind, both those that attack us from outside and those we find within ourselves.  Mr. Antrobus makes plenty of mistakes. (Did I mention that his name means "human" in Greek?) But in spite of his mistakes, Mr. Antrobus continues to struggle on, buoyed by his belief that he has a greater purpose, and he must continue to work to improve the world, not only for his family but for all people.