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.

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.