Tagged: Art

Three Women

In this assignment, 8th graders were supposed to demonstrate one of the #PrinciplesOfDesign with a “re-boot” of #davinci’s #MinaLisa. This is my teacher’s demo/example. Watch @bvartdogs & our #Artsonia gallery for student artworks & to read their artist statements, here’s mine:

The radial balance of the clouds and chapel (it looks more like a mesa) draw the viewer’s eyes into Mona Lisa as the central figure, but her side glance at Frida leads our eyes onto her instead.

Part of me was wishing that I had started Mona to the left instead of in the center, because once I added Frida Kahlo, the composition became unbalanced and I wasn’t sure how to fix that. I thought a lot about who or what to put on the left side. I asked students and one suggested adding a third person. Finally I found Georgia O’Keefe’s painting of the mission church in Ranchos de Taos, New Mexico. In a way, the church feels like a third figure, even though it’s a place rather than a person.

I think Frida Kahlo looks mischievous and maybe a little egocentric. I think that instead of an ambivalent smile, Mona Lisa’s whole face becomes ambivalent. I intended her to be looking skeptically at Frida, like “”what is up with you?”” But instead, I think she looks kind of charmed by Frida, more of a- “”alright, what are you up to?”” As if she’s “”game”” to be part of the mischief. I thought the chapel in the background would be neutral, or at most let you know this is Frida’s territory instead of Mona’s Italy- but I think it got too dark and seems sort of moody, as if things are about to get serious even though the women are both smiling.

Art teachers and historians who recognize the chapel as O’Keefe’s might think I’m trying to frame the famous model painted by a man by two woman artists, which I was.”

I’d give myself a B+ I’m not as happy with it as I thought I’d be. I don’t feel like their faces are quite the right proportions and the chapel looks too much like random mountains or mesas instead of looking exactly like O’Keefe’s painting- not that anyone can match her precision. I did receive positive comments from strangers on Instagram though, so maybe A-.

#artteachersofinstagram #arthistory #fridakahlo


Stretch and EXPLORE

Essentially this Studio Habit means to try new things. Maybe that means working in a new medium. Maybe it means trying a different subject matter. Perhaps it means doing what you’ve done before, but trying a new way of doing it. However you think of it- on the one hand it may mean moving outside your comfort zone, but on the other hand, it can mean letting go of rules and expectations and just letting yourself loosen up and have fun. Try new things without a plan. Make things up as you go along.

It’s always a great idea anytime you start something new to just explore, play and experiment. See what you can do, don’t worry so much about how it will turn out. Don’t be afraid of messing up.

The DaDaists and Surrealists were great at this. They wanted to connect with their unconscious minds so they’d engage in “automatism,” improvisational, serendipitous drawing and painting. Jazz music and improvisational theater.

One thing they’d try- like improv comedians, is to scavenge around for objects that suggested ideas to them. It could be trash, it could be natural, it could be junk in the garage, attic, basement, barn or wherever. It could be magazines or old photos or newspapers. Put things together in new ways and make collage (pictures), frottage (texture rubbings) or assemblage (3-D found object collage).

Here is a short list of easy ideas that would be perfect to try during quarantine.

  • Instead of looking for pictures to draw on Pinterest or Google, look on your own phone’s picture folder! Pick something to try to draw or paint that you’ve already taken a picture of. Think it’s too complicated? Crop it into a simpler, but interesting composition. Draw the square or rectangle boarders first and then fill in the composition.
  • Take a walk with your phone taking pictures of things you wouldn’t normally even look at. It can be around the block, around your yard, around your house or just around your room. Try looking specifically for examples of the elements of design: line, color, shape, space, texture, value.
  • On that phone walk; look for things that look like other things. Socks that look like animals, food that looks like faces, bottles that look like buildings. Let your imagination go wild.
  • PAREIDOLIA CHALLENGE; pareidolia is when you see faces in things that aren’t… well, human faces. Find as many things as you can that look like faces to you (that aren’t) and take pictures of them.
  • On that phone walk; look for things that look like letters and then use those pictures to spell out words- even messages.
  • Try drawing with something you don’t usually use. Usually draw with a mechanical pencil or a marker? Try using a wooden pencil, or a ballpoint pen or a Q-tip dipped in paint or ink.
  • Don’t have paint? Try painting with coffee, tea, punch, juice or softdrinks.
  • Try drawing on cardboard or a paper bag, wrapping paper, gum wrappers, old books or board.
  • NOW- Now you have things on your phone that you could draw. Draw some of these new weird things you’ve taken pictures of.

PLEASE– Take pictures of your Art explorations and email them to Mr. Mallory, attach them to this post on Google Classroom, or best of all- upload them right away to Artsonia!

Developing an Art Mindset

Art Mindset means being creative and expressive, it means thinking VISUALLY- Most of all it means having a positive, “Growth Mindset” when it comes to making art. I believe that Art is for EVERYONE. Most everyone can walk or jog even though not everyone is an Olympic athlete. We learn to read and write even though few of us become professional authors. In the same way- even if you can’t draw a convincing stick-figure, you can still enjoy, make, use and share art.

CourageSo… What are you so Afraid of?

Oh you don’t think so? Well, maybe you’re just afraid to try. The fact is even the most successful professional artists feel insecure. Probably because art, by nature is something that others get to see. If other people get to see it, they’ll probably have opinions about it and might just tell you what they think. Let’s face it, that can be intimidating. But as Stanford Professor and Growth Mindset guru Carol Dweck will tell you, COURAGE is part of learning- for that matter, FAILURE is a part of learning.


Maybe it will help if you stop thinking of “ART” as this high and mighty, holy, special, set-aside, mystical, miraculous and just think of it like reading, writing and executing mathematical functions. Think of it as a thinking tool. Drawing, doodling, sketching, diagraming, designing and making art are ways of working out your thoughts. It’s another way of working through ideas.  If you can think, you can art.

Meanwhile (maybe because it’s visual/spacial and analogous instead of logical/linear/linguistic) Art can still be magical and mystical and mysterious- but at the same time approachable, practical and usable… for EVERYONE.


Too often, we become paralyzed by our insecurity about how art will turn out. STOP. Don’t worry about how it will turn out- concentrate on what you can learn from the PROCESS of making art instead of whether or not you’re any “good” at art, okay? Be courageous.

So how can you nurture an “Art Mindset?” By developing positive attitudes about art and then repeating, rehearsing and practicing them over and over again until they become good habits. Education author and “Genius Hour” advocate Angela Maiers might even call some of these “Habbitudes;” positive habits built on positive attitudes which help you learn and grow.



Maybe the most important positive attitudes you can have to help you experience and create art is wonder. Call it curiosity, call it whatever you

want- You have to look more closely at things instead of merely glancing quickly and taking what you see for granted


The next important thing is to process what you see. Look at it from different perspectives. Compare & contrast it to other things you’ve seen, COMBINE it with other things you’ve seen, and examine it so closely that you discover new things and begin seeing it in new ways.


Once you’ve seen what no one else sees- SHARE what you’ve seen. Help others see what you see. Don’t hoard it to yourself.

Four Art Disciplines; Art History, Aesthetics, Production, & Art Criticism

Those who STUDY art generally follow four basic strands; They look at what artists have done in the past, they analyze how images are composed and structured, they MAKE Art- of course and they apply critical thinking skills to examining, reflecting on and responding to Art.

These are great ways to learn about Art- but… on the one hand, these categories seem almost too specific to Art, stuff that non artists and not art experts aren’t gonna “get,” but at the same time- they’re waaay too broad, too vague; they’re not clear enough, specific enough or practical enough for non-art-experts to wrap their minds around, let alone use. Fair enough. So look at some habits you can really use that will help you develop as and artist AND will help you develop and “Art Mindset” that you can use for everything in life, not just art.

Studio Habits of Mind (SHoM)

In 2003 the Harvard Graduate School of Education’s “Project Zero” published a list of eight ways of thinking that student-artists learn while in the process of creating art.


Because these eight ways of thinking all work together and influence each other and build on one-another, and because none of them leads to another and none is more important than another, they really shouldn’t be considered in a specific order.

These eight habits work TOGETHER to create what I’d consider an “Art Mindset.”

Studio-Habits-of-Mind.pngCheck your Progress

How do you teach expectations about Studio Habits in school Art departments? That’s going to be different for every Art teacher. Here are three levels that might compare to “Got it,” “Almost got it,” and “Not yet.” Or- if you prefer teacher jargon: Proficient, Adequate and Inadequate. Too often, Art students blame poor products on a lack of talent. These three descriptions let students know when they haven’t invested enough in the PROCESS to be able to realistically expect successful finished products.
Like athletes, musicians, and STEM scholars, if you aren’t challenging yourself, you may plateau and not really improve. “Coasting” basically says that you’re doing okay, but you’re not really excelling or exceeding.
Generally, when you’re learning, growing, or improving, you know, but this description celebrates and shows gratitude for the effort students put toward their own learning. Combining Growth Mindset, Positive Behavior Initiatives and visual art learning nurtures an “Art Mindset.”


My hope is to create eight more videos explaining each of the eight Studio Habits in more detail, one at a time. Please, watch them, like them, share them, link to them, use them, comment on them, and of course, consider subscribing. I’m not looking for fame or fortune, I want to share these ideas and the more views, likes and share these videos get- the easier they are to find in search engines.

I say it’s “my hope”- but I’m gonna spend ‘School Art Month’ (March), preparing for my school to host a conference Art show in April. But not only do I need to re-tool how I overtly teach, and integrate and implement the Studio Habits in my own classroom- I genuinely want to share the Studio Habits with not just other Art teachers and artists, but with EVERYONE, because I believe this Art Mindset can help anyone see different adt think more visually and creatively.

So if/when I find time, I’d like to; write blog posts like this, create graphics and slideshows, perhaps even videos and podcasts concerning the Studio Habits.


Partly because the articles and videos already out there are mostly aimed at K-5 & K-12 Art teachers. I have 6-12 Art students and like I just mentioned, everyone else. Parents, art hobbyists, novice artists, non-artists, business people, teachers in other disciplines, coaches, people who’ve always assumed that they’re art-impared!


Have you used the Studio Habits in your own art (or Art classroom?) what have your experiences with it been? Do you use them in grading art works? How do you teach them? Please share your ideas and experiences below in the comment section.

HungryEye; Lincoln in Dali Vision

hungryeye-LOGOI’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.



Another Assignment; Two Heroes of Character

Using an essay format, research and report on 2 heroes (real or fictional, living or dead, local or world renowned) related to your curriculum & the Touchstone you created in Assignment #1. Your report should include the heroes’ names, a brief summary of their deeds, an explanation of what they overcame, and the connection between the traits that made them successful and your class touchstone of traits. Also, include a general plan of how you can integrate them into the curriculum/lesson(s) (e.g. video, literature, posted photo, as a guest speaker) and finally a brief summary as to how learning about these heroes can model character and be inspirations to your students and deepen critical thinking and problem solving skills.

HERO #1: Art Hero Edvard Munch

EdvardM1Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was a Norwegian painter whose intensely evocative treatment of psychological themes greatly influenced an early twentieth century art movement known as German Expressionism. He is most famous for his 1893 painting, the Scream, which is thought to represent what it feels like to suffer a panic attack. This painting is so well known as to be considered iconic, like DaVinci’s Mona Lisa or Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel. It is one of the most expensive paintings ever sold at auction, fetching more than $100 million.

Munch is believed to have suffered from both depression and anxiety. Munch’s mother died of tuberculosis when he was only five. His sister Johanne Sophie, to whom he was very close, died from the same disease when he was 14. Their father passed away when Edvard was 25 and attending college, leaving him destitute and forcing him to return home to take care of his younger siblings. In his 40’s, Munch had the courage to seek medical and psychiatric help. He believed that his treatments were successful and his work became brighter, more colorful. and had more optimistic themes.

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Nazis labeled Munch’s work “degenerate art” (along with many other modern artists) and removed 82 of his works from German museums and either destroyed, put into warehouses, or smuggled out to the Netherlands. In 1940, the Germans invaded Norway and the Nazi party took over the government. Munch was 76 years old and with the help of underground smugglers and art collectors gathered and protected as many of his paintings as he could on the second floor of his home, putting himself at great risk. Today those works and many by Dutch painter Vincent VanGogh are preserved at the Munch Museum in Oslo, Norway.

Munch exhibited character traits which were uncommon among commercially successful painters of his time. He demonstrated his imagination in paintings that engaged viewers as if they were participating in scenes from a play. He showed his curiosity and adaptability first by delving beyond just subject matter into content and meaning and then by exploring new forms incorporating new philosophies into his works such as symbolism and synthetism. He showed enormous amounts of passion and self-awareness by making himself vulnerable in his work by constantly exploring his own personal pain and experiences. And he showed perseverance and courage by remaining true to his vision even in the face of enormous political and social pressure.

Much’s example shows us that everyone has inherent dignity and deserves to be treated equally with respect, because we never know what others have had to suffer through. Much didn’t settle for being just another post-impressionist painting the same pretty flowers and street scenes as the rest of his contemporaries- he challenged himself to learn and apply new ideas and explore new horizons, and we should also keep pushing ourselves to get better. Munch created several different versions of his composition the Scream between 1893 and 1910 with paint, pastel, etchings and engravings. That’s an example for us to never be satisfied, but to constantly work to improve and learn, even from what we think of as mistakes.


Boyer Valley Art Room Touchstone Creed:

We respect each other as artists
We push ourselves
We learn from mistakes
and celebrate each other’s successes


One of the National Art Education Standards is Personal Expression: Choosing and evaluating a range of subject matter, symbols, and ideas (content). Art History and Art Criticism are also among these standards. One of the critical thinking skills integral to Art Criticism is being able to interpret the content and meaning of artworks. Munch is discussed within one of the major 20th century art movements taught in Eighth Grade Art.

I introduced Munch by first having students perform “aesthetic scans” of a small number of his paintings in the series he called “the frieze of life.” These include one of a child at her mother’s death bed, one called “Jealousy,” and one called “Self-portrait in Hell.” I have students come up with possible narratives about what’s happening in the paintings and discuss the points of view of the various subjects in the paintings and speculate as to the possible frame of mind of the artist when he/she created them. We also discuss how and why artists attempt to invoke moods, evoke associations and provoke reactions from their viewers. Then I briefly share Munch’s biography with them before having them create their own expressionist paintings.

Instead of painting attractive impressionistic landscapes and flowers, Munch to paint his experiences and his feelings. By doing so he pioneered a whole new genre of painting which was more personal and unique. Today many people use painting as a form of art-therapy and most people tend to believe that art should be intensely personal and expressive, utilizing unique systems of personal symbolism and embedding meaning into color choice and stylistic decisions.

One of the most cliche axioms out there is “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” One of my favorite quotes from the WWII period which marked the end of Munch’s life is from British Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, “when you’re going through Hell, keep on going.” Both of these quotes represent the Munch’s character to me. Instead of giving up a career in art when faced with having to become responsible for his family, he used his pain and struggle as the very subject of his painting. Van Gogh chose to escape his mental illness by suicide. Jackson Pollack succumb to his addictions. Munch had enough self-awareness, humility and courage to seek professional help for both his addictions and his mental illness.

At a public school I may not be able to directly quote 2 Corinthians 1:4 and tell students that “He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” However, I can use Edvard Munch as an example of how we can derive meaning from our suffering and create purpose from our hardships. Munch shows me how just like steel is stronger than iron because it has gone through the fire, we can all become stronger from the challenges we have to face.


HERO #2: Civics Hero Senator James Grimes

200px-james_wilson_grimesOriginally from New Hampshire, James Grimes moved West to practice law in what would become Burlington, Iowa. He served first in the Territorial and later State House of Representatives as well as as one of Iowa’s earliest Governors. He helped revise Iowa’s state constitution. As a member of the Whig party, he helped establish the fledgling Republican Party in Iowa in the 1850’s. As a member of the U.S. Senate, he served on the Joint Committee on Reconstruction which drafted the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Perhaps his greatest demonstration of character was as Iowa’s Senator, just after the Civil War. Grimes broke party ranks to oppose the removal from office of President Andrew Johnson after he was impeached. Johnson was a slave owning Democrat from Tennessee appointed Vice President by Lincoln in a symbolic demonstration that his administration represented the entire nation. Johnson sought to quickly reintegrate the Southern states back into the Union but faced fierce opposition from the radical wing of the Republican party who wanted to punish the secessionists.

Congress impeached Johnson for firing his Secretary of War. The Constitution requires that Presidential appointments be confirmed by the senate, but Congressional Republicans hastily passed a law requiring that he also seek approval before removing Cabinet members as well. Grimes saw the impeachment for what it was, an unprecedented abuse of Constitutional process for in a play for power in a political fight. He didn’t believe that Johnson, no matter how arrogant or inept, had not committed high crimes or misdemeanors.

Not only did he go against his own party, but at the expense of his own health Grimes tirelessly negotiated between Johnson and Senate members for a narrow acquittal vote. Grimes suffered a stroke two days before the final Senate vote and fell before reaching his desk as he entered the Senate the day the vote was taken. Even though the Supreme Court Justice gave him special permission to remain seated, Grimes mustered the strength to stand up and announce his “not guilty” vote. A year later, poor health forced him to resign his office and he passed away at home in Iowa at the age of only 55.


Grimes is an incredible example of integrity and commitment. He demonstrated enormous amounts of judgement, responsibility, courage and temperance. Grimes put the Nation’s well being before the goals of his party and sacrificed his potential re-election, not to mention his personal health and well being to preserve the Constitutionality and balance of power between the branches of government.

Grimes took responsibility for the integrity of our Constitutionally established system of government even though it meant standing up to peer pressure and standing up to prevent an unpopular person from being bullied. Even though he may have disagreed with the President on a variety of issues and even disliked him personally, he thought it was important to respect the dignity of his office and his right to due process of law and the protections provided by the law.

MS Civics Class Touchstone Creed:

We’re all responsible making this a learning space
We respect everyone’s rights & dignity
We show grit to grow & to try again when we fail
Everyone matters, everyone’s voice should be heard


Each year at Boyer Valley, we include a unit on Iowa History as part of our Civics class. Perhaps the greatest emphasis of the class is on the U.S. Constitution. In the Iowa unit, we also examine the Iowa Constitution. Some people describe Grimes as the James Madison of the Iowa Constitution. Talking about checks and balances between the three branches of government goes hand in hand with talking about Constitutional government. Not only are the Johnson, Nixon and Clinton impeachment attempts all part of history, but the impeachment/removal from office process is analogous to the Grand Jury/Trial Jury process in the criminal justice system.

Once we reach the Civil War/Politics portion ot the article on Iowa History written by an ISU professor which we use for the unit, I have students read and discuss an article from Iowa History magazine on Senator Grimes. This has been a terrific resource for launching discussions that Ryan & Bohlin might consider “moral discourses.” Students are asked to compare Grimes’ actions with Republican Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater’s negotiating with Richard Nixon and Iowa Democratic Senator Tom Harkin’s address to the Senate in the wake of the Clinton impeachment.

I personally think that the 14th Amendment, which Grimes helped to craft, refocused the law on principles of equality and justice which the Constitution itself was intended to provide in the first place. I think that Grime’s example shows students that these aspects of our democratic republic require vigilance, commitment and sometimes sacrifice. To selfishly deny the rights of due process and equal protection to others for the sake of expedience endangers the equality, protection and processes for everyone, including ourselves.

Likewise a lack of integrity, judgement, responsibility, courage and temperance on our parts degrades those virtues in our collective community. When we contribute our character to the general welfare, we nurture these same traits in others. We repeat tales of Washington’s courage and Lincoln’s honesty in an effort to instill those virtues in our young. We regale kids with tales of Franklin’s ingenuity, Sam Adam’s aversion to tyranny and Patrick Henry’s audacity both to make kids proud of our moral heritage as Americans and to inspire a desire to belong to that heritage.

I’d hope that James Grime’s example would encourage students to become critical thinkers and readers so that they could scrutinize people’s motives and make choices which align more with their own principles than with objectives of parties or special interests. Better yet, to consider what’s in the best interest in the majority of the community, and not just what’s in their own personal interest or those of the subgroups with which they identify. In other words, stand up for what’s right, not just fight over who gets to be right in an argument.

Classroom Touchstone Creed Assignment

ASSIGNMENT:  Now that we have looked at the different positive character traits and virtues, and reflected on the qualities found in a community of virtue, decide on a Touchstone Creed for your classroom that will be the vision that will frame everything that happens inside your classroom.

In general, a Touchstone is a basis of comparison, a reference point against which other things can be evaluated. It sets the measure for all subsequent worth.

A Character Touchstone is a concise, memorable guide to right behavior. It is not a complete moral system, but a summary that is easy to remember and to teach. It is a short list of rules to which you can refer automatically in moments of stress or indecision.  In a classroom (or school-wide) a Touchstone provides resonance, sets expectations and unifies.


I’ve had a lot of experience composing something like these touchstone creeds over the years, but I have to admit that I still found it intimidating.

Here’s the personal mission statement after reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits in 1994, while teaching at LA Lutheran Jr/Sr HS:

to be God’s clay pot
to refresh students with living water
to have a growing faith

Mission statement that our faculty developed at Los Angeles Lutheran Jr/Sr High in ’96:

We share Christ
disciple Christian believers,
and prepare students for college and life

Mission statement created for Boyer Valley Cheer Squad in 2002:

Positive, Committed Leaders
stirring-up spirit,
building excellence & character

Although, now that I’ve been using John Wooden’s 15 brick “Pyramid of Success,” I think it may be high time to revise and update that one.

I chaired the mission statement committee for St. John Lutheran Church in 2005:

Offering with open arms the love of Jesus

I created this for my teaching blog in 2007

Helping students be seen, not just heard &…
Challenging all students to meet their full potential

Perhaps my all time favorite touchstone is Henry Wallace’s
“Good Farming, Clear Thinking, Clean Living.”
If I taught FFA I think I’d have it painted on my classroom wall.

My wife frequently recites a slogan for her students from Jim Fay’s book ‘Teaching with Love & Logic,’
“Responsible, Respectful, and Fun to be around.”

One of the concepts I try to stress in Civics class is that we always need to consider that Civic Virtue = General Welfare = Common Good. Some of the principles I spend the most time teaching in Civics include Equality, Rights,Social Contract, Liberty, Justice, and Unity. Some of the things that my middle school colleagues and I at Boyer Valley have discussed that we hope to instill in our students are Respect, Responsibility, Empathy & Compassion (Caring).

I REALLY want to just adopt this quote from Teddy Roosevelt-
“Look up, not down- Look out, not in- Look forward, not backward- and lend a hand.”

Here’s one of the 2 final “Touchstone Creeds” I came up with-


We’re all responsible making this a learning space
We respect everyone’s rights & dignity
We show grit to grow & to try again when we fail
Everyone matters, everyone’s voice should be heard

I’ve always used structural frameworks to teach visual art. Discipline Based Art Education (DBAE) consists of Art History, Design/Aesthetics, of course actual Art Making and Art Criticism. Art Criticism involves critical thinking skills such as description, analysis, interpretation and evaluation. It’s always a challenge to get students to talk about each other’s work in a positive, supportive atmosphere. You always imagine a “creative community,” almost like a miniature artists’ colony in your classroom. Unfortunately immaturity and social dynamics don’t always permit that. Just a few of the virtues that I hope to have my Art students adopt are Respect, Responsibility, Caring, Expression, Vision, Curiosity, Creativity, Aesthetics. Those and keeping your hands off of other people’s projects and cleaning up after themselves!

So here is the other Creed I developed-

BV ART STUDENTS (7th-12th Grades):

We respect each other as artists
We push ourselves
We learn from mistakes
and celebrate each other’s successes



Let Well Enough Alone 018

I promise that tomorrow I will rejoin society
tomorrow I will teach
and enter grades
and discuss pedagogy, lessons and curricula

I promise that tomorrow I will lecture about the judicial branch
give instructions about content theme and genre
tomorrow I will coach and advise
about code and syntax and hypertext markup language

But today I am a painter
today I am a poet
today I am a theologian
a philosopher, a maladjusted malcontent

Today I am possessed by Jackson Pollack., Willem de Kooning, Claude Monet,
Arshile Gorky
and maybe Achille-Claude Debussy too.

No drugs,
no alcohol,
maybe too much coffee
maybe the holy spirit
or some spirit-animal
maybe just automatism

Or maybe, I’ve been possesed by the spirits of
Marcel Duchamp,
Wassily Kandinsky,
and Hugo Ball
all having a ball with my basal ganglia

What rhymes with ganglia?

Galling gangly genitalia?

Damn. That was a lot of alliteration without actual profane explication!
Perhaps I am ready to return to convention, conformity and community already.

But the smell of turpentine
and the layers of oil, acrylic and gouache
that I extricated today
from my palette
like a paleontologist with a trowel
are so intoxicating.

Perhaps a few more minutes
in this other world
the one where I enjoy some espresso
with Vincent and Theo
and Frida and Diego

I promise, I’ll be me again

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