Tag Archives: artists

Friends, cats, poets and artists

Try something new.

On an unusually delightful, breezy evening this week a group of curious women met on a rooftop to discuss poetry and art. This meeting was only my second time to participate in a poetry group that was formed in Dallas two years ago. Interestingly enough, two years ago I searched for a poetry group to join, but didn’t find one. I wish I had known about this group then, but eventually we found each other and I am grateful.

I’ve known two of the more-recent members of the group for over 25 years. My daughter’s day of birth was chosen because it would fall on one of these women’s birthday. The other woman and I started a monthly book club, over 20 years ago, when the idea of a book club was clever and unusual. This current poetry group consists of seven interesting women who have worked to be a part of the Dallas art scene for most of their adult lives. Many of us “know of” each other but don’t really know each other. It is because of this literary art form that we have been brought together. They would agree that choosing to live a life that includes the interdisciplinary arts gives spice to life. It is art that has flavored their days in a way that nothing else ever could have.

These women are inspiring just to be around. Their knowledge on a range of subjects is impressive. All have found ways to weave art into all that they’ve experienced and learned about over the years. This week we met in the loft of a woman who works in the education department of a local museum. She shares her loft with three cats, one of which lounged across the table we were seated at and seemed to enjoy the rhythm of the spoken words during the evening. There are artists of all kinds represented: interior designers, musicians, sculptors, publicist-journalists, gallery owners and art educators. I want to encourage you to get to know an artist if you don’t know one. Artists are curious about everything!

I’ve never spent much time getting to know poets or poems beyond the classical, school-learned variety. When my friend and I started a literary book group years ago, I felt completely lost walking into a bookstore’s literature section and knowing where to start. I would find myself choosing a book based solely on its cover. However, in time, I was able to choose books based on authors I’d been exposed to. In the book club we were all given the opportunity to discuss sometime controversial subjects with friends who really cared about our opinions, whether they agreed or not.

This is how my new poetry group is turning out to be. Last month we ventured into the beautiful and thought provoking works by Charles Wright. The hostess chose the poet and selected the poems for each member to pre-read and photocopy for the other members. Each member read her poems out loud while the others followed along. Often the poem was spoken several times, in its entirety or in sections. Together we worked to find a pattern and meaning in the carefully selected words flowing across the pages.

This week our hostess selected a variety of different poets, all included in the book, The Convergence of Birds. Each published poet wrote their poem based on the artwork of Joseph Cornell, a 20th century, American artist, best known by his boxes of carefully collected and arranged objects. Because Cornell is a favorite of mine, and is an artist I often feature in my curriculum, I was happy to share a brief bio about him to the group before we started reading and discussing the poems. Jonathan Safran Foer, acclaimed young author of Everything Is Illuminated and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, compiled this book of collected poems. The art of Cornell impacted Foer in a way he couldn’t have predicted when he stumbled upon a poster signed by Cornell in a friend’s studio. This entire account is written about in the early pages of the book, but is summarized on this Amazon page, by scrolling to the bottom. I encourage you to read it. In his own words, Foer writes this to his readers:

When you read these pages, imagine the letter that you would write. How would it begin? Who would be the characters? What images would come to the fore? What feelings? What colors and shapes? And as the imaginative cloud begins to open itself over your head, ask yourself: To whom would you address such a letter? And what would you use as the return address?

During these lazy days of summer, why not try something new? Be brave. Put yourself out there for the world to see. Write a letter, as described above. Spend an afternoon in an art museum or attend an opera for a change. Go listen to music or take dance lessons. Explore. Be adventurous and then tell me about it!

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School’s out for the summer

The crescendo has been building for a couple of weeks.

I typically give my very best ideas away to my students, and usually this makes me happy. They gratefully consume my ideas all year long, digest them, rework them, and pour out the results (which are fabulous!) but now it’s summer and I’m ready to blow up my raft and go float in the pool. I’ve just completed my eleventh year as a full-time middle and high school art teacher at a college preparatory school in the Dallas metroplex. Over the last few weeks, I’ve immersed myself into throngs of contemporary art fairs for the reason of finding inspiring ideas, not only to try for myself, but to tweak into becoming classroom projects. This is primarily how I develop my art curriculum. I go out and experience art in the world around me.

One of the most wonderful, healing things about teaching is that, at the beginning of each year, you get to start a clean slate. It’s brand new. Each new school year is about creating and giving away your best ideas for a specific amount of time. At the end of a year, it’s over and you put the slate away. If there are projects that didn’t turn out so well, you never have to do them again. Years ago, I remember singing at the top of my lungs, Alice Cooper’sSchool’s Out, at the end of May:

No more pencils,

No more books,

No more teacher’s dirty looks.

Admittedly, I’ve probably given my share of dirty looks this year (I assure you I’ve also given truckloads of smiles and hugs too) but now, it’s time to rest. I get to start over with a clean slate full of new possibilities next August. It is a wonderfully refreshing concept. Each day we wake up we should be grateful because, like teaching, we get to start over. We get the opportunity to turn over a new leaf. To listen more. To love more. To forgive more. We can take a walk down a new path and try new approaches to life. Each day we wake up we are given the possibility to be more courageous and more mindful of the earth and others.

I’ve always hoped to make a difference in someone’s life; this adds purpose to my life. I want to have an impact on others to show them their potential and express how much they matter. Teaching allows me to do that. If I can see evidence that I’ve influenced even one child to dream and reach for the stars, I feel that the year has been successful. This year there are many students I feel that way about and I feel grateful and blessed. Still, I am ready to float on my raft.

This summer, when I get off the raft, I will be working on several ebooks for publication. One will be about art careers and one will be about integrating global history and culture into art curriculum. I want to inspire students, artists, art educators, parents, homeschool teachers, administrators and even school districts. Sadly, from my experience I’ve learned that much of the public, including students and parents, do not know about the importance of an art education in the 21st century. In general people don’t understand how lucrative and satisfying a career in the arts can be.

Two years ago, I was invited to become a member of the Nasher Sculpture Center’s Teacher Advisory Board. I gratefully accepted the position and have been honored to share this board membership with a few other teachers who strive to inspire. We have assisted the Nasher Education Department in many ways including the expansion of new activities and workshops for the public, as well as curriculum development and printed material. Through the continued dialogue at our monthly meetings I have expressed the need specifically for art career education. Together we have researched this and I have presented the collected material to administrators, faculty and parents. After learning more through my presentation, everyone is excited and hopeful about college and career prospects for students of all ages. I want to make this research available to more people who can use it and create possibilities for their own lives or the lives of others.

As this school year comes to a close, I want to share an excellent video produced by the Exxon Mobile Corporation. As you watch it, I hope teachers you learned from will come to mind. I want to encourage you to write them an email. Search for them on facebook. Actually go buy a stamp and send them a card. Tell them how important they have been to you. I promise; it will make their day.

(Thank you Mrs. Majors, Mrs. Cuniff, Gloria Ball, Mrs. Simpson, Judith d’Agostino, Dr. Dianne Strickland, Jackie Snyders, Cynthia Bylander, Jeff Johnston, Dr. David Quick, Tanya Synar and all my fellow colleagues. You all poured into me and I really appreciate it and love you for it.)

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