Back in October, I began the #socceringreenland challenge where I would do a painting a day until I reached 100. I gave myself the challenge because I wanted to see if I could fund a trip to Greenland by creating art that was based on my love of travel. The response has been encouraging and lovely, and I've been thrilled to be able to send so many pieces out to art lovers around the country.
But the true nature of the challenge has been a catharsis. The accountability to myself and this selfish pursuit has been like climbing a mountain. Each day I paint, I square up to my easel and place oil on canvas, every brush stroke like a step taken on a rocky path up a steep slope. No one told me to climb. Only my pride draws me towards the summit.
As I write this, I've completed 86 paintings, and I'm struck by what a privilege it has been to be able to collect and record all of these moments, but also panicked by how many I have neglected to finish. I'm overwhelmed. When I hike, I am not good at pausing for longer than it takes to snap a photo. I'm so focused on the destination, and not tripping, that I miss out on being present. Completing these paintings is like reconnecting with a life I've forgotten I lived.
So, on February 28th, at 6 PM in the Bedford Gallery of the Art Barn at Fountain Valley School*, I'm giving myself permission to be finished. I invite you all to come and experience images from the past decade with me.
Hope to see you there!
*The Opening will go from 6-8 pm on Friday, February 28th, and the show can be viewed in the Bedford Gallery through March.
Last September, I read an article about the national soccer tournament in Greenland which takes place over 6 days and is considered one of the most grueling tournaments in the world. The teams that qualify come from tiny towns scattered around the edges of the country, many of which cannot be accessed by roads, so a large fishing vessel will go from port to port, collecting the teams that qualify and bringing them to Sisimiut, where the tournament is held. The journey on the boat takes longer than the tournament itself. While Sisimiut boasts a turf field, there are no stands, so spectators sit along the edge of a tall cliff. Reading that article made it clear to me that I need to find a way to get to Greenland. I want to watch soccer from the side of a cliff!
My work has always heavily drawn from travel and the nature moments I get to experience almost daily as a teacher at Fountain Valley School. I have been fortunate that I have had the time and the means over the past 10 years to see some extraordinary vistas, both in the US and abroad. I'm eager to add a Greenlandic soccer game to my collection.
So, at the end of #Inktober, I decided to carry that momentum into a 100 day painting challenge. Every day, I would find at least an hour to complete a piece that showed something I've seen since I graduated from Washington University in St. Louis in May 2010. Commissioned work would not count towards my total. Armed with a stack of discarded canvases from my students, and the easel my grandmother gave me for my 11th birthday, I've diligently finished a piece every day since October 26th.
As of this post I've completed 32 paintings and will continue to post work and update this site once a week. If I stay on schedule, I should be finished with my challenge by the beginning of February, 2020. Let me know if you are inspired by my challenge to purchase a piece. Painting by painting, perhaps I'll be able to achieve my silly goal (no pun intended).
All poses were 20 minutes or fewer and done with nupastel.
Here is what I know about my father:
My sources are varied and include my Mother, my Dad’s family, friends, my siblings, and me. This guarantees that most of this information is incorrect, or at least only partially accurate. But that is how we are supposed to see our parents.
I read a book in one sitting, today. 7 hours and 361 pages later, I had seen a story through climax and conclusion. This used to be common for me and I'd burn through 30-50 novels a year. Now I'm pleased with myself if I get through 5. I don't think I read less... I just read shorter things: articles, recaps, editorials, etc.. There is also a lot more media vying for my attention. I subscribe to more than 70 YouTube channels and listen to 10 different weekly podcasts on topics ranging from science to dystopian noir. I like to think I'm reasonably cultured and I consume media that makes me an interesting person to talk to.
The thing is that I tend to do two or more of those things at once. I read blog posts while I watch Netflix. I listen to podcasts while I load the dishwasher, and I play web videos while I fall asleep.
But reading a novel requires more of me and my attention span has disintegrated. Sometimes, I hope that simply turning off my computer or leaving my phone in the other room will be enough to allow me to find the rhythm of reading, but my will is weak. The buzz of a new email or text too easily pulls me out of my fictional universe and the pages become cumbersome words rather than vivid scenes with complex characters.
Today, on a rare, rainy day in Colorado, I reunited with the narrative and felt my heart beat race and my muscles tense as I followed my protagonist through peril after peril. I feel a sense of accomplishment, but also fear because the book I finished was the second in a trilogy. I have the next one ready to go, but I worry that lightning can't strike twice, and that I've used my focus and willpower for the next few months. I also recognize that 8 hours of binge-reading is 8 hours that I'm not walking my dog, learning a new skill, exercising, folding laundry, catching up with friends...
When I envisioned my life as an adult, I never expected that I would feel anxiety or regret about a day of reading. Add this to the list of reasons why growing up is stupid.
Sometimes, we are so worried about perfecting the final product that we never get started. Ask any writer, artist, chef, YouTuber, or other content creator what the key was to their success, and they will most likely tell you that failure and crappy beginnings are the bedrock of their talent. It is important to make the bad things so you can learn to make the good things.
When I share my blog posts, sketches, or my amateur videos, I am aware they could be better. There are clumsy edits, unintelligible lines, and goofy proportions, but I share them anyway as a way to force myself to move on. Keeping the rough stuff hidden, and quietly agonizing over my flaws impedes my progress, and feeds my anxiety that I will never measure up.
I ache to make. Even as I'm writing this, I'm thinking about the paintings I could be doing, the table I could be refinishing, the weeds I could be pulling, the laundry I could be folding... (jokes, that laundry is going nowhere!). I am baffled by the people who seem to be constantly occupied and flawless in their presentation. I think quality is important, but mess can be endearing.
When it comes to products that people pay for (an online course, a catered meal, wedding invitations), then quality control is obviously important. Being thorough at the beginning will prevent oneself from having to redo work later, and lends the creator credibility. But the free stuff benefits from a little authenticity.
As a teacher and as an artist, it can be easy to hide my mistakes and never try to take risks. But I don't. I own up when I screw up, and hopefully my students will too. Failure on a public stage is painful, but if you fail publicly when the stakes are low, take the feedback you get and apply it to bigger and better things, then perhaps your successes will eclipse the failures that came before.
That's all I've got this week. Check back next week for something a little bit more coherent.
I think in pictures. I remember things in pictures. I understand things in pictures. In Elementary school, I excelled in visual aids. I would spend hours making timelines, collages, and models of the solar system. As an adult, I have absolutely no time for that. Fortunately, there's Piktochart.
Piktochart... is one of the best things to ever happen to me. It looks great, is interactive, and is coherent. It distills information in a way that my visual brain understands and has been invaluable in helping me to analyze the data for my graduate research. Tools like this can help present information online to learners whose eyes may glaze over when they look at tables or paragraphs of information. Check out a gorgeous example below from one of my classes.
For a long time, my perceptions of online learning were based on professional development trainings for things like CPR certifications or online Spanish vocabulary quizzes in college. Each course or lesson culminated in a quiz that tested my understanding of the content, and successful completion yielded a certificate certificate or an email to my teacher that I had finished the "tarea".
I usually half-assed these courses, letting the online video play while I was checking Facebook, or skipping the lesson entirely and then just guessing. If I got a question wrong, I would just hit the back button and try again. The problem was that these courses relied on summative assessment, but rather than pushing me to prove what I had learned, they ended up testing what I already knew.
The reason why my online masters has been so successful for me is that it has mainly relied on formative assessments that have helped me to build up skills and pieces before turning in the final project or product for each course. I still rely heavily on prior knowledge to get through my assignments (I used to think of this as "bullshitting", but since I have become a teacher, I prefer to think of it as "critical thinking"), but now I am pushed to think more complexly and add to what I know with each step.
I think this is the key to meaningful online education. Students cannot be allowed to simply sit through a lesson passively just to check a box so they can move on. It is true that this is important for face-to-face classes as well, but in online programs students rarely interface personally with their instructors, so the instructor never has a chance to observe the student to evaluate their level of engagement. Formative assessments allow for frequent check-ins, and ultimately more engagement for the student.
In designing an online course, I would probably do away with online quizzes altogether. Rather, I would challenge each student to come up with a deliverable that demonstrates what they understood. This could be a drawing, an essay, a joke, video, or whatever the student wanted to create that reflects their take-aways. This may take longer than your average quiz, but at least the student would have a portfolio of work they created by the end of the course.
I was asked this week to think about the considerations I would take when designing an online course. Frankly, I think specific online courses will eventually phase out. Students' attention spans are limited and ain't nobody got time for that. The true future of education will be an a la carte experience where students can watch online videos, Google graphics, and download chapters of books, like singles instead of an album and cobble together a playlist for their own personal curriculums. Learning will eventually break free of the constraints of time and place when students can simply do an internet search for anything they want to know by pulling out the super-intelligent piece of glass in their pocket.
I did my own quick search to help build my own playlist to inform this blog post, and I came up with two of my favorite vloggers: CGP Grey and Veritasium (videos below).
As long as all the information is equivalent, there is no significant difference between methods of delivery. Studies have shown that if they all say the same thing, then a classroom lecture, a video, and a book are all on a level playing field when it comes to successfully teaching content.* But many of those studies were so focused on creating a controlled experiment where each media was equally effective, or equally ineffective, that they failed to ask the question "What experiences best promote learning?"
That question is being answered now. Recent research has concluded that combining technologies carefully can promote more effective learning. The danger is over-using or over-crowding the video, presentation, graphic, etc. It can be easy to distract or confuse your audience.
CGP Grey (the one with the stick figures and the sexy radio voice) believes that the internet will eventually make teachers and the traditional classroom obsolete. The internet provides students access to more teachers and more information, and could eventually create individuated curriculums for each person, or "A Digital Aristotle for Everyone."
Derek (Veritasium, or "Pretty Derek, as he is referred to by Grey) argues that while the internet is the the new source for content, effectively replacing the old model of what a teacher was, the teacher becomes even more valuable as the coach or facilitator. They are there to guide the student, but the student need not rely on them for information. "The job of the teacher is to inspire, to excite, and to challenge the student to want to learn."
This is what art education has been for years. Teachers ask students to go out in the world, look around them, experience their environment, then return to the studio ready to apply their findings to their work. Where both Grey's and Derek's predictions appeal to me is that they both call for students to take ownership of their educations and actively engage in what they are learning. A student's success should not be limited to their immediate teacher's own talents, expertise, and style. I never want my kids to be constrained by what I do not know.
*This doesn't take into account Multiple Intelligence Theory, which is another post for another time.