Friday, September 18, 2015

An Artsy Chance Encounter

When you are driving down the road and see something  that makes you want to stop, don't keep driving!  I hate to think that if, when I yelled "What is THAT??  STOP the car!", my husband had kept driving.  We all would have missed an amazing experience.  But thankfully, he stopped and backed up, even though we were on our way to beautiful Bash Bish Falls with our son, and we all agreed it was totally worth it!
We almost missed it.  We were busy discussing road signs when suddenly we were passing what looked like some large scrap metal sculptures in a field.  There was a sign that said "Circle Museum", and that's when I started shouting.  The Circle Museum and Sculpture Park is a one-man show - the creation of an incredible artist named Bijan Mahmoodi.
There are well over a hundred large-scale sculptures.
I read that Bijan said he decided to call it  the Circle Museum because, he said, "our planet is based on the circle - the sun, the planets, the moon, and life itself is cyclical.  The circle is what inspires me."  But certainly all the sculptures aren't based on the circle.  There are eagles, and other birds, for example.
 There's a tree made of shimmering curling strips of metal. 
There's these bent-over human-ish forms, that I thought looked like a yoga class.  A friend saw the photos and told me that to her they looked like "deeply exhausted space aliens trudging across a field."  I love that description!
There's many other sculptures that are based on the human form in one way or another.
Maybe my favorite sculpture is one that I didn't realize was a human form right away, and then when I viewed it from another side, I realized that I was looking at someone with a nice round tush!
 And is that a bunny tail on the tush?
And look at this!  A very clever table and chairs, made out of bathtubs!!
Honestly, there wasn't a thing there that didn't totally blow me away, including Bijan, a lovely man who has no web presence and does not advertise at all, but does live off of his artwork.  He gave us his business card, which basically just has a phone # and email address.  He forgot to have his name printed on the cards!  He is dependent on people like us, who screech to a halt. (Luckily he is on a main road.)  He has been located there, I believe, for 30 or 40 years, but spends winters in Europe.
 And a few more random pictures of the many sculptures...
 Below, my son is photographing a piece that reminded him of Sputnik. 
 We did, by the way, eventually make it to Bash Bish Falls, about 10 miles down the road.  There's a great legend about the derivation of its name, which you can find with a Google search.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

I'm just gonna blow a little steam...

Let me start by saying this.  Please do not be offended by this post.  I am about to express my own personal opinions, and that's all they are.  I don't expect you to agree with me, and that's fine.  Maybe you'll agree with some points; maybe not.  It's all OK!  Wouldn't it would be boring if we all had the same tastes and opinions?  This isn't a rant; it's just me blowing a little steam as I express my opinions on a bunch of random, some art education related topics. I'm just in the mood for getting these pet peeves, things that I am just "over", off my chest and I want to share them.  If you've been reading this blog for a while, you might even notice me saying something I've said before in one or more of these points (such as #5).  If some of the things in my list annoy YOU, that's OK; nothing here is intended as a personal attack and again, I don't expect you to agree with me.  
So here we go:

1) Vincent van Gogh's Starry Night. I'm so beyond bored by lesson plans based on the painting, clothing with the trademark swirly sky, you name it.  I am just SO over Starry Night (And YES, I have taught Starry Night lessons in the past, but not for a number of years now.)  This isn't a slam about van Gogh.  There's a lot of van Gogh paintings that I think are stunningly gorgeous.  And fun to teach with - the rich texture, the vibrant use of color!!  But Starry Night?  Not my favorite.  First of all, if you've ever seen the real painting, in MoMA in NYC, you know it is very small.  Sort of a disappointment.  But mostly, I feel the painting is overrated and dreadfully overused.  There's just so much better!  Here's one of the many goofy parodies of the painting:

2) While I'm on the case of paintings that are smaller than you hoped, there's also Dali's The Persistence of Memory.  The real painting, also in MoMA, is positively tiny!!  Don't get me wrong; I'm actually a Dali/surrealism fan; it's fun to teach.  But this painting is a grand disappointment compared to other works by Dali and other surrealists. This is me and the painting, I think last winter, at MoMA.

3) Being asked to vote for or "like" artwork by kids I don't know so that they can win prizes on Artsonia or elsewhere.  Sometimes I really don't think the piece I've been asked to "like" is the best one, and it is kind of awkward to be expected to vote for it just because I know you from Facebook or somewhere.  If there's a contest, and you'd like me to vote, fine.  Just don't tell me what to pick.  I'm rebellious, and if you tell me who to vote for, I guarantee that I'll always pick the other guy. 

4) While I'm at it: being asked to play games on Facebook.  Do I ever play games?  Yes: Words with Friends, and Word Streak/Scramble with Friends; I like word games.  But I do not link those games to Facebook in any way.  I'm happy to play them with you if you need someone who will be competitive, but  please don't ask me, on Facebook, to play other silly games.  I have enough to do. 

5) Lessons on using repetitive design and pattern that are called Zentangle lessons.  The word Zentangle doesn't appear in the National Art Standards, or in the Common Core, or in the Elements of Art or Principles of DesignZentangle is a prescribed method of drawing repetitive designs using specific techniques and patterns and materials, and has become big business.  Every repetitive design is not a Zentangle.  Do you think that when Laurel Burch filled her fantastic felines with rich pattern and design that she was Zentangling?  Do you think that the incredible artists of Oaxaca who make carved wooden animals and other figures and then paint them with detailed and colorful repetitive pattern have even heard the word "Zentangle"?  Please, folks!  Lessons on pattern and repetitive design are just that!  You may be incorporating various E's and P's, such as line, movement, rhthym, and so on, but you are not necessarily doing a Zentangle every time you fill a shape with smaller shapes and then fill them with repeating patterns.  NO NO NO. (By the way, on the left below is an image of some patterned Laurel Burch cats.  The two other images are of carved pieces hand-painted by the talented Oaxacan artist Agustin Cruz Prudencio.) 

6) Annoying brainless pop music ear worms (music that you can't get out of your head) of songs that you don't like.  The other night I was watching the Jimmy Fallon show and he and Ellen DeGeneres did a lip sync contest, and two of the songs they did (and the two that got stuck in my head for a full day) were the Whip/Nae-Nae song (I don't know the real title) and Bitch Better Have My Money.  WHAT????  What ever happened to songs with lyrics that I wouldn't be embarrassed to sing along to?  Good grief.  Dear younger generation, is this the best that you can come up with??

7) T-Shirts and posters that tell me to "Keep Calm and...".  I do NOT always WANT to stay calm!  I am not a yoga sort of gal.  I like to get excited by stuff!!

8) And since I've mentioned T-shirts, how about this: being expected to want to wear a logo T-shirt to match a bunch of other people in a group of some sort.  Sorry, folks.  I wear T-shirts to the gym, or cleaning the house, or when I'm in the kayak or in the yard.  I do not consider logo T-shirts to be fashion.  And, as an art teacher, I like to be unique in the clothes and jewelry I wear.  I want to be an individual.  Wearing matching T-shirts makes me feel like a kid in day camp or  camp counselor.  Where's my whistle?

9) Still in the T-shirt department - just because a T-shirt has an art print on it, doesn't make it fashion!  Why are so many people so excited to wear a T-shirt with a Keith Haring (or any other artist) work of art printed on the front?  It is STILL JUST A T-SHIRT!!  Now, if you are making something awesome with fabric that has artwork printed on it, that's a different story.  Just please, let go of the T-shirt as a fashion choice!

10) Facebook posts of coloring book pages in the Facebook Art Teacher group.  Listen, if coloring books are your thing, if they are therapeutic for you, I've got absolutely no gripe.  I do know people who adore coloring books for relaxation, and I know adult coloring books are the rage right now.  So go ahead and color!  But sharing your coloring sheets on Instagram or Facebook?  I just don't understand why anyone thinks I'd want to see them, and I don't understand why they are they clogging up the feed, making me miss more useful and interesting posts.  By the way, when I searched for an image to put here, I was pretty stunned at some of the 'edgy' coloring books available for adults.   I chose to post something relatively safe...

11) Lately, again in the Art Teacher Facebook group, I see lots of posts of people asking for links to videos they can show a certain grade level on a certain topic.  I think kids spend WAY TOO MUCH TIME looking at stuff on screens.  I don't understand the need to have a video in order to introduce a new topic.  Kids need less screen time, not more.   

12) And finally, there's this - the way I see people teaching the drawing of cylinders.  It makes me absolutely CRAZY when people draw the tops of cylinders as an almond, with two curved lines ending in points where they meet at the ends, rather than an oval.  It makes the cylinder look like a crushed can.  If you don't know what I'm talking about, look at my quickie illustrations below.  The first shows using ovals to create cylinders, which is correct.  The depth of the oval will depend on where your eye level is.  The second illustration shows a drawing where the top curve and the bottom curve meet in points on either edge, like an almond shape.  This is NOT correct.  I always had students, when learning to draw solid shapes, practice using their entire arm to make ovals.  And we used lots of cylinders and looked at them carefully to see if there were ever points on the ends.  And unless the cylinder was squashed or crushed, there was not. 

13) I have a concern about the many lessons I see posted, incorporating sweet foods to make them fun, such as mixing colors of frosting for cupcakes to teach color theory, or using cupcakes for incentives, and so on.  I have three concerns about this: first, the kid who is gluten-sensitive and can't participate, second, the diabetic child who can't have the sugar, and third, the obese child who doesn't need to be fed candy or cupcakes in art class.  I have a close relationship with someone who has a child that is struggling with obesity, and is trying to maintain a doctor recommended diet, but everywhere he goes, someone is offering an ice cream or a cupcake, it seems.  It's hard for a second grader to have the will power to say no, and even harder if it is part of a class experience.  When I was teaching, I did sometimes reward a class with a "pop-pop" party.  The refreshments, popcorn and fruit ice pops, were chosen specifically to avoid food allergies and diet concerns. 

14) And finally, something I think you should all be able to agree with.  It absolutely kills me how many school districts have art teachers, and art programs, and then have no budget to support them.  It breaks my heart to see the constant posts in the Facebook Art Teacher group about the incredible amount of money people spend from their own pockets to supply their programs.  Everyone is always posting bargains they find at Target or other stores that they are scooping up for their classrooms.  Bargains are great, and certainly when I was teaching, I spent some pocket money to buy oddball things to enhance my lessons and my classroom, but I didn't totally supply my art program out of my own pocket.  No other teachers are expected to do this!  Phys ed teachers don't use their own money to buy the basketballs and other equipment for their programs.  And certainly the academic teachers aren't buying the textbooks for their classes!  It's ridiculous!  I'm blown away by how disrespected (by lack of financial support) so many art teachers are by their districts, rather than being given the resources needed to be successful. 

There.  I've said all I want to, and I'm done.  I'm curious to hear whether I've touched any nerves with this post, whether you agree, or have a totally different perspective on my points.  Let me know!

Wednesday, September 9, 2015


I retired three years ago.  I wasn't tired of making art with kids.  I was tired of all the other stuff: the nonsense being shoved down my throat by administration, the state regulations, the assessments, the Essential Questions, the SLO's, the so-called professional development that never related to art education, the data, the lunch duty, the requisitions for next year's supplies (due in February when there's still a half year of school to go), and more.  I was tired of making doctor and dentist appointments in the late afternoon and racing to get there on time.  I was tired of booking vacations when everyone else is on vacation.  I was tired of being exhausted of Friday nights, and I was tired of grocery shopping on Saturdays when the stores are crowded.
But I wasn't tired of making art with kids.  As a matter of fact, it was just the opposite.  I had so many projects I wanted to do again, and so many new ideas I wanted to share with students.  So I needed a plan to make art with kids, on my own time, with my own rules.  Just hands-on mess-making activities.  Papier-mache, paint, collage, weaving, mask-making, and more more more.  Low tuition; just enough to pay for the materials and other costs.
My plan involved opening my own business, DragonWing Arts.  I put the plan in motion about 2-1/2  years ago.  The plan was (and still is) to have classes of students grades 3-6, or ages 8-11ish, for weekly classes in a session of between 5 and 8 weeks.  Each multi-week session would be based on a theme.  I had/have so many ideas for themes.  By the way, all photos in this post are from my DragonWing Arts classes.  Our themes thus far  have included All About the Face, Around the World, Marvelous Mess,
 But the big challenge continues to be finding students.  I do not live in the community where I taught, so I do not know the children.  My friends do no not have young children.  So I have tried, with varying degrees of success, advertising in a local weekly newspaper, contacting area art teachers, and sending flyers home in backpacks.  The schools have been a challenge, often refusing to allow flyers to be sent out for a fee-based program.  I have fluctuated between 5 and 3 students per session. I had some repeat students.  But this fall, my repeat students have all just started 5th grade, which is in the middle school, and the school and their schedules are new to them and their parents say there's too much going on for them to commit to the art classes.  So every time I latch onto a student for a year or two, it seems they "age out" because of the demands of middle school.
I believe, ironically, that my program is more important than ever. My students, who came from several local schools, had universal complaints about their school art programs.  They rarely did anything messy; rarely painted.  They've never touched papier-mache before they came to my class.  They've drawn and colored with pencils and markers.  They have never done weaving.  They have imaginations and creativity waiting to be unlocked.
 In two and a half years, we've made 3-D painted paper weaving, we've hammered nails to make rain sticks, we've experimented with salt and watercolor and we've marbled with shaving cream; we've learned basic perspective, made toothpaste batiks, giant masks, and stocking/wire sculptures; we've made papier-mache flying pigs, Darumas, rain sticks, and ice cream cones; we've built giant eyeballs, painted paper, made papier-mache pulp reliefs, tie-dyed coffee filter flowers, and held art shows for the parents.
And this fall, the plan was for papier-mache garden gnomes and gnome home doors in tree stumps or mushrooms (large, with more papier-mache and all sorts of fun embellishment).  I was totally excited.  Yet, suddenly, I found myself with only one student signed up and as of today, I've had to cancel the fall session.  I am frustrated, disheartened.  I want these smiling happy faces back in my little classroom. 
 I advertised the program for three weeks, and didn't receive even one response from the ad.  School hadn't started yet, so I couldn't even attempt the backpack battle.  It seems like the stress of school has gotten worse, and when you are working with a clientele that "ages out", you need to continually find new "clients". 
 I don't expect you to offer me any solutions.  What works in your community might not work in mine..  I just wanted to share my frustration.  Meanwhile, I'll keep plugging along, and hope that this winter I may find a new batch of students.