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Laura Keeney: From Late Bloomer to Global Participant. An Autobiographical Sketch

University of Florida


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The “Early” Years Growing up I wanted to be a math teacher. I had very little interaction and experience with art, art making, or art class. I claimed that “I didn’t understand it,” or “there’s no point.” Little did I know that it was through very world of art that I would eventually shape my career, and my life. The first eye opening experience I had was the unique coincidence of having European History and Yearbook class during my 11th grade year in high school. One class focused on art history, while the other brought the world of art making to my fingertips. This combination of outside influence at the right time triggered a lifelong love for art and art making. My professor for European history taught history in a way like no other. He taught history through artwork and artists who lived during that time. Instead of boring notes, historical facts, and tiring chapter reading, that class taught me that artworks told stories, carried history with them, and involved insight and communication through symbols, colors, and placement. Before taking this class, I was ignorant to the idea of visual language and visual communication communicated as so prevalent in the arts by Elliot Eisner (1978), and unaware of the interdisciplinary aspects art had in other subjects. After this class, I was able to make connections between art, history, and visual 2

And They Say You’re the Same As Them… 24” X 30” Oil on Canvas Laura Keeney 2007 communication. I didn’t know it yet, but this class taught me that I could possibly have something to say, and that it was possible for me to communicate through art, just as those before me. While in Art History, I also was enrolled in Yearbook class, my first artistic adventure that I can remember. In Yearbook class, I learned concepts such as composition, depth, rhythm, and meaning. As an extracurricular activity, we could take our own photographs and learn how to develop them in the darkroom. I became entrapped with the idea of telling a story through photos, of learning about what makes a better photo, about the history of photography, and about how artists manipulate elements of design in order to capture the audience. I wanted to learn the art of visual communication, so I bought a camera.

Through my senior year in high school I continued to push my way into the art world by taking an independent study Photography class, and enrolling in my first art class, Art 1. Being a senior in Art 1 felt elementary, but it was where I was located developmentally on the artistic spectrum. I only understand now that development, being nonuniversal (Freedman, 1985), depended on my cultural interactions with art and art making in the past (Vygotsky, 1929 ; Steiner & Mahn, n.d.), and it wasn’t that I wasn’t “good” at it, it just never entered my “proximal distance” for learning, according to Vygotsky (1929) (as cited in Steiner & Mahn, n.d., para 66). Nevertheless, I worked hard, built a sketchbook and portfolio of works from Art 1 and endless hours in the darkroom, and applied to Virginia Commonwealth University, a top rated art program on the east coast…and surprisingly was accepted.


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multidimensional, including many layers of experience and learning; and I definitely felt like I was in another world from my peers. I wondered where my art education had gone? Why wasn’t I afforded an education in the arts at a younger age? And how many other students are being excluded from this world simply because of their environment?

Stereotypes Approx. 22” x 11” Oil and thread on canvas Laura Keeney 2007 It was in college that I decided to apply to the Art Education program. Throughout my freshman year, I took numerous studios, spent endless hours playing what I felt was “catch up,” in order to advance my technique, my concepts, and ideas into ones that were up to par to the more advanced budding artists around me. I was a fetus among artists who had been creating and talking about art and through art for many more years than myself. Burton (2001) explains artistic development as being

Coupled with my desire to be a math teacher, and my new adventure in the arts, I pursued a degree in Art Education, straying away from my photography degree, and eventually a minor in painting and printmaking. It was here I learned how to use different media to convey ideas and concepts. The degree I pursued required a broad range of studio classes, and this is where my multi-dimensional media choices began. Because I had never specialized in one media or another, besides my short run with photography, I developed

skills equally in many different media, adapting the media to my concepts, instead of the other way around. Becoming skilled in a broad range of media and techniques equipped me as a developing artist, as well as a teacher. Throughout college, I worked in sculpture, jewelry, digital printmaking, etching, painting, lithography, wheel-throwing, and drawing, and concentrated on how to manipulate these materials, in order to better understand them, and later be able to teach with them. I began to act and interact with other artists and students in ways that Wolf (1988) describes, reaching out to them for insight, and slowly beginning to evolve into the artist and critic, reflecting on my own art practices during the process (Eisner, 1978; Wolf, 1988).

How Tasty 18” x 24” Oil on Canvas Laura Keeney 2007 3


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Peace Mural Project; York, PA Acrylic on Mural Canvas Laura Keeney 2008

Peace Mural and the YWCA After college, I spent a summer interning for the YWCA and Pennsylvania downtown center, in order to participate in my first community arts project. During my internship, I was responsible for creating a mural inspired by the theme of peace, overlooking a dilapidated lot. Throughout the summer, we worked tirelessly developing ideas, eliciting community involvement, and creating a mural that was truly created by the community. Youth groups, community organizations, and churches gathered to help with our ideas, paint, and hang the mural, not to mention revitalize a lot covered in trash and weeds. As an intern, I became an artist and facilitator, listening to and absorbing ideas, and creating a design for the community. This is where I experienced first hand how others have different ideas and their experiences influence their ideas and their vision, and visuality (Walker, 2004). As the facilitator, I had to teach the community to work together, and include

everyone’s vision of peace, as they are different depending on the person and the different cultures within the community (Vygotsky, 1929, Steiner & Mahn, n.d.). This summer that I spent tirelessly working on a community project and determined at its success became monumental in shaping my current views and passion surrounding art education. Before this experience, I had no knowledge of community arts, or how collaboration (Houser, 1991), community arts (Marche, 1998), and global themes can interlace to bring a community together. Through this experience, I saw first hand how people in a community come together in order to stimulate growth, understanding, and community cohesion, all through the arts.


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Travel, Graduate School, and a Return to the Arts When I began to travel and teach abroad, I found it harder and harder to bring materials with me, or replenish them each time I went somewhere. I spent over a year in hibernation, where I didn’t make a single work of art, excusing my hiatus with inabilities to find materials, time, and money. It was through yet another external factor, a very special person in my life, that brought me back in to the world of art making, and I returned to photography after over a year of not making art, in order to capture my experience through geography, culture, and people. It was this external factor, this person that I met on a Saturday night who was carrying around a camera that rekindled my love for expressing myself visually.

experience or a sense of place through the lens, and I soon began to see that I was photographing the spirit of the world, the nature and the people that occupy it. It was this basic connection between history, people, land, and myself that brought about a theme to my photographs; global humanity. My camera tends to find the connectedness among the human race, and beauty of the world and its people, and this Sleep global sense of humans and 2591 x 2703 pixels human emotion leads to Digital Photograph possibilities for global Laura Keeney 2011 conversation (Eisner, 2001, Tavin & Hausman, 2004). I was in love with Soon after, I began look for photography, again. It was graduate schools to continue my compact, convenient, and an easy and art making way to be creative while on the education, experience. Since enrolling in road, and still able to fine-tune my artistic eye, something that had University of Florida, I have been rusting over the past year. I learned more about global theme love photographing the stories as catalysts for art making (Tavin through the people that I met, & Hausman, 2004), community capturing the essence of an outreach and integration in the

Focus 3814 x 2714 pixels Digital Photograph Laura Keeney 2011 classroom (Marche, 1998), and ways to personally connect and enter into the global conversation through art, art making, and art education practices (Delacruz, 2009; Johns, 1986; Tavin & Hausman, 2004). My work previously had lent itself toward a personal sense of place within the larger context of the world, and these ideas coupled with the classes at UF, made it possible for me to see the bigger picture, and suddenly the world of art, education, and globalization all came into view.

Artist Trading Cards: Connected 3.5” x 2.5” each Mixed Media Laura Keeney 2013


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Unanswered Questions, Insecurities, and the Future Questions and insecurities still arise surrounding my abilities in the arts. While there are benefits to knowing many media, there are also drawbacks. Because I started my academics in the arts so late in life, I know I am not as well developed as others, and still consider myself a developing artist. I often am intimidated by highly skilled and AP level students, simply because I never took AP in high school, and I see that sometimes while their depth of concept is still developing, they are beyond my skill in technique. I have a world of knowledge under my belt, but only to a certain specialization, and that could be limiting for my students. Because of my late start as an artist, and my seemingly spontaneous hiatus from creating, I find myself questioning my identity as an artist. Most of the time I create for my students or for classes, making art projects that center on a theme or examples for my students to aid in idea development. Rarely do I create for the sake of being an artist, unless I am photographing while I travel,

and even then, while I am photographing artistically, I am photographing to document, rather than to explore a central idea. In that case, where does my identity as an artist lie among my identities as a teacher and traveler (May, 1994)?

Above: In Retrospect.. 11” x 9” Etching Print Laura Keeney 2008 Below: Untitled 8” x 10” Digital Print Laura Keeney 2006

Throughout my educational and artistic journey, I have come to find that I am passionate about community arts, collaboration, and global movements in support of the arts. I think that these styles elicit a sense of unity among artists who seem “untouchable,” and youth, giving them a sense of power within the world (Tavin & Hausman, 2004). These are all things I wish I experienced in my youth, and with the development of globalization in art education (Eisner, 2001; Johns, 1986; Tavin & Hausman, 2004), they are now possible for the children in our classrooms today. As I grow in the knowledge of art and art education, I plan to continue to participate in global and community arts, by participating in Artist Trading Cards, and using photography as an agent of global participation through ideas of universal humanity and personal sense of place in a globalized world.

Continuous 9” x 14” Mixed Media Laura Keeney 2013


References Burton, J. M. (2001). Lowenfeld, another look. Art Education, 54(6), 33-42. Delacruz, E. M. (2009). Art education in the age of new media: Toward global civil society. Art Education, 62(5), 13-18. Eisner, E. (1978). What do children learn when they paint? Art Education, 31(3), 6-10. Feldman, D. H. (1985). The concept of non-universal developmental domains: Implications for artistic development. Visual Arts Research, 11(1), 82-89. Houser, N.O. (1991). A Collaborative Processing Model for Art Education. Art Education, 44(2), 33-37. John-Steiner, V., & Mahn, H. (n.d.). Sociocultural approaches to learning and development: A Vygotskyan framework. Retrieved from http://webpages.charter.net/schmolze1/vygotsky/ MarchĂŠ, T. (1998). Looking outward, looking in: Community in art education. Art Education, 51(3), 6-13. May. W. (1994). The tie that binds: Reconstructing ourselves in institutional contexts. Studies in Art Education, 35(3), 135-148. Vygotski, L. S. (1929). The problem of the cultural development of the child II. Journal of Genetic Psychology, 36, 415-32. Retrieved from http://webpages.charter.net/schmolze1/vygotsky/ Walker, S. (2004). Artmaking in an age of visual culture: Vision and visuality. Visual Arts Research, 30(2), 2337 Wolf, D. (1988). Artistic learning: What and where is it? Journal of Aesthetic Education, 22(1), 143-155.

Laura Keeney: From Late Bloomer to Global Participant  

An Autobiographical Sketch detailing my artistic development and its connections to the experts.

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