Monday, February 27, 2012

My husband and I went to the art museum the other day. I love the St. Louis art museum, and every time I go am amazed at the quality and quantity of world famous art, and the fact that there is no admission fee!
We walked around in the impressionists area first, both having just read the newest biography on Van Gogh, we wanted to see some of his work up close. We've seen it before, but each time you look at his work, its as if he has just finished, you can see it in it's unframed state, leaning up against the wall drying. His work is truly alive, and the photos never do it justice. The thick paint, the swaths of vibrant, intense color, the movement - it's as if all that he couldn't "be" in his life, is there in his painting. The friendships he wanted, but couldn't sustain, the love and family he ached for his entire life, but could never quite reach. His quest to follow Christ, to do his work, to help the needy; and his fall from grace. His drive to observe and record people, an observation that most of the time took the place of genuine interaction in his life. This need to draw people in their daily activities, the quest to unearth what was underneath the facade; Van Gogh relentlessly worked at portraiture and people- It's what he always went back to but was never able to get the recognition or satisfaction from it that he needed. And although the "potato eaters"- the painting of a peasant family sharing potatoes and tea around a table- was seen as the earliest in expressionistic painting, that's not what he was striving for. He wanted to do it "right" - he wanted to capture people, but could never do it the way that he wanted, in life or in his art.
So I guess it is with all artists, what we strive for in life, we strive for in our art to some degree. "Who" you are comes out in your work- peeks through, sometimes taunting, sometimes celebrating, but always present and alive in what we put on paper or canvas. The soul of the work is the soul of the artist and creator, as it is in life. So the next time you get out your paints , or clay, or graphite, or whatever it is that you utilize in your art, be looking for the clues that you leave about yourself, some you may not even be aware of.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

being an artist: allowing yourself to be an artist

being an artist: allowing yourself to be an artist

allowing yourself to be an artist

The one thing I come up against constantly in my private lessons with students is how to help them let go. Let go of preconceived ideas about how they should paint, or what a final product should look like. I try to help them see that it is okay for the process of art to be messy; not just making the studio or their clothes messy, but the process of creating and "playing" is messy. Its not always pretty, it doesn't always look good, you dont even come out with a final product a lot of times. It is in the creating and the playing and making mistakes that we learn who we are as artists. What we want to say, and struggling with how we want to say it are a part of the process. Just as one cannot learn to speak another language fluently after a few days, one cannot learn to be an artist quickly or cleanly. It takes time for the artist to put themselves fully into their art, whether that is playing an instrument or picking up the brush. The easy part is the technical part. Learning brush strokes and washes, terms and new techniques. The difficult part is when you begin to try to infuse that brush with some of "you". The line that embodies a feeling. Knowing the intensity of the color that describes most beautifully what you are trying to set free in you painting. These are things that can't be taught. They must be experienced, felt, nurtured and practiced freely. In doing so, the artist and the artwork become one, and I know after my students have felt that for the first time, they will never put down the brush again.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

being an artist: experimental watercolor

being an artist: experimental watercolor

experimental watercolor

Today my student and I did some watercolor "pouring" , always interesting, and messy and wonderful!! Did some atmospheric paintings, painting wet in wet circles of yellow, red, and blue, then spraying and rotating until getting a beautiful, glowing, transparent atmosphere. This can be used as a backdrop for a street, lake scene, or any scene where the light and atmosphere are the focal point.
We then did some wave and sea scenes, starting with dabs of pure color, in dark green, blues and even some alizaron crimson- then spraying some areas while leaving some areas dry to create wave patterns. Finally, pouring color washes and moving the paper around so that some wave-like patterns occur. The hardest part while doing these is stopping to let dry before going to far. It is in the drying and watching that inspiration comes and then adding detail to bring into focus your vision.

Friday, February 10, 2012

being an artist: teaching art

An article on why it's important to teach drawing to children and adults alike.

teaching art

This week I have been taking the students out to draw from life. That means coffee shops mostly in the winter. But what an amazing array of life you can see just sitting in a booth for a couple of hours. We've been talking about gesture drawing; quick, sweeping lines that describe the motion or stillness, curve of a neck, angle of a knee, the plane of the shoulders or hips. These drawings are not about details, they are rather about getting down the essential without getting distracted by the non-essential. It is a scary way to draw at first, as these aren't perfectly 'finished" drawings. But they are freeing and beautiful in their own way. It opens students up to begin to feel the drawing, to become the drawing. Eyes and hand working in sync - taking over and quieting "left brain" critical side.
So this week, go sit awhile at your favorite place. Wait for an 85 year old woman with a blue knit cap and white curls poking out of it, to come sit right in your line of sight, and eat a bowl of soup and a piece of bread with beautiful 85 year old hands. That's the gift I got this week. What will yours be?

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

on teaching art

I have taught art now for quite a long time, to many different ages, not without trepidation and doubt as to whether I was truly inspiring the students to be artists, or merely filling time with ideas or techniques that they weren't ready to integrate into their artistic experience.
I have taught grades 6-12, mostly in middle school, and also kindergarten and 1st graders, while my last few years have focused on teaching and guiding adults through private lessons in painting.
Which of these was the most difficult? It depends- as far as needing a vallium
before I entered the classroom, it would have to be kindergarten and 1st grade-. ( I didn't actually take vallium, just thought about it a lot) This age is spongelike and excited about art, which is absolutely wonderful. The problem is the lack of time you have in this setting, and their limited fine motor skills. You end up teaching a lot of cutting, and clean up with kindergarteners and 1st graders should require a college class.

Middle school is wonderful and completely exhausting mentally. You have the opportunity to grab these kids who are not interested in school at all- but love art. You have the ability to help guide the artists who come to you with some accomplishment already. You have the chance to give students a shot at being proud of their work, and fitting into a group, maybe for the first time, with extracurricular things like art club and art shows.
So the opportunites are there, and ripe. The difficulty is the balancing act, which can be almost impossible at times. The balancing act of disciplining the students who need art the most, the ones you work on "getting on board" every single day. The balancing act of having to deal with the behavior disabled students ,who are sometimes physically and verbally abusive, in your regular classroom because you are an elective. This involves constant vigilance in protecting the other students and making them feel safe, disruptions, verbal abuse , etc. Mainstreaming other special groups works in art. Mentally disabled, hearing impaired, come in and are a perfect fit, but truly there are some gaps in our schoolsystem's method of throwing oppositional defiant, sociopathic and emotionally disturbed students in with the mix and expecting teachers to successfully teach.
Middle school is a precarious act of balancing discipline, organizational systems, teaching technique, allowing freedom of expression, artistic guidance, and inspiration, all the while keeping those artistically inclined but troubled kids afloat while still being able to reach and challenge those serious students of art that need to be stretched to reach all that they can..
What I found is that I was too drained emotionally at the end of the day to do my own art after teaching in the middle grades. But I won't say it isn't a satisfying way to earn a living. It is important work and difficult work if done well, but the rewards of teaching this age group are endless.

Right now I teach adults/teens and absolutely love it. I find it is a way to integrate my passion, my love for art and teaching, with the freedom to do my own work simultaneously. My lessons are private, and each one is completely different. Each student on their own artistic journey, and it is fullfilling and inspiring to help guide, seek, and facilitate their progress in becoming the artist that they were meant to be. It is a joy.