Tales from the Art Side Art Blog
There is a tangible energy in an art room; a palatable excitement that at times I have to force myself to slow down and savor. You can sense it when the students are really enthused about an assignment and they__™re eagerly immersing themselves in their work. I float around the room encouraging creativity, nudging inspiration, and playfully joking with the kids. Amidst the flurry of noise and activity there are days I must simply stop and smile as I take a moment to remind myself that teaching kids art was my dream, and I'm living it.
I__™ve known I wanted to be a high school art teacher ever since I, myself, was a high school art student. Under the tutelage of some exemplary instructors I heard my future vocation beckoning me. It took me seven years to slowly drudge my way through my collegiate career and eventually earn my degree. During four of those years I worked full time as a ad designer for the local newspaper, essentially earning a second degree in graphic design, a skill that continues to serve me well today. Throughout those long years of designing newspaper ads by day and studying art education pedagogy by night, I dreamed about the time when I__™d finally stand in front of a class. I imagined what I would say and do, the projects I__™d introduce and the lessons I__™d try to convey. I envisioned the rhythm and tempo of the class dynamic, how the students would respond to me and how we all would relate as a group.
It was much to my surprise then, and my amusement now, that I realized a majority of my daydreaming was the result of misdirected naivet__. I have since come to discover that the process of teaching kids art is not a tranquil and serene interaction between placidly intrigued students and their eager instructor. Or at least my particular brand of art education is not. I__™m sure there are classes in which the atmosphere is very calm and peaceful, but I__™d be willing to gamble that the artwork being produced in such an environment is likely a bit dull and predictable. I don__™t say that to be arrogant, but to try and draw a parallel between the energy and the output of the class.
Teenagers are, by their very nature, full of explosive energy and emotion. Unfortunately our current public school format requires students to spend most of their day subduing and stifling their natural inclinations and enthusiasms. This is equivalent to placing your thumb over an open bottle of soda and then walking around all day shaking it; at some point there must be a release. I like to think that__™s where my class comes in. My preferred flavor of art instruction is a room of mild insanity that is only barely contained. It is a space that is pulsing with so much energy and life that it is positively contagious. And as a result, participation becomes inherently desirable to the students instead of merely being a product of mandatory obligation.
Now I__™ll be the first to admit, this can be an extremely difficulty dynamic to achieve with a room full of teenagers, especially at 8:00am. And I won__™t pretend that it this something I manage to accomplish with every class, every day. But I can say, with great sense of determination, it is what I strive for in all my classes. It is the gift I very much want to share with each of my students: a room full of energy and freedom, and an assortment of media with which to experience it.
It is my opinion that the classroom environment plays an absolutely crucial role in the overall quality of effective art education, especially at the high school level. And it is my thinking that on a good day, to an inexperienced, casual observer, a high school art room should appear to be in the throes of mutiny. Students should be out of their seats, moving about, talking, laughing, and engaging with each other. The room should be completely cluttered with artistic debris and music should be playing in the background just below an unacceptable level. Some students are working in pairs, others are sitting on the counters or on the floor in the corner. There should be very little semblance to traditional classroom order.
This does not imply that there is not a well established regime of classroom management that dictates behavior and procedure, but that is largely reserved for the first and last moments of the period. It is those precious moments in between in which students must be afforded an abnormal amount of freedom if authentic artistic expression is truly to be expected.
I__™m always confronted with a sort of professional paradox this time of year. I spend the summer immersing myself in my family and enjoying a nearly indescribable contentment in the blessing that they are to me. I love them immensely. But I also really love my job, and every year in late July I start getting those twinges of excitement creeping back into the corners of my mind. I become emotionally entangled in an intrinsic struggle between not wanting to give up the luxury of spending so much time with my family, and the eagerness to get back in the classroom and try some new ideas out. I simultaneously try and savor every last day with my family while longing for the bustling energy of school and the challenge of encountering a new batch of kids. This year is no different. In fact, while I sit finishing these thoughts, my mind is both planning the details of one final camping trip, as well as new classroom strategies which will hopefully ensure that desirable level of controlled chaos.