Bird Droppings December 4, 2020
Teaching as improvisational art using learning as the pallet
I wrote the basics of this article nearly sisteen years ago and at the time was thinking of an artist friend now a computer programmer who was trying to define her art as well as searching for her own meaning in life. My friend often reflected her political views and emotions through her art. It has been a few years my family had a family game night at the request of one of my nephews and his wife, inviting us all over to play various board games, computer games and eat of course. It seems in all family gatherings eating is an integral part and perhaps a socializing aspect that gets overlooked far too often. Perhaps one day I will write on the socializing aspects of a family get together and the intertwining of food. But a Trivial Pursuit question I did not know the answer to caught my attention. “What Impressionist painter started an art community just prior to committing suicide?”
“The more I think about it, the more I realize there is nothing more artistic than to love others” Vincent Van Gogh
By chance the answer was Van Gogh. When I first read this, I started to think about an ear coming in a box, and how unromantic that is. Perhaps sending body parts while you are alive is an art form. But trying not to be sarcastic, many aspects of our lives could be construed as an art form, such as love, teaching, and caring. Each goes beyond a simple definition. Within each are pieces that you do not learn in class. I am sure if Vincent Van Gogh showed a picture he drew or painted during one of his manic spells, the art teacher would have told him to take art lessons. Today those same paintings are considered classics of impressionism. I am sure Picasso was laughed at, somewhere along the line for drawing women in cube form or simply as a splash of color upon his canvas.
What defines an art form versus simply reality? I would not pay millions to have a Picasso or Van Gogh even if I had the money lying around. Perhaps for me I would prefer to see and experience rather than to own. It seems those who pay millions are often more about the publicity than the art.
“The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means and hold it fixed so that a hundred years later, when a stranger looks at it, it moves again since it is life. Since man is mortal, the only immortality possible for him is to leave something behind him that is immortal since it will always move. This is the artist’s way of scribbling “Kilroy was here” on the wall of the final and irrevocable oblivion through which he must someday pass.” William Faulkner
Defining the moment in words, paint or sculpture, perhaps even a bit of broken glass is art. I saw a in a tiny chapel outside Atlanta stained glass windows many years ago created by a renowned artist, an elderly Trappist monk from Conyers. This was his last work at the age of ninety-two. The brilliant abstracts in the windows were in reds and purple depicting the Christian sacraments. The windows were literally alive as you sat in the chapel bathed in the brilliant light from the windows.
“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance and I know of no substitute whatever for the force and beauty of its process.” Henry James
I was thinking about Faulkner’s idea of art. How we can take a piece of life and preserve it. Artists are in many ways taxidermists each working within their own medium so to speak. Is love simply that special moment carried further as a reminder of what once was? Could teaching simply be a passing of pieces of reality to another who will have those pieces at some point in time? Even in the painting of Van Gogh is his art just the capturing of an image. Interesting how we do so easily now with digital cameras, scanners and computers. Even in my own photography playing with color and movement as I capture images.
“Art is the human disposition of sensible or intelligible matter for an esthetic end.” James Joyce
“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.” John F. Kennedy
“There is nothing more difficult for a truly creative painter than to paint a rose, because before he can do so he has first to forget all the roses that were ever painted.” Henri Matisse
Nearly eight years ago Mel Brooks was honored at the Kennedy Art Center for his contributions. I found myself drawn to these writers’ quotes today especially as I read this statement by Henry Matisse. There is a secret hidden within Matisse’s words, for all forms of art. We are so often limited by our history and previous experiences, be it love or an art form, for Matisse then each love, each new piece of art should be new. Each should be special. It is in trying to categorize and synthesize that we lose the true essence and aspect of love, and of art. When we try to define and label the box of love do we lose pieces as we can in art? Teaching is in a very similar situation. Far too often teachers try and teach each lesson as they taught the last. First you have to forget all the classes that were ever taught, a difficult task for any teacher.
“If I didn’t start painting, I would have raised chickens.” Grandma Moses
“Often while reading a book one feels that the author would have preferred to paint rather than write; one can sense the pleasure he derives from describing a landscape or a person, as if he were painting what he is saying, because deep in his heart he would have preferred to use brushes and colors.” Pablo Picasso
It has been nearly ten years ago that a student brought in several dozen photos she and her sister had taken of each other. One of the photos caught my eye. Neither of the girls saw any significance as do very few others when I see things in photos. But for me that one photo caught the personality of the student and I put it on my wall in my class room. That is art for me. Recently one of the sisters came by to visit and noticed the picture was still there and how much that meant to her. Where and how does it become art for everyone? How does teaching become energized to a point that it is art?
It has been some time since I wrote a rather long email to a dear friend who is a pastor in Pennsylvania. I used the word empathy several times. An artist in whatever medium they choose has to have empathy. A pastor is an artist dealing with the spirituality of parishioners and so much more. As I researched art many paradoxes seemed to crop up even within the definition.
“A nonscientific branch of learning; one of the liberal arts.” “A system of principles and methods employed in the performance of a set of activities: the art of building A trade or craft that applies such a system of principles and methods: the art of the lexicographer. “Dictionaery.com
Art is nonscientific yet it is also very specific in other ways. I find art perhaps more scientific than science. It is interesting in art we attach theory to reality and in science we try to attach reality to theory. Teaching in and of itself is taking reality and attaching theory to it. We have a block of information that by various means we have to interpret to a student and hopefully they will come close to what we are actually trying to teach. For several days I have been discussing or mentioning symbols and recognition of symbols as how we understand our reality. It is through symbols we convey information about reality.
“To impart knowledge” Dictionary.com
“Art is a selective re-creation of reality according to an artist’s metaphysical value-judgments. An artist recreates those aspects of reality which represent his fundamental view of man’s nature.” Ayn Rand
I was thinking back several years to a teacher searching the closet for teacher’s manuals and transparencies to teach a subject they had taught for forty years. I was a bit taken back. How do you teach a subject for forty years and now get stressed over a manual and transparencies? You should know the material and it should not be the exact same for every class. The delivering of the material is the key issue here. I was curious as I watched and observed the mounting stress for this teacher as no teacher’s manual and transparencies could be found. Fortunately for the students their regular teacher made it back in time.
“There has to be one how did anyone teach this class before me.” A former teacher
That same week I watched a teacher take the same subject and walk into class dressed as a knight, maybe it was a goat herder, with literally a virtual reality game. This was in a history class and it came alive. The teacher divided the room and each team was given various attributes such as being near water, having fertile soil, possessing seeds or goats etc. One group was given a gold mine and nothing else. There was a bit of reflection and a bit of thinking for the students. Then the essential question was asked, how are you going to develop your civilization? I am curious which group learned more about the start of world civilization, from the forty year experienced teacher or the lowly goat herder. Art is an interpretation. In teaching we often interpret ideas and events. It is also providing the opportunity for the student to interpret and learn from that thinking process.
“I choose a block of marble and chop off whatever I don’t need.” Augusto Rodin
“Inside you there’s an artist you don’t know about. He’s not interested in how things look different in moonlight.” Jahal-Uddin Rumi
“Not even the visionary or mystical experience ever lasts very long. It is for art to capture that experience, to offer it to, in the case of literature, its readers; to be, for a secular, materialist culture, some sort of replacement for what the love of god offers in the world of faith.” Salman Rushdie
We each can be artists in our own field, and perhaps empathy is the key. It is being able to reach that inner spark in others so they can feel what you feel what you see and hear and understand what it was that inspired you.
“Great art is never produced for its own sake. It is too difficult to be worth the effort.” George Bernard Shaw
“What distinguishes a great artist from a weak one is first their sensibility and tenderness; second, their imagination, and third, their industry.” John Ruskin
Ruskin has perhaps defined what constitutes a great artist, be it in whatever medium used, or whatever pallet you choose. I wish we could as easily declare peace throughout the world. I wonder if we can bottle and sell empathy then maybe peace could be a reality. I worked a bit in my herb garden yesterday trimming dead branches and stems. I had been watching the sky and the afternoon sun setting. I was listening to the quiet of my back-yard walking about this was very soothing. I wonder can growing herbs be considered an art form? Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and in your heart and always give thanks namaste.
My family and friends I do not say this lightly,
(We are all related)