Page 1

Art and Me: A brief autobiographical narrative


The Man’s Head and the Good Teachers The man’s head was a big circle and on either side of the circle were arms which poked out from where his ears were supposed to be. When I showed it to my mother and sister, they laughed, so I gave it to my father to critique. He sat down with me and gave me my first real drawing lesson explaining that the arms don’t grow out from the side of the head and a head actually sits on a neck and shoulders, and it’s there where the arms should appear. My father drew a profile of an American Indian and a simple portrait of a man. I was transformed, or corrupted, depending whether you agree with Swiss educator Rodolphe Tophler when he espoused the idea in the 1840s that childhood should be “an innocent and innately creative state of being, free from the conventions of culture” (Ivashkevich, 2006, p. 45). My second grade teacher was the first to really recognize my interest in art and often asked me to come in early to work on projects. In my subsequent grade school art classes I did quite well and I would be lying if I said the attention didn’t mean anything (Wilson, 2005). I was often asked to help draw holiday murals and in later grades I was sometimes asked to draw the entire mural. My parents also sent me to some private classes where I was taught to use oil paint by mostly affable Bohemian woman artists. War and the Catholic Church As intimidating as it sometimes was, the Catholic Church inspired some goodness in me and I also found the iconography captivating. I loved the statues and the artwork that lined the walls of the church my family sometimes attended. It was around the 3rd grade that my interest in social justice began and seemed so in sync with what the church had been telling me in regard to peace, love, and helping each other out (Delacruz, 1995). You see, my father was a WW II veteran who saw a lot of hellish

Art and Me: A brief autobiographical narrative


things in the war. Actually, my paternal grandfather went through WW I and was also subjected to a lot of terrible violence. It’s probably an understatement, but as is the case with every family whose members have had to be involved in war, the combination of what happened to them both has had its adverse effects on our family over the last few generations. Nonetheless, my father and grandfather’s experiences and stories had me enamored with war in the way boys have always been. But the fascination from a romantic perspective changed not much long after I found out there was no Santa Claus. One day I went on a trip to Boston with my father and his friend, Carl. They talked to me about war for the first time in a way I’d never experienced. Carl told me that our government, while it was correct in stopping Hitler, didn’t always have us go to war for good reasons. He and my father began telling me about Vietnam and how young men were dying there and innocent people were being killed. The most hard to believe thing was when they told me our country was not the “good guy” in this war. It was a long way to Boston from Western Massachusetts so there was plenty of time to explain to this little 3rd grader about the travesties and injustices taking place in the name of democracy. That conservation was a turning point, and a life of questioning motives, especially of powerful entities, ensued. Florida and the Wrong People When I was in fourth grade my family moved to Daytona Beach, Florida and I was accused of having odd political leanings as early as the 6th grade for inquiring about the validity of the Vietnam War. Because of my classroom banter I was actually told that I was the type that would “hi-jack a plane to Cuba just to see what it was like there” by my 7th grade civics teacher. Nonetheless, I did fairly well in school though I had no one my age that shared any of these topical interests. In 7th grade I made the standard middle school art of the time. I remember a bust I sculpted of George Washington got a lot of attention and someone actually stole it, which I took as somewhat of a complement. My 8th grade art class was the last art class I had until 10th grade because in 9th grade I went to a Catholic high school that did not offer art classes. There was also some frustration and confusion I had in regard to the nuns and priests because they weren’t taking a pacifist stance against the war. I was seen as somewhat

Art and Me: A brief autobiographical narrative


subversive by the mother superior who told my mother I was likely hanging around the “wrong” people and was too curious about the “wrong” things. I was surprised to hear that anyone thought I was hanging out with anyone, because I was pretty much a loner. Challenging the nuns and priests with “what would Jesus do” type questions was my tragic flaw I suppose. Yes, much to my dismay, there were no Berrigan brother types at this Catholic High School. The peculiar reception I was getting and the fact there were no art classes had me lobby my parents to let me go back to public school for the remainder of my high school years. The Velvet Underground and the Highwaymen The public high school had a very stern and kind of grumpy art teacher who was really a nice lady, probably in her mid-sixties. She encouraged me to become a “commercial” artist. Actually, at that time I didn’t really think there was any other kind of living artist. We didn’t even have a discussion about modern or pop art that I could recall other than a brief conversation once about Warhol’s Campbell Soup Can prints. She wasn’t a fan and was quick to write Warhol off as some kind of hoax. Ironically, I was listening to Lou Reed’s band The Velvet Underground at that time (and still do on occasion) completely unaware that Reed had anything to do with Warhol. While still in high school (1974) I even saw Warhol’s Trash and just thought it was a bad movie. I didn’t even know it was a Warhol film until years later. Paintings from the Renaissance through the realism and surrealism of the 20th century like Andrew Wyeth, Dali, and even the landscape painter, Robert Wood, held my interest. Florida’s Highwaymen artists appealed to me too. Designing faux album covers was probably the closest thing we did to making contemporary art. Also, to my art teacher’s credit, we pretty much painted and drew whatever we wanted. One of my early “master-pieces” was actually a painting of the musician, Leon Russell, which I copied from his album cover. My friend’s wife just put it up on Facebook for me to see, which is the first time I’ve gotten a glimpse of it since I was 17.

Art and Me: A brief autobiographical narrative


Accidents Will Happen After high school I went to the local community college with the idea of studying political science and eventually law. One way or another though I felt like I was betraying my artistic talent and enrolled in art classes. The few art classes I took didn’t really inspire me much and it wasn’t until I went to the University of South Florida that I started understanding art and art history from a sociological perspective, which I found quite liberating actually. Ironically, I enrolled in the graphics program at USF kind of accidentally because I thought it was actually a commercial art curriculum I was enrolling in. Somehow I though the term “graphics” meant “commercial art”. Nonetheless, I heard their “graphics” program was one of the best in the southeast but I didn’t know it was because they were renowned for their contemporary fine art Graphics Studio ( Artists like Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, Chuck Close, James Rosenquist, Ed Ruscha, Robert Stackhouse and yes, even Warhol, had produced work there. Almost via osmosis, the artists and instructors at USF conveyed to me an uncomplicated understanding about modern and contemporary art as simply an exercise in freedom of expression. There really wasn’t a lot of discussion about aesthetics or theory. Aesthetics and theory was learned through the art history I was studying, the art I was seeing, and the art I was expected to make, be it strictly aesthetically motivated, political, experimental, or iconoclastic. Though the postmodernism moniker was not used at this time to label the period (the late 70s), the instructors made it clear that we were in an era, unlike the modernist period, that was not being defined by one movement. This moment in history also coincided with the beginning of punk and new wave music, something that I found equally inspiring. Nonetheless, the late seventies was an exhilarating time for me, it seemed eons away from the sixties and there was a less naïve and more realistic attitude that prevailed, albeit, perhaps a bit too much on the sardonic side at times. However, I felt like I was in the right place and exciting things were happening. Where I am now My current studies at UF have reinforced a long held conviction of mine that art education should be enabling the student to express themselves freely. While I

Art and Me: A brief autobiographical narrative


appreciate my father’s early instructions as it has become part of the “story of me”, I wonder sometimes if it had not happened whether I would be better off artistically. As with so many things, one will never know. The early years are precious; there is a closeness children have to nature that is too extraordinary to begin teaching them to see the way we expect them to see, however, if the child is inclined to appropriate imagery, I wouldn’t get in their way (Eisner, 1980; Delacruz, 1995, 2005; Toku , 2001; Walker, 2004; Wilson, 1985). Despite my notion that in early grade levels (kindergarten through third or fourth grade perhaps) students should be encouraged to freely express themselves, an art education curriculum should foster an environment that stresses the importance of work and intellectual development. Having read Suzi Gablik’s, The Reenchantment of Art, I have come to another conclusion that art should be less concerned with the self and art for art’s sake notions. She comments on moderns, or even post-moderns like Rauschenberg, Tony Cragg and Bill Woodrow as “artists who scavenge the beaches or city streets for discarded materials that might serve in their art….these artists have “collected” the trash, but not because of any concern with pollution; they wanted to expand the boundaries of aesthetic expression”(Gablik, 1991, p. 133). It is likely that art, like the aforementioned, has a lot to do with the uninitiated wanting to have nothing to do with it, much less having their students or children “study” it. Therefore, if art like the kind Gablik is referring to above is one of the main reasons why art is experiencing a decline in interest in today’s schools, then perhaps the time has come to present art education as a study of visual culture that is also rooted in archeology, anthropology, psychology, mythology, and sociology (Delacruz, 1995; Walker, 2004). My contention too is there should be a fostering of what some would say are innate proclivities towards the caring and even the spiritual. Thus, a striving toward a way of living that respects the earth, people, and other living things. (Campbell, 1991; Delacruz, 2009; Gablik, 1992; Jung, 1961; Moore, 1992).Reading Gablik has only reinforced and given validity to my instincts about much modern and post-modern art that I have been unable to get excited about, but nonetheless, supported because of my belief in the cause of artistic freedom. I concur with those that I think much of what modern art has done, and what a lot of post-modern art does, is alienate people, and I

Art and Me: A brief autobiographical narrative


question this as a philosophy that can do anything towards sustaining humanity in these perilous times. With the exceptions of a few things I have written and maybe few recent pieces I have made, my art has not delved much into areas of social justice. A work of art that is presenting a beauty or a visual sensation that may stimulate on some level, is more the tacked I’ve taken over the years. However Byzantine it may appear, perhaps my art speaks to the need to not take the world and life for granted by presenting the splendor of what may be deemed simple even everyday things. Nonetheless, I do often consider how to make art that more directly speaks to social justice concerns and this Art Education program has certainly inspired me to try harder toward that as an area of exploration. My interests in working with learners is as probably stronger now than before I began this program. There have been a lot of self affirmation experiences of late due to studying art education and I look forward to being able to apply my knowledge and experiences helping to inspire people to also explore the world through art making. References Ivashkevich, O. (2006). Drawing in children’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. Delacruz, E. M. (1995). Multiculturalism and the tender years: Big and little questions. In C. M. Thompson (Ed.), The visual arts and early childhood learning (pp. 101106). Reston: National Art Education Association. Delacruz, E. M. (2009). Art education in the age of new media: Toward global civil society. Art Education, 62(5), 13-18. Gablik, S. (1992). The reenchantment of art. London: Thames and Hudson. Jung, C. G. (1964). Man and his symbols. Garden City, NY: Doubleday. Moore, T. (1992). Care of the soul. New York: Harper Collins. Toku. M. (2001). What is Manga? The influence of pop culture on adolescent art. Art Education, 54(2),


Vygotski, L. S. (1929). The problem of the cultural development of the child II. Journal of

Art and Me: A brief autobiographical narrative


Genetic Psychology, 36, 415-32. Retrieved from Walker, S. (2004). Artmaking in an age of visual culture: Vision and visuality. Visual Arts Research, 30(2), 23-37 Wilson, B. (2005). Child art after Modernism: Visual culture and new narratives. In E. W. Eisner & M. D. Day (Eds.),Handbook of research and policy in art education (pp 299-328). Reston, VA: National Art Education Association. Wilson, B. (1985). The artistic tower of Babel: Inextricable links between culture and graphic development. Visual Arts Research, 11(1), 90-104.

Art and Me  

This is a brief autobiographical narrative that has me delving into the reasons why I wanted to be involved with visual art and education.

Read more
Read more
Similar to
Popular now
Just for you