The importance of story and evocative objects.

A week ago my wife and I attended a  beautiful wedding ceremony on the shore of Sebago Lake just north of Portland ME.  Jamie (the Bride) was a student of mine at Winnacunnet High School fifteen years ago. The fellow she married, Matt, was also a Winnacunnet alumni but unfortunately never took a Ceramics class.

I was looking forward seeing not just Matt and Jamie but other Winnacunnet alumni as well. My hopes were realized and several faces both familiar and unfamiliar shared with me stories of their families both old and new, career tracks, world travels and other things they do and love. They also told me stories of things made, both new and old and the value and importance of specific pieces that were made in their high school ceramics classes. I heard about mugs and bowls that still get used, about vases that sit on mantels, dishes that hold car keys or small pots that still sit on parents windowsills.

It is in these stories where the power of objects live. Telling stories is what we do and when there’s an object to link the story to the object it then becomes something other, something sacred, something evocative. Author Sherry Turkle says it beautifully in her introduction to the book by the same title, Evocative Objects: Things we think with, ” We find it familiar to consider objects as useful or aesthetic, as necessities or vain indulgences.  We are on less familiar ground when we consider objects as companions to our emotional lies or as provocations to thought.  The notion of evocative objects brings together these two less familiar ideas, underscoring the inseparability of thought and feeling in our relationship to things.  We think with the objects we love; we love the objects we think with.”

The stories those pots hold are about learning to take risks, trust, confidence, self-belief, aesthetic awareness, aesthetic searching, curiosity, wonderment, joy, gifting, grace, community and connection with both self and others.

This weekend wedding reacquainted me with a chef, a drug and alcohol councilor, a special education teacher, a hairdresser a police officer and a graphic designer.  To be witness and catalyst to these stories in the making is evidence to why I am blessed to have the career I do. Don’t be fooled; teaching art isn’t about teaching “A”rt.

Sketchbook Practice

One of the goals Jason and I share for our Aesthetics and Idea’s class is to help our students understand and embrace some sort of regular sketchbook or journaling practice.  I was 23 years old and half way through art school before I figured out how to use a sketchbook.  Most students, high school students anyway, view a sketchbook as THE place to make and create all their “greatest works”.  They’re so excited when the get a new sketch book, they spend days, even weeks just thumbing through the blank pages, anticipating all the wondrous and fabulous art works they’re going to fill it with.  Eventually, the day arrives and they’re ready for the first mark on the first page. There it is.  Some careful little scribble of an eye, or a flower or if they’re brave a hand because they’ve heard hands are the hardest thing one can ever hope to draw. Maybe two or three more pages will be filled with similar little smudgy pencil drawings either in the middle of the page or tucked into the upper corner.  Then the next 17 pages will be missing.  Violently torn out, crumpled up and thrown away because they weren’t “good enough”. Often that’s where it ends and the sketchbook is relegated to under the bed or into a drawer or tucked away into a book case. So. HOW DO YOU USE A SKETCHBOOK? There are many right answers to this question but generally speaking a sketch book is the place to capture and collect idea’s to work through a problem to figure out your intentions, thoughts and curiosities.  It’s not the sole place to collect your masterpieces. The only way I could think to convince students, to give them the confidence to put anything and everything into their books was to share my own sketchbook practice with them, but even that wasn’t enough.  A year ago I decided to put out an all points call to friends and alumni, asking them if they’d be willing to share an image or two from their sketchbooks and write a little blurb explaining their ideas about maintaining a sketchbook practice.  The outpouring was fantastic.  Beyond my expectations.  Every person who responded shared slightly different but related and honest ideas.  It has proven to be so helpful in the studio with my students.  I thought I’d share it with you here.

sketchbook practice

Enjoy.

WHAT DOES ART DO?

This was one of seven questions that our Aesthetics & Idea’s class has been asked to think about and answer.

I love the answers they came up with.

  • Art is an Alternative way of thinking.
  • Art evokes a response.
  • Art confuses.
  • Art engages.
  • Art is a way for an person to express or share an experience.
  • Art creates Wonder.
  • Art creates surprise.
  • Art makes you think.
  • Art translates (this one might be my favorite).
  • Art makes you feel.
  • Art moves people, in all the ways movement can look.
  • Art inspires others towards a subject or an act.
  • Art creates intrigue, to force us to deal with ambiguity.
  • Art is an invitation to imagine.
  • Art allows for unique experience.

In case you are interested the other questions the students have been chewing on were:

What is Art?  Who is art made for?   Is art more or less relevant then it was 500, 50, 5 years ago?  How does our society categorize art? What is creativity and who is creative? In what ways does our society influence the way we look at, value, and engage with art?

Reflections from the first two days.

I think I’m going to approach these regular blog posts  through the lens of “things I’m grateful for”.  We’ll see how that goes. After two days of class I’m grateful for:

  1. Finally being under way.  I love and hate the build up to the first day.  I love thinking about new things I want to try in the studio, students new and old, side projects I want to tackle, revisiting my educational philosophies….. My mind really never stops and more and more ideas keep filling in, piling on until I can’t think clearly, my sleep habits get interrupted, I begin to get antsy about all I want to accomplish until finally….. We begin.  The fist bell on the first day is like a giant gasp of fresh air after spending several minutes below the surface of lake water.  Once we begin we’re in it.  Finally an end to the speculation, the figuring, the planning…. it’s finally time to Do; however ready I may or may not be. It’s refreshing to finally just get on with it!
  2. Our new hire in the department: Karrie Mitschmyer.  I’ve been a fan of hers for eight or nine years now and I am so excited to know she’s teaching right next door to me now. She’s versatile, engaging, artistically and pedagogically talented. She is going to make ConVal an even better place then it already is.  She’s going to make me a better teacher.
  3. Aesthetics & Ideas 3.0. I know it’s only been two days and there are lots of days left in the semester but having the chance to team-teach this class on creative practice and process with my colleague and friend Jason Lambert is a gift that I’m thankful for every day we’re in the classroom together.  Jason too, makes me a better teacher. I’m putting a lot of stock into the old saying “third time’s a charm”. There’s already a lot that feels great about this group of students.
  4. Another opportunity to spend a year with my son Caleb in the school I’m teaching at. He’s a super 16 year old beginning his Junior year at ConVal and I know I’m going to look back on the years we were able to spend in the same building with fond memories.  I really dig his company and I know how precious these few years are.

It’s going to be a great year!