Inner Voice Childhood I have always known I was an artist. I did not know what an artist was when at five years old I combined some sawdust with Elmer’s glue to create sculptures. I remember saying the word sculpture in describing what I had made, but now cannot remember if someone told me that is what I had made or if I saw examples in a magazine and decided to create my own. I suspect it was the latter reason and found support in that suspicion from Vigotsky (1929) relating that a child creates art from learned social cues, then replaces the processes of memorizing internally by applying it to an external activity. What makes one child build a sculpture out of a pile of sawdust while another child kicks their foot through it? Ivashkevich (2006) mentions a study by Stern indicating art making is “the markings of thought”. Ivashkevich backs up Stern’s statement by citing Matthews in stating “scribbling as a pure kinesthetic activity does not exist; rather, he argues, scribbling has organization and meaning from the very beginning”. Anyone who Greeting card my sister says reminds her of me
watches a child create marks or build with Legos understands the
seriousness of a thought that ‘must be released’. Looking back I can describe my pre-school art making in a five year old child’s vernacular; “when I have stuff in my hands it feels good to make things with it”.
Although (Feldman, 1985) discounts Lowenfeld’s prescribed art development stages as being non-universal, I do believe there is a universal urge generated within the mind to create something outside of the physical body. Making art to me is like what happens when a tea kettle erupts with steam at the boiling point. When there are thoughts and feelings for which there are no words; what erupts is art. Dissanayake (2003) also presented a theory to explain art making as a universal urge in which play connects to a biological core for making art called “making special” rather than ordinary. Teachers in elementary school informed my understandings of art though it was limited. The style of art I created in elementary school is defined by Efland (1976) as school art. Efland (1976) describes school art as art making occurring within the institution of school to serve a purpose for socialization and symbol making that does little to teach about art outside of school. According to Efland (1976), school art is “conventional recognizable themes appropriate for bulletin board display and exhibition at parents night events” (p. 523). I remember the praise I received for tracing and cutting out a template of George Washington from blue construction paper. The next step was to glue George to a white oval paper background. We were instructed how to make stars in the white area with red crayon. Sister Mary Romanus praised my work because I took it upon myself to create a border or red crayon around the edge of the white oval. It just seemed right to me. She encouraged others to emulate my creative decision. Praise given by a teacher in front of the class in second grade was heady stuff and the love affair with art for me was born. The experience was positive but I really had no connection with George Washington. Efland (1976) relates this is how it is with school art, where there is little resemblance or relation between what professional artists do and what children are asked to do. Additionally, Efland tells us that this is not the case in other curriculum areas.
Crying Man – Watercolor/Ink, 1970
The first artist I ever saw was a visiting artist in the sixth
grade. Mr. Stuart was a friend of my sixth grade teacher. He wore a camel hair blazer, a turtle neck and his hair was over his ears. This was not the usual attire for men in Casper, Wyoming in 1970. There was quite a buzz about him being a real artist. He taught us to make a building in two point perspective. You would have thought Houdini had performed a miracle. It was fascinating. Whenever I become complacent or bored with teaching a concept, I remember the magic of the first time I used of two point perspective in sixth grade. The first formal art instruction I received occurred in high school. The introduction to new mediums and processes was intoxicating. In the late 1970’s the curriculum in high school instructed us to copy for accurate representation from reproductions of master art works. Recreating master works in this manner did enhance my technical skills and gave me confidence in painting. A notable theorist, Arnheim (1954), recommends this style of teaching. Arnheim supported an idea of artistic development called perceptual theory. Perceptual theory suggests that children draw what they see, not what they know or feel. Arnheim believed a teacher’s role was to strengthen and train students to see their subjects with more depth as a means of improving their drawing. When our assignments were completed we were allowed to select a medium and subject matter of our choosing. Creating album covers for bands was very popular. The final year of high school was an open studio model. We chose the subject and media we wanted to focus on. The art department was stocked with a variety of media.There was batik, painting, clay, and silk screen available to us. I took full advantage of the supplies. Unfortunately there was no dialogue between the instructor and the students about art making.
He would assign projects and retreat to his desk. No one engaged him and he did not circulate around the room or give any feedback on our projects. I thought this was normal. We did not engage each other critically or collaborate on projects. There was only one art history assignment encompassing regurgitating facts about our choice of one of the usual suspects of white, male, European artists. Adulthood-Pre-teaching I did not create any art work for ten years after high school. I married, began a family, raised chickens, gardened, baked, and helped run a farm and ranch. Once the kids were in school I joined a small town art association. The art association would invite visiting artists to do classes. We would all paint the same picture. I stopped going to those workshops. I had already experienced art by copying in high school. I began to work on my own. The art making I produced was entered into the local non-juried art show. The art making at this time of my Slough Bottom Babies - Watercolor, 1987
life reflected my social surroundings. Hamblen (1984)
explains that artists and viewers have a socialized perception informed by each other by agreed upon aesthetic codes and conventions. The aesthetic codes were farm animals, barns, grain elevators, tractors, and other scenes from rural farm and ranch life. In returning to college to pursue my art education degree it was the first time in my life I was able to spend a large amount of time focusing on drawing, clay, printmaking, and painting. The art making at this point involved pushing my skills to a higher level of realism and abstraction. The art instruction did not include information on art theory, aesthetics, or contemporary art or artists. This omission of instruction was ameliorated by several professional
artists that worked in the classroom studios and field trips to another university for collaborations. I garnered a lot of information having conversations with the artists as they were creating their art and discussing the projects I was working on for class. The highlight of my undergraduate experience was an intimate question and answer session with Jaune Quick-to-See Smith. She had just completed her sculptures at the newly constructed Denver International Airport participated in a solo show and lecture at North Dakota State University for one week. It was particularly informative as I had taught on an Indian reservation prior to returning to school. Her views were very important in affirming and informing my ideas on teaching students from a minority culture. Her art work was the first inperson contemporary art making I had ever seen. I began creating art that was more about the idea rather than illustration. The images were still realistic but leaned towards abstractions. The intaglio, Freedom Broken, was created during the fall of 2001 after the attack on the World Trade Center buildings. The calla lilies are arranged with nine on one side of the chain and eleven on the other. The chain pulling apart is to represent the shattering of the feeling of safety our nation enjoyed prior to September 11th, 2001. The flag is portrayed in the upside down position, which when flown this way communicates distress. The piece was created as part of a print exchange with another university. The collection of art from this exchange is something I have shown my students every year to use as a means for modeling how to critique art. I collect a lot of local art but this collection is the most meaningful to me. It places me in a moment of history. Making art that is personal is a lesson I learned that I would carry with me into the teaching field.
Adulthood Teaching At the age of 42 I began my teaching career and again my art making underwent another change. North Dakota is a very rural state. Most of the schools contain Kindergarten through the twelfth grades. The amount of energy required to teach at that many levels is very physically and mentally demanding. I found that I had no desire or energy to create my own art work outside of demonstration projects for student assignments. I did enjoy demonstrating for student assignments as I loved the variation in media and the challenge of finding engaging prompts for my students to enjoy them as well. It Still Life Study â€“ Charcoal, 2012
seemed important to the students that I share my
art making with them. They wanted to make sure that I knew my stuff. In the back of my mind I knew I needed to create my own art work. I began collaborating with the art
instructor at the local
community college to
sponsor Raku firing
workshops with a
visiting artist. I decided
that I loved the idea of
making art through a
violent and harsh firing
method. It felt right to
make art objects that survived a trauma. I had witnessed sad things in my studentâ€™s lives; the wars after the attack on the World Trade Towers; and the reports that were coming out of the Middle East regarding womenâ€™s rights. From these thoughts came the She Speaks Raku pieces. The pieces emulate Cameos that were popular low relief carvings made of human profiles. Most notably were profiles of women. I chose to mask the women to show how they are in bondage.
The piece on the right has hands reaching around from behind to pull away the mask from the woman. The second piece shows the budding rose and fleeing bird to show hope. Raku firing is a process where you create and bisque fire a ceramic piece. After specials glazes are added you put the pieces into a modified kiln that is taken up to a high temperature quickly out doors with a propane burner. Once the temperature is achieved the kiln is shut down and the clay pieces are removed quickly at 1800 degrees with long tongs and plunged into combustible materials in large metal cans. The oxygen is cut off by placing a lid on the can. This causes metallic flashes and a burnt effect. Because of the shock of the temperature change some pieces crack or explode. The firing process is empowering due to the volatility of the fuel materials. It can be dangerous and not everyone chooses to do it. The surprises that occur in the firing process make it like Christmas with each firing. You can never definitively predict what the results of the firing will be. I like that you cannot control the results in the firing process. It is a good analogy for life. I will continue doing Raku firing and am developing a new direction based on the slip and print making techniques I learned during the Summer studio classes at the University of Florida.
References Arnheim, R. (1954). Art and visual perception: The psychology of the creative experience. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. Dissanayake, E. (2003). The core of art: Making special. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 1(2), 13-38. Efland, A. (1976). The school art style: A functional analysis. Studies in Art Education, 17(2), 37-44. Feldman, D. H. (1985). The concept of non-universal developmental domains: Implications for artistic development. Visual Arts Research, 11(1), 82-89. Hamblen, K. A. (1984). Artistic perception as a function of learned expectations. Art Education, 37(3), 20-25. Ivashkevich, O. (2006). Drawing in childrenâ€™s lives. In J. Fineberg (Ed.), When we were young: Perspectives on the art of the child (pp. 45-59).Los Angeles: University of California Press. 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/