Graphite & pencil on 18×24 newsprint, 2017
Students had 5 days to work on their final self portraits. Between helping them and getting piles of grading for other other classes done I had to force my self to spend a class and a half to work on one myself. I kinda like the funky angle. What did we do before cell phones? Maybe I need to back off of telling them they should use mirrors instead of phones.
Below are my responses to some of the “self-critique” reflection questions that I assigned to my students for their semester final self portraits.
PRODUCT: What do you like most about your drawing? What are you most displeased with or disappointed in about your drawing?
I like this one much more than the one I did first semester with the mirror. That one is much less realistic, not to mention more static and flat. I love the from-above angle and the 3/4 view. I think that the shading helps it have a sense of form. While I kind of like the contrast between the linear texture of the hair and the shape/pattern of the flannel shirt, I think that without legs or hands, the shirt kind of becomes just an amorphic blob holding up my head.
PROCESS: What did you enjoy most about making this drawing?What was the most difficult challenge you faced in making this drawing?
It was an escape from the pressure of entering grades at the end of the semester and the chaos of eighth graders who are so excited about the end of the school year. If anything, I wish I’d been working on this with the rest of the Drawing class for the whole five days, and not just a day and a half.
PROCESS & PRODUCT: If you were the Art teacher, what grade (A, B, C, D, F) would you give to this drawing. Please explain or defend your choice. Why does it deserve that grade? What about it earned the grade you’d give?
I guess I’d give myself an A-/B+ It’s accurate an engaging, but just imagine how much better it could’ve been had I given it my full attention and commitment.
DEVELOPMENT & GROWTH; How do you think this drawing demonstrates that your drawing skills &/or perceptual skills are improving? In what ways have your skills advances since the beginning of the year?
I’m not sure it’s fair for me to answer this question since I’m not a student and I’ve been an Art teacher for 24 years now, but I am always amazed at how I can continue to learn and improve no matter how old I get. I also think sometimes that the less I think about what I’m doing and just do it, the better my results. I’ve heard baseball/softball coaches talk about this for pitchers- some thinks are mechanical rather than cerebral and you just have to “trust the process, don’t over-think.” Obviously my expression reveals how weary and cynical I’ve become in middle age. I had hoped that the unique angle, besides being thinning, might counter the curmudgeon with dynamic, even energetic angles and eye-flow.
EXIT SURVEY: What do you think are the biggest breakthroughs in your perceptual skills this year? How did your drawing skills improve? What are some things you feel like you learned this semester or will be able to take away from this class?
While I do feel like I’ve had some breakthroughs this year, I’m having trouble putting them into words.
But I have to say that I am very grateful for my high school Drawing, Painting, and Photography classes this year. I’ve been blessed with students who engage, participate and learn- not to mention many who have enormous amounts of talent! The icing is that almost all of them are just great people that are fun to be with. I feel like they’ve allowed me not only to continue to grow as an artist along with them, but to grow as an educator. I think many of them have taught me a few things, or at least reminded me of some things that teachers need to keep in mind while they’re teaching. There have been many very difficult and discouraging things about being in this profession this year, but none of them have come from the kids in my high school Art classes.
I truly hope and pray that many of them can continue to take Art classes the next year or two. Even if they can’t, I hope to use what they’ve taught me and the momentum they’ve given me for teaching 6-12th graders NEXT year. Thanks Drawing 2 Class- have a great Summer!
I’m excited to share my new NAEA online portfolio. Come take a look at what I teach in my art classes and check out some of my own artwork while you’re at it. Please feel free to leave comments, either here, or on the portfolio itself. Thanks.
The day after the election I was a basket case (as you might have figured from previous posts on this blog). A professor of mine once suggested that our most prolific times would usually be times of emotional stress or poor mental health. He said it matter-of-factly, not even alluding to art therapy.
I remembered this advice (or admission) and decided that I needed to create something.
On the first day, my grief for my country was so deep all I felt that I could paint was what I felt. As Frida Kahlo once said, ” I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality.” So this is what I painted:
I’d been teaching about the New York School. Action painters who emphasized the process as a cathartic, meditative experience and color-field painters who created pieces intended to invoke a contemplative mood in their viewers. It was very satisfying.
It wouldn’t leave me alone. It called out to me. This past Summer I’d read a biography of Lutheran theologian and WWII resistance member Dietrich Bonhoeffer. This Fall I re-read his reflection on Christian fellowship, ‘Life Together.’
Bonhoeffer refused to compromise genuine Christian discipleship to mollify the demands of the Third Reich. First this meant pioneering the “confessional” church movement and underground seminaries, but eventually he was recruited by the Abwehr (a German intelligence agency which pre-dated the rise of NAZI power) and thereby a number of assassination plots against Hitler.
He was For a year and a half, he was kept in a military prison, then to the Gestapo’s high-security prison, then to Buchenwald concentration camp, and finally to Flossenbürg concentration camp where he was hung in April of 1945 days before German surrender.
So I attacked my muddy brown canvas with black, then built an almost ghostly face with stark white. The under-painting began taking shape.A ghost in a concentration camp. Certainly not the prophetic voice of hope which I had met in his writings. But definitely a product of my own angst.
I thought I remember reading somewhere that angst is the combination of anger and anxiety born from the inability to control a situation or effect change. This is certainly how I feel about the election of Trump; a hateful, unprepared, unqualified, angry, entitled, demagogue.
There it stood on my easel for a week. Students commenting that it looked like me- perhaps an indictment of my melancholic disposition. To me it felt like Poe’s raven, constantly reminding me of the death of equality, liberty, justice and any hope of any kinds of peace at home or abroad. A dour ghost haunting my classroom.
I experimented in Photoshop with blending the original photo with my under-painting. The image was exciting and moving, but still ghostly. For me it evoked the spirits of Elie Wiesel, Anne Frank, Corrie ten Boom and Viktor Frankl, not just Bonhoeffer.
Finally this week, I resumed painting. Like the prophet Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, I attached flesh to the bones. But alas, dry ache became weeping sorrow. But at least students told me, “now it’s finally starting to look like him instead of you!”
Yesterday I made a great deal of progress, although I think it looked more like a cross between William H. Macy and Philip Seymour Hoffman than Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Now I felt like it had some indignation and resignation rather than just depression and despair. Somehow I hoped to add some sense of hope or faith, since these are the things Bonhoeffer demonstrated most to me.
Today, I feel like I gave it a great deal more dimension and solidity. I feel like it looks more realistic and closer to finish. This may be prejudiced somehow, but I think it even looks German or at least European- although I’m not quite sure it looks like Bonhoeffer exactly. I’m also not sure how to capture any hope. It may be too late for that.
It’s hard to imagine a martyr with any hope or joy- but that is what is so amazing about Bonhoeffer’s story- witnesses claim that they were amazed by his warmth and encouragement for his fellow prisoners and his amazing composure and bravery even in his final moments.
I haven’t decided whether or not I’m finished with it. Perhaps if I live with him for another week, he will tell me again. But I do like it. Of course, I liked that ghost-like mummy from the second and third days too.
To check that I had the spectacles in the right place, I held my canvas up to the projector on the SmartBoard in my classroom and projected the original photo onto the painting. I loved what I saw so much, I had to take a picture of it. It seems to me still sorrowful, but challenging as well. “What are you prepared to do, Ted? For democracy? For authentic Christianity?” Would I have the faith or the courage to make the kinds of sacrifices he did?
I pray I’ll never have to. One biographer notes that while he wrote treatises and essays and devotions and letters, he never really wrote much poetry until he was imprisoned. But I have to say, one of his poems is one of the most amazing pieces of reflective existential art that I’ve ever run across.
Once you read it, look back over the various stages of my painting’s development and imagine them reciting it to you.
Who Am I?
by Deitrich Bonhoeffer
Who am I? They often tell me
I stepped from my cell’s confinement
Calmly, cheerfully, firmly,
Like a Squire from his country house.
Who am I? They often tell me
I used to speak to my warders
Freely and friendly and clearly,
As thought it were mine to command.
Who am I? They also tell me
I bore the days of misfortune
Equably, smilingly, proudly,
like one accustomed to win.
Am I then really that which other men tell of?
Or am I only what I myself know of myself?
Restless and longing and sick, like a bird in a cage,
Struggling for breath, as though hands were compressing my throat,
Yearning for colors, for flowers, for the voices of birds,
Thirsting for words of kindness, for neighborliness,
Tossing in expectations of great events,
Powerlessly trembling for friends at an infinite distance,
Weary and empty at praying, at thinking, at making,
Faint, and ready to say farewell to it all.
Who am I? This or the Other?
Am I one person today and tomorrow another?
Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,
And before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?
Or is something within me still like a beaten army
Fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?
Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of mine.
Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!
“We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad.” ~C.S.Lewis
“The way you see people is the way you treat them, and the way you treat them is what they become.” ~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
As a teacher and a parent, I think that Rene Magritte’s ‘Clairvoyance’ has to be my favorite painting. Clairvoyance is the ability to predict the future, or to know about things that you did not actually see happen. Teachers and parents need to see the potential in their students or children. We need to see past what they are to what they may be. This painting is a reminder of that for me, just like Goethe’s quote above. If you treat kids as their behavior deserves, they’ll remain selfish, lazy, immature, ignorant and apathetic. We HAVE to see the best in everyone and work hard to bring it out and nurture it.
Goethe’s quote and Magritte’s painting, “Clairvoiance,” are really good reminders for teachers. In 1967 the New York Times reported on an experiment by Harvard professor Robert Rosenthal in which teachers were told before the year began that their (average) students were highly intelligent. Because of the teacher’s positive perceptions and higher expectations, their students performed better than they had in previous years and than other classes.
It’s not always easy to look past someone’s current appearance and behavior or their past, but a teacher’s job is to look for the best in every student. Like the artist in Magritte’s painting, we should see everyone for their potential. Frankly, if we all treated everyone this way, the world may just be a better place if we tried to see what people could be instead of seeing adversaries & obstacles.
How can we see our students for what they could be, not just for what they are or used to be? How can we see the wings inside the egg?
What would happen if you could see who your students could become, best case scenario? What if you kept that image in mind all school year? Even through their mistakes, failures, & challenging behaviors? Even on their bad days? What can you do to help yourself see them that way? How can you remind yourself to keep seeing them that way?
Pray for help to see the best in others. I’m not always the best at this, but I genuinely believe that it’s important to try.
I’ve been thinking about starting a vlog. There’s tons of them out there, trust me, I have no delusions of grandeur or driving ambition for fame. As a teacher I read a lot about the three steps in the “new literacy;” Discover, Process, and Share. So, I’d like to demonstrate this practice for my students.
When I teach Art students about Art History, I try to share a sampling of exemplar painters’ works and introduce concepts of perception, design, expression and execution techniques. Because the purpose is to inform my student’s own work, and we’re limited by time, I don’t tend to focus on which works are my personal favorites or why. This series would give me an opportunity to do that.
Art impacts the lives and thinking of both viewers and makers. Since I’m not a teenage YouTube star, I’m going to process these discussions by writing first, before recording. Feel free to share your own responses to these artworks in the comments on these blog posts. If I follow through with this, I’ll embed the videos into these posts. If I don’t (for whatever reason, time, obstacles or inclination) I figure I’ll still write some burbs about famous paintings here anyway, just as a blog and not a vlog.
First up, Salvador Dali’s 1976 Surrealist painting, “Gala Contemplating the Mediterranean Sea; Which at Twenty Meters Becomes the Portrait of Abraham Lincoln (Homage to Rothko)” better known as “Lincoln in Dali-Vision.”
Please try not to be put off by the nude woman’s tush. While a lot of Dali’s work explores psycho/sexual themes, legend has it that his wife Gala was his only female model.
This thing is over six feet wide by eight feet tall. Dali got the idea for this from an article in Scientific American magazine which reported about the smallest pixelation at which an image can be reduced and still be recognizable by the human mind. Dali used just 121 pixels to represent President Lincoln.
I think that Dali deals with four things which were important in this work; Faith, Civics, Love, and Art. That may be why I like it so much, because I can identify with these same four aspects of life.
On the top of Lincoln’s head, Dali painted Jesus being crucified on the cross, floating in the blazing sky. This puts the spiritual and the intellectual together. While I’m Lutheran where Dali was Catholic, my faith is central to my life and my faith life tends to be more cerebral, with a focus on theology and reading- rather than being just emotional or dogmatic.
Obviously you can’t think about Abe Lincoln without thinking about America or Democracy. I have a double major in Art and History. In the mornings I teach eighth grade Civics and then teach MS/HS Art the rest of the day. Naturally combining Art and Social Studies appeals to me. The more I read the Gettysburg Address, the more I appreciate it. While my religion cautions me not to turn politics or politicians into false idols, I kind of see this image a little bit like an old Byzantine icon- especially with the gold colors and the mosaic qualities that come from the grid Dali used.
Sure, Gala and Dali may not have been paragons of purity and virtue, their marriage somehow held together for almost 50 years. Not only was she his model, but also his agent. Dali is known for his both sensual and affectionate depictions of Gala whenever she modeled for him. My wife is my best friend. I can’t see God and representative democracy and federalism are abstract concepts which I can’t hold or talk to, so often my wife seems more real and consequently more important that faith or patriotism, even though she and I both believe in putting God first.
I feel like I have a bit of a connection color field painter to Mark Rothko because he committed suicide on the day I was born. His brand of minimalist abstract expressionism was to paint huge areas simple, non-objective color. His intention was that viewers could be with these color fields as with religious icons and be induced into a contemplative state, almost like in devotion. Lost in eternal meditations, escaping the tyranny of everyday hassles. I think that the soft shades and glows of each cube in Dali’s painting have a Rothko-esque feel to them.
The Dalis weren’t introverts, they socialized with other artist couples like the Magrittes in the 20’s and 30’s and later with pop stars and entertainers in the 50’s and 60’s. I’m convinced that no matter how proud he may have been of his own prowess as an artist, Dali also loved art so he viewed, enjoyed and explored art and talked with other artists about art. Ultimately, this painting isn’t about Jesus, Lincoln or Gala, it’s about optics. It’s about our eyes and how our brains process and interpret images. It’s about Art.
If a painting being about God, nations “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal,” love for a beautiful woman and ART isn’t enough to make it a great painting, I don’t know what is.
What will my eyes be hungry for next time? Come back in about a week and we’ll see. Stay hungry, my friends.