Monday, April 11, 2011

The Need to Compose & A Room of One's Own: Art Making & School-Based Writing

Creating Art
Yesterday I knew I needed to create something with my hands, not only my camera.  For awhile when I had a different job and oodles of time, I worked at collage frequently. I enjoyed making batiked papers for my collages, painting with watercolors and acrylics, collecting "found" papers, applying gesso to surfaces, using Liqiuitex or Golden gel mediums, having on hand a range of brushes, artist tape, some sponges, and course a brayer. It's the physicality of the work that interests me as the blank canvas begins to take on shape as I layer paper and paint.

I had been dreaming the last week of a room of my own.  It was a fairly massive space with very large canvases with the edges taped, ones taller than me, and serious rollers with long handles, and pans of paint. I don't have a room of my own.  So yesterday I unpacked art materials I had put away after starting my new job (now 17 months old), carted everything upstairs to the dining room table, covered it with paper and began to work.  A couple hours later, satisfied with the image, I photographed it and then imported it into Photoshop (CS4).  I let it sit on my screen for a few hours taking a look now and again. At about 11:00 p.m. I began to work with the image, layering parts of photographs I had taken the day before and playing. By that time, my home was very quiet and I worked for about an hour, and left the image up on my screen.

This morning, I returned to the image at about 6:00 a.m. and worked at it for awhile, but could not get it to a finished state so I left it alone again and went to work.  I got home at about 9:00 tonight and began thinning the image of the sun by blurring it.  This seemed to settle the work into an evenness that had eluded me. Because I work in layers, I can click off and on sections of the image to see differences, as well as reorder the layers to shift foreground and background.  24 hours later, I felt done and posted the image on RedBubble and Twitter.

School-Based Writing
Tonight I thought about the processes I went through to make the final image and contrasted that with the way "experts" on  several different videos I watched this afternoon teach writing. In preparation for some work I will be doing next week, I was reviewing video all afternoon.  I was dismayed at the amount of talk the guest teachers (expert consultants) did and how the kids regardless of the setting (middle school, high school) sat and watched the guests.  It was like an epic version of Waiting for Godot.

I also was concerned when the guests simply told the kids to write and gave them a few minutes.  Then the students were expected to confer with a partner for a minute or two and then read aloud their work. Throughout this process, each guest consultant kept referring to the students as writers. Most of the  work read by the students in each class was pretty mundane and quite unfinished, and certainly I can understand why, as creating was limited to 6 minutes, some talk, and then Pow: perform.  The expert consultants' comments to the kids were overly rewarding with statements like: "You are fabulous writers." "That's great work." "You're a poet." "You worked really really hard today in your groups."

I just didn't see any of that. And I am a hoping the kids didn't buy it either.  I'm confident the students can do better work, with greater difficulty and complexity than what 6 minutes of pencil to paper produces. So what I was thinking about tonight is the contrast in creating art--be it as a painter, photographer, or writer and the privilege I have to determine the time I need to create a work, the range of tools (physical and technological) I have to use, as well as the certainty that I can abandon or set aside work anytime throughout the process. The students I watched had none of these and I want to remind you that these videos (costly at that) are presented as models for teachers to follow. 

I kept thinking: When do kids learn that creating is tough stuff, not a six-minute task? When do students experience what all artists come up against walls that must be honored and pushed through? What might beginning teachers make of this?

Along Towards Morning (M.A. Reilly, 4.11)

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